The Democrats dodged a bullet with Richard Corcoran skipping the Governor’s race

By Mark Foley (Florida House of Representatives) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Speaker Richard Corcoran isn’t running for Governor and is endorsing fellow Republican Adam Putnam. For many the question was whether Corcoran would emulate the statewide success of ex-Speaker Marco Rubio, whom he once worked for or the laughable end for dangerously extreme former Speaker Johnny Byrd whose 2004 campaign for US Senate was seen as a joke by insiders and outsiders.

Conventional political wisdom is that Corcoran is polarizing and extreme much like Byrd. And much like with Donald Trump, conventional political wisdom was likely wrong, on him – in fact Byrd a clownish, buffoonish figure had the worst of Trump. Corcoran by contrast has what made Trump an electoral winner in addition to polish, smarts and genuine reform credentials.

We’ll never know how Speaker Corcoran would have fared in a general election, but my hunch this entire cycle was that if the GOP nominated him (this was probably the tough part), he’d probably walk into the Governor’s Mansion with relative ease despite the assumption that 2018 will be a bad GOP year.

Here’s why:

  • The Tallahassee establishment of both parties dislikes Corcoran. They’re demonstrating a resentment of anyone who tries to reform a process that doesn’t have the trust of Florida’s citizens. Whole Corcoran’s approach was often hard-headed and over-the-top, his reformer bonafides for a general election would have been second-to-none of any potential candidate.
  • During the last few legislative sessions we’ve seen a clear contrast between two visions. The battle was between a doctrinaire conservative orthodoxy represented by Corcoran and a crony capitalist “governing” Republicanism represented by Governor Rick Scott, the Senate leadership in both parties and lots of lobbyists around Tallahassee. Adam Putnam is a direct descendant of this philosophy which often has impressed political insiders. Putnam’s lurches to the right in order to offset the strong challenge of Congressman Ron DeSantis doesn’t change the fact the scion of a large landowning Polk County family is as establishment as they get. Putnam’s perception will be shaped by all of this and it’s something Democrats likely will relish running against.
  • In Corcoran, the Democrats would have likely faced a smarter, more savvy pol than Donald Trump, but one that held his base of angry white males and reform-minded voters together. Corcoran has tried to “drain the swamp” in his own way, and unlike Trump is polished, intellectually curious and not prone to the type of immature outbursts that can doom a candidacy.
  • Corcoran has been able to create a clear distinction between a pure brand of conservatism which has some good government and ethical reforms that could have muddied the waters with some progressives. As noted above he could have clearly steered himself away from identification with the type of governing conservatism which has taken hold as the GOP has assumed and maintained control of this state for two decades. This governing conservatism like that of any one party state is now a noose tied around the necks of the GOP establishment in Florida.

A year ago I wrote this about the Speaker and how his style of governance could inspire progressive Democrats:

Corcoran’s success and dogma should inspire progressives in our own way. Florida’s Democrats, particularly those serving in elected office have often found themselves in a position where they want government to work and want to be liked by colleagues and lobbyists – something that they claim is in the interests of their constituents but really is not because by denying the citizens of this state a true multi-party democracy, we’ve allowed one corrupted party, one set of priorities and one set influence peddlers to dominate the direction of the state.

The important thing now as Corcoran leaves stage right is for the Democrats to adopt and aggressively push the mantle of real progressive reforms, which means rejection of the professional political consulting classes that dominate the party. Democrats may not realize it today but they’ve dodged a bullet and now have an opportunity to shape the discussion about reform going forward.


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