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Rick Scott gets no love from the MAGA-verse

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Rick Scott gets no love from the MAGA-verse

Though Scott has been unbeatable since first running for statewide office in 2010, the tone and direction of the GOP under Trump has shifted to a place outside of his comfort zone. Trump’s GOP is largely foreign to Scott, a former health care executive who embraces focus groups and adheres to the talking points of the day, not the off-the-cuff brashness Trump embraces. That, along with his well-known lack of charisma, could spell early trouble for Scott’s White House ambitions.

Scott, a former two-term Florida governor and now the state’s junior senator, was one of the first establishment-type politicians to back Trump’s bid for president. A tea party darling, Scott chaired a pro-Trump super PAC in 2016 that raised $20 million and, more recently, bashed Trump’s second impeachment trial, and challenged the certification of the 2020 election.

But in recent public remarks, Scott has created distance between himself and Trump. He claimed the Republican civil war is “cancelled” even as Trump openly plots revenge and potential primary challenges against GOP critics. As the new head of the GOP Senate’s campaign arm, he said he would favor incumbents over challengers, which largely closes the door on the organization supporting Trump-backed insurgents.

“In the eyes of Trump voters, Scott plays it too safe,” said state Rep. Anthony Sabatini, an Orlando-area Republican who sponsored a bill that would rename a stretch of Florida highway after Trump. “Sure he stands with Trump on a lot of votes and issues, but he’s not charging the hill on anything or pushing the conversation like others are.”

A pair of recent polls also shows Scott is having difficulty breaking through. Last weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll had Scott at less than half a percent while Ron DeSantis, a longtime Scott rival, got 43 percent if the former president doesn’t run in 2024. In another poll taken last month by Florida Republican pollster Ryan Tyson, 69 percent of Republicans viewed Scott’s performance as strongly or somewhat favorable, compared to 84 percent for DeSantis, and 83 percent for Trump.

Scott was not even included in the poll looking at a potential 2024 field that does not include Trump done last month by GOP pollster Patrick Ruffini.

Some veterans of Florida politics, however, warn against paying too much attention to early 2024 numbers. Scott has been a giant over the past decade in Florida politics, and they have watched him use his vast wealth to knock off favored rivals in the past, and rack up an impressive 3-0 record in statewide political races, a number that jumps to 4-0 if you count Scott knocking off Republican establishment-favored Attorney General Bill McCollum in the 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary.

For them the message is clear: doubt Rick Scott at your own peril.

“I don’t know if CPAC is the most telling audience in the world for who is going to be the next nominee, or whatever,” said Brian Ballard, a Florida-based lobbyist who was close with Scott when he was governor and is a well-known Trump influencer. “Rick Scott has a political graveyard littered with opponents who did not take him seriously.”

“I think he will be able to resonate with Trump voters when the time comes,” Ballard added. “Just like Marco Rubio will. Just like Ted Cruz will. Everyone has their place.”

Chris Hartline, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee who previously worked for Scott in his U.S. Senate office, said in a text message: “Rick Scott is focused on one thing — saving the country from socialism by winning back the U.S. Senate. Any suggestion or story beyond that is dumb.”

Susie Wiles, who has run both of Trump’s Florida campaigns and advised Scott in his past races, says that Scott will be able to break through with the Trump base when he focuses on his own politics again.

“Rick Scott is focused on being a senator right now, and outside of winning races for other Republican senators,” she said. “When he decides to focus on something else, he will be successful. He always has been.”

Brian Burgess, Scott’s communications director after he first became governor in 2010, said his old boss never relied on “lofty” political rhetoric to energize supporters.

“His strength is in methodical execution of a strategic plan, and then living or dying by the results,” Burgess said. “That’s who he is, and if he decides to run for president in a few years, it will be because there are large numbers of Americans are hungry for that kind of leadership, not because he can ‘out-Trump’ other potential candidates.”

While Scott has struggled to gain traction among Trump’s most loyal voters as compared to other rising Republican stars, he has also shaken up establishment corners of the party. When taking over as head of NRSC, he fired a handful of top staffers and replaced them with his own longtime aides, according to two sources familiar with the matter. Scott replaced the staff without informing Senate leadership during the heated Georgia runoffs that saw Democrats pick up two Senate seats and flip control of the chamber.

“He is trying to please two masters,” Fabrizio said. “In this day and age, I just don’t know how you do that.”

A Florida GOP consultant said that Scott’s failure to get traction with Trump voters and scuffles with the GOP’s more establishment could leave him somewhat politically rudderless headed into a 2022 election cycle where he will be charged with helming Republican Senate campaigns.

“The problem is he has no lane anymore. Trying to be a Trump person is not working,” the person added. “Trying to be a Senate leadership person is not working. So, what does he do? Think he just tries to win races, which is one thing he has done well.”

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‘A nicer version of Trump’: GOP donors flock to DeSantis

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'A nicer version of Trump': GOP donors flock to DeSantis

POLITICO’s Holly Otterbein reports on how Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s Senate run has become an inflection point in the Democratic party. Plus, Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she won’t bring progressive “court packing” legislation to the floor. And House Minority Leader McCarthy meets with scandal-ridden Rep. Matt Gaetz.

The enthusiasm was on full display during DeSantis’ appearance at last weekend’s Republican National Committee donor gala in Palm Beach, Fla., where he drew wild applause for declaring the party needed figures who withstood public pressure and weren’t afraid to confront what he called the “elite, New York corporate media.”

The governor was mobbed over the course of the weekend. Joanne Zervos, a New York City donor who spoke with DeSantis during the conference, said many contributors saw him as “a nicer version of Trump,” someone who had embraced the former president’s policies but lacked his rough edges. Zervos said she was drawn to the governor because of his approach to dealing with the coronavirus.

DeSantis last week also made a surprise appearance at a donor retreat convened by the Conservative Partnership Institute, an organization overseen by Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.). The event was held at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach. During his appearances last week, some attendees approached him and encouraged him to run in 2024.

Whether DeSantis’ popularity among donors is lasting or fleeting remains an open question. The 2024 nominating contest is a long way off, and other would-be candidates have also developed close relationships with contributors. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was also well-received at the RNC retreat, according to attendees. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) has previously drawn financial support from hedge fund manager Paul Singer, one of the party’s most sought-after givers. Pence spent years cultivating big contributors, many of whom were uncomfortable with Trump but saw the then-vice president as an ally within the administration.

For now, DeSantis aides insist that the 42-year-old governor is focused squarely on running for reelection and hasn’t begun thinking about the presidential contest, something they have been trying to remind donors. The governor faces a potentially challenging 2022 contest against Democratic state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who is expected to enter the race soon.

But DeSantis’ aggressive courtship of national givers bears striking similarities to the approach then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush used in his 1998 reelection race, which preceded his presidential bid two years later. Bush spent the 1998 campaign traveling the country and introducing himself to the Republican Party’s biggest donors, many of whom contributed to his reelection effort and later became key to his 2000 national campaign.

As he embarks on his fundraising blitz, DeSantis has begun building a team with national experience. He has tapped veteran Republican strategist Phil Cox to help oversee his 2022 campaign. Cox, who has developed deep ties to the donor class through his past leadership of the Republican Governors Association, accompanied the governor to last week’s retreats.

But DeSantis’ most potent fundraising weapon may be his home state, which has long been home to some of the GOP’s biggest bankrollers. The governor has tapped into upscale areas like Miami Beach, where during a multistop March swing he appeared at a fundraising lunch at the La Gorce Country Club that was hosted by real estate developer Jimmy Tate. Others present included investor Jimmy Resnick.

Florida’s list of major Republican Party donors is getting longer. While the state has long attracted the wealthy through its promise of low taxes and warm weather, the pandemic has supercharged the migration. Financial leaders say they’ve been drawn to DeSantis’ reluctance to embrace the stringent mitigation policies implemented by blue-state governors that have taken a toll on businesses.

The roster includes venture capitalist David Blumberg, who in November moved to the Miami Beach area from San Francisco. Blumberg, who contributed more than $100,000 to Trump’s reelection effort, has met with DeSantis around a half-dozen times since arriving to the state.

“I have admired Gov. DeSantis from afar,” Blumberg said. “Since I’ve moved to Florida with my family, I’ve gotten to know him reasonably well and have a very good impression of what I’ve seen.”

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The GOP-Big Business Divorce Goes Deeper Than You Think

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The GOP-Big Business Divorce Goes Deeper Than You Think

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a legendary business professor and associate dean at the Yale School of Management, has watched this split grow in recent years, and has heard it from CEOs he knows and works with. What the GOP cares about and what major businesses care about is, increasingly incompatible, he says.

“The political desire to use wedge issues to divide — which used to be fringe in the GOP — has become mainstream,” Sonnenfeld says. “That is 100 percent at variance with what the business community wants. And that is a million times more important to them than how many dollars of taxes are paid here or there.”

Over the weekend, Sonnenfeld hastily organized a Zoom conference with roughly 100 major corporate executives to talk through the voter restrictions being considered by state legislatures throughout the country, and about the way top Republicans like McConnell and Ted Cruz are responding with attacks on businesses that speak up in opposition.

Most of the CEOs on the call were Republicans; Sonnenfeld himself has been an informal adviser to both Republican and Democratic presidents, but he has a longstanding relationship with McConnell, and spoke at the senator’s wedding to Elaine Chao. The CEOs “ranged from amused to outraged” in their reaction to the GOP attacks on businesses, says Sonnenfeld. “Their comments ranged from talk about ‘taxation without representation’ to the paradox of ‘cancel culture’: It’s OK if they speak out, but only as long as they stay on script?”

As the GOP tries to position itself as the home of “working-class values,” capturing loyalty with a steady campaign against the perceived excesses of progressive culture, it’s running afoul of a business community that can’t simply silo off “culture war” topics. In the eyes of major corporations, issues like voting rights, immigration and transgender-inclusive restrooms have economic impact, too. The millions of people alienated by those fights aren’t just their future customers, many of whom expect to support brands they believe in, they’re the companies’ employees.

“The bad news for Republicans is that they seem to have a 1920s view of who big business’s workforce is,” says Sonnenfeld. “That workforce is, at a minimum, highly diverse — and they get along. Trying to stir that up is misguided.”

The new Republican penchant for mocking corporations for being too socially aware — for instance, Sen. Ted Cruz’s Twitter threat to use the power of the state to harm Major League Baseball’s business, signing the message off with “go woke, go broke” — fundamentally misunderstands what matters to business in the 21st century, says Sonnenfeld. “Basically, business leaders believe that it’s in the interest of society to have social harmony… Divisiveness in society is not in their interest, short term or long term.”

If the marriage between the Republican Party and the business community is on the rocks, what does that mean for politics? What do we misunderstand about what really matters to CEOs? And why aren’t business executives more afraid of boycott threats from the right?

For answers to all of that and more, POLITICO Magazine spoke with Sonnenfeld this week. A condensed transcript of that conversation follows, edited for length and clarity.

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Pence has pacemaker implanted – POLITICO

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Pence has pacemaker implanted - POLITICO

Former Vice President Mike Pence had a pacemaker implanted on Wednesday, his office announced in a release Thursday.

After being named to Donald Trump’s ticket in 2016, Pence disclosed that he had been diagnosed with an asymptomatic left bundle branch block, he said. In the past two weeks, Pence’s office said he had begun to have symptoms related to a “slow heart rate.”

Pence then had the pacemaker inserted in a successful “routine surgery” at Inova Fairfax Medical Campus in Falls Church, Va., his office said in the statement. Pence is “expected to fully recover and return to normal activity in the coming days,” the statement said.

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