In recent weeks, former Congressman and US Senate nominee Patrick Murphy has reappeared from the dead and has actively began floating the idea of a “fusion” ticket for Governor with former Republican Congressman David Jolly. Today we’re not going to asses the merits of such a ticket, because despite yesterday’s MSNBC appearance, the whole thing still seems a bit speculative.
Patrick Murphy’s rapid rise and even quicker fall from grace has a uniquely Florida Democratic Party feel to it – anoint the savior but when circumstances change and losses continue to mount, make the former golden boy toxic. This happens all the time in the world of the FDP, a party whose record in statewide elections this millennium is as bad as it gets having won less than 7% of races for Governor and Cabinet since 2000, in what is by any objective standard a purple state. Florida’s Democrats play politics based more on personality than any other factor. Winning and losing isn’t important, because quite frankly they never win when it really matters. Therefore everything they do tends to be based around local squabbles, controlling the flow of vendor contracts and dominating Democratic primaries so they can maintain the perception of having some power while never actually winning in November outside safe seats.
Florida Democrats have lost 20 of the last 21 statewide races where the party’s nominee wasn’t Bill Nelson. That’s an over 95% fail rate. Statistically such failure is difficult to achieve without some real effort, and Florida Democrats have a history of self-sabotage. The Murphy case seems no different.
Today, I reached out to a source close to Murphy who told me that it’s still a mystery why Florida Democrats abandoned Murphy during his 2016 US Senate Race after recruiting and touting him. Was it that he was “rich and white,” in an era where identity politics defines the Democratic Party (Not so coincidentally Florida’s Democrats as we’ve pointed out previously at TFS is doing worse with catholic voters than any time in recent memory)? Why would Democrats abandon a successful previous candidate in a reddish district but whose voting record may not have met all the left’s litmus tests but was pretty steadfast on some of the most important issues, the source asked me.
The historical record will show after being recruited by the DSCC, Patrick Murphy had strong institutional support in a primary he cruised to victory in and then was quickly abandoned around the time when Floridian’s were distracted by the potential arrival of Hurricane Matthew by both the state and national party who became accomplices in the reelection of Marco Rubio, who according to the American Conservative Union (ACU) had the second most conservative voting record in the US Senate between 2011 and 2015 (behind only Utah’s Mike Lee ). Murphy was far from a strong candidate but he also wasn’t any weaker than some of the other candidates for Senate the DSCC unwisely got behind. So why was he first propped up and then thrown overboard?
I’ve got my theories and they to this point haven’t been publicly floated but here goes…
The leaders of the Florida Democratic Party as well as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee were terrified of Alan Grayson being nominated by the party, and appearing on the statewide ballot in a Presidential Election year. Grayson’s personality is volatile and he most certainly is polarizing. But those thoughts while valid were a cover story for a party whose desire to cut Grayson off at the knees was due to his inability to be controlled by party elites.
The establishment of the party also appears in hindsight to have had an unwritten deal with one-term Congresswoman and former lobbyist Gwen Graham, a Tallahassee-insider the party elites are comfortable with. Murphy having represented a similarly reddish district to Graham and having a better base to run from (southeast Florida) could have been a massive threat to Graham’s nomination in 2018, so disposing of him two years early served a very strategic purpose for the institutional establishment of the party – an establishment that has for almost two decades now maintained control of the riches and personal enrichment that come from being involved in partisan politics while accomplishing precious little in the way of success.
Killing Murphy off made it easier for the party to try and coalesce its support behind Graham.
So what the party and its allies did was very deviously prop up Murphy for the primary against Grayson, Pam Keith and others. The state party and its allied groups are very successful at controlling party primaries and nominating their preferred candidates. In fact, that is probably the only thing they do well, because as stated above they’ve got an awful record one that seems statistically improbable in such an evenly divided state. Once Murphy was cruising and Grayson began self-destructing, the young South Florida Congressman’s utility had been served. Coming out of the primary outwardly strong, Murphy’s 40 plus point primary win should have been an impetus under normal circumstances with a party that actually wanted to win the election to push him forward.
But suddenly, Murphy was no longer considered viable by those who make decisions as to targeting races. With Grayson eliminated, protecting Graham and the party’s succession plans became the priority. Murphy ended being folded up, the same way the Soviet Union in a secret agreement with the UK folded up the Greek communists in the Civil War that followed World War II – the US didn’t know the Greek Communists had been abandoned by Stalin so they kept spending money on propping up the Greek government and thinking they had beaten the Soviets in the first battle of the Cold War when they really hadn’t – similarly for a few weeks, Republicans didn’t realize Murphy had been wholesale abandoned by the Democrats at all levels, from the national and state parties as well as allied groups. The failure to spend money on Murphy made the double-whammy of GOP money in Florida for Rubio and Presidential nominee Donald Trump even more effective. While Hillary Clinton lost Florida all by her own, folding up Murphy was an unwise decision but one that was likely made due to local considerations and the desire of many in the FDP establishment to open as clear a path as possible for Graham. Not only was Murphy no longer in office, but he was now a statewide loser whose viability could be questioned should he challenge Graham.
So here we are two years later. Murphy’s reputation among Democrats is shot while Graham is being propped up in any manner possible and in every way imaginable. The challenge from former Miami Beach Mayor Phillip Levine has large portion of the Tallahassee and state party establishment trembling. A whisper campaign has begun echoing all the familiar themes as to why the moderate Graham who is from Tallahassee must be nominated and Levine, who is Jewish and from South Florida must be rejected. Meanwhile, Murphy holds the ultimate trump card – his statewide name ID was elevated by the Democrats desire to take down Grayson and now he could potentially play spoiler. Some might even think that’s a certain degree of karma…
Patrick Murphy isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, particularly progressives. But it’s hard not to have at least some sympathy for some one thrust into a position they weren’t prepared for then torn down because suddenly they might represent a threat. This is the world of Florida Democrats in a nutshell.