Florida Republicans close ranks with Trump after Capitol siege

Republicans in Florida are showing no signs of wavering in their support for President Trump even as the national GOP faces a reckoning over the president’s future role in the party.

All but five of the 18 Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation voted to object to President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College win, while none of its GOP House members voted to impeach Trump on Wednesday for his role in inciting the riots at the Capitol.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Joe Gruters (R), an early backer of Trump’s presidential ambitions and a former co-chair of his campaign in Florida, is poised to coast to a second term as chair of the state GOP.

The decision by Florida Republicans to stick by an increasingly vulnerable president suggests that the state party has no plans to remake itself in the post-Trump political landscape, betting that the president’s brand of conservative populism will hold its own even after he leaves Washington.

“When you take into account that Trump did better in 2020 than he did in 2016, you have to realize that Florida Republicans walk in lock step with the president,” Ford O’Connell, a Naples, Fla.-based GOP strategist, said.

For some top Republican officials, the decision to hitch themselves closely to Trump as he enters his post-presidency life stems, at least in part, from personal political considerations.

Two of Florida’s most prominent Republicans, Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Marco Rubio, are expected to face competitive reelection bids in 2022. They are also among a handful of Florida GOP officials who are said to be weighing White House campaigns of their own in 2024.

“You’ve got all these folks – Ron DeSantis, [Sen.] Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Marco Rubio and [Rep.] Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) – looking to run for president in 2024. Plus, DeSantis and Rubio are up in 2022,” one GOP strategist said.

“The primary voter loves Trump and therefore they’re going to make sure these guys keep message discipline,” the strategist added.

Also driving the strategy is Trump’s expected move to his Mar-a-Lago estate in West Palm Beach when his term in office comes to an end next week.

The Associated Press reported on Friday that the president is slated to depart Washington for his new life in Florida on Wednesday morning just before President-elect Joe Biden takes the oath of office. His family, including his adult children, are also eyeing moves to the Sunshine State.

Several Florida Republicans acknowledged that the soon-to-be-former president’s proximity could make it difficult to distance themselves from him politically.

“Him being here is only going to strengthen that resolve among Florida voters,” O’Connell said.

Not only did Trump win Florida and its 29 electoral votes for a second time in 2020, he more than doubled his margin of victory from 2016 to 3.4 percentage points, a relative landslide in a state where elections are often decided by razor-thin margins.

That success trickled down the ballot as well, handing Republicans two House districts in South Florida that Democrats had managed to win control of just two years ago. Meanwhile, no GOP incumbent seeking reelection lost their reelection bids even in the state’s most competitive districts.

Trump’s success in Florida, one of the fastest growing and politically coveted states in the country, underscores the dilemma faced by Republicans, some of whom have sought to distance themselves from the president amid fallout from the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

Trump has seen his approval rating sink to a new low in the final days of his presidency. A Pew Research Center poll released on Friday found that just 29 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing in the White House. 

That drop-off was driven largely by waning support among voters of his own party. Sixty percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning respondents said they approve of Trump’s job performance, down from 77 percent in August.

At the same time, a growing number of companies have announced plans in recent days to suspend political contributions to Republican lawmakers who objected to the congressional certification of Biden’s Electoral College victory, a list that includes 12 GOP representatives from Florida as well as Scott, who recently took the helm of the Republicans’ Senate campaign arm.

Trump has also floated the possibility of another presidential bid in 2024, a move that would almost certainly complicate the playing field for other potential GOP White House hopefuls.

Unlike most in his congressional delegation, however, Rubio has taken a more cautious approach in the days since Jan. 6.

He did not join Scott in objecting to the certification of the Electoral College vote. And while he has said that Trump bears “some responsibility” for the violence at the Capitol, he has refrained from the harsher criticisms that several of his Senate colleagues have levied.

Still, neither Rubio nor Scott appears likely to vote against Trump when his Senate trial gets underway. Both have spoken out against the House’s decision to impeach the president, warning that the move will only further inflame political tensions in an already deeply divided country.

But beyond the calls for unity, Florida Republicans are taking a calculated risk that their continued loyalty to the president will remain the politically safer option in the years to come, said Barry Edwards, a lecturer in political science at the University of Central Florida.

“If you’re a Florida Republican, you’re asking yourself what’s to be gained by breaking from Trump at this point?” Edwards said.

“Before you start thinking about positioning yourself for the next general election, you’ve got to survive the primaries and if you break from Trump you’re more likely to see a viable primary challenger.”

Tags Capitol breach Donald Trump Florida Impeachment Joe Biden Joe Gruters Marco Rubio Matt Gaetz Rick Scott Ron DeSantis
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