Florida’s 2018 Election confirmed one thing – a closely polarized state it remains, but that Donald Trump can rally the GOP base and carry Republicans through close elections better than any member of his party in this era. Trump, a part-time resident of the state is more popular and connected in this state than any other “purple” one and it showed as the Democratic mini wave of November 6 stopped at the Florida border.
The conventional national wisdom was that a Trump-inflicted Democratic wave would wipe out the President. Instead he rallied his base and Republicans nationally performed better than Democrats did in EITHER Obama midterm election. In fact, as a progressive I am frustrated looking at the electoral map – while Democrats picked up the majority of low hanging fruit, in a supposed wave election, far too many endangered Republican incumbents, ( and marginal open seats) hung on. Thank you Trump, should be the mantra of the Republicans left standing today.
Here in Florida, where Trump’s most recent political mentor Rick Scott won a US Senate seat and Ron DeSantis running closely to Trump, bucked the polls, conventional wisdom and the snickering of elites to claim the Governorship. Trump aligned candidates for Congress and legislature won up and down the peninsula.
It was always a foolish strategy to believe a President, who won Florida by more raw votes than Scott ever had and his supporters carried DeSantis, a previous unknown statewide to a resounding primary victory and marginally comfortable (by Florida standards) General Election win, was a liability for Florida Republicans. On the contrary, he’s the best thing they have going for them. He fires up the GOP base like no Republican in this state since Jeb and George W. Bush – more critical now than in the Bush era since the Democrats have found a formula to at least run close in statewide races, something that wasn’t the case in the early 2000’s.
What about the President’s low approval training? First off, the national media and many Democrats proved again this cycle they have little idea how to read and interpret polling results. The intensity of Trump’s support among hard-core backers never wavered. Those supporters were always likely to cast ballots for Republicans WHO STUCK WITH TRUMP, rather than for Democrats or Republicans like Carlos Curbelo who made distancing himself from Trump while remaining a Republican into a mini art form. The voters opposing Trump tepidly were never as likely to turn out or find inspiration from a Democratic Party that stands for something different policy wise every day.
David Jolly might be the new favorite of the DC chattering classes and politically-tinged talk shows but he’s a political dead man at this point for opposing Trump with the venom he has – Congressman Jolly has no path back to elected office except in the circa 2018 Democratic Party which has made hatred of Trump and opposition to anything associated with Russia, it’s core policies (The obsession with Russia has led some Democrats and to begin meddling on behalf of anti-Putin neo-facists in Eastern Europe, but we will save that discussion for another time far into the future).
This is Trump country. Governor Rick Scott reportedly engineered Trump’s invitation to the 2011 Correspondents Dinner from WaPo (I’ll admit this is a bit of urban legend but one that has persisted so maybe it is actually true?) and his closeness to our Attorney General Pam Bondi seems to be the newest national media obsession (funny however is that outside The New York Times no national outlet cared about Bondi’s ties to Trump during her 2014 reelection )*. but Trump’s ties Florida have an impact. Not only do his adherents control primaries as Adam Putnam found out the hard way, he can motivate just enough voters to win general elections. It’s not a coincidence the majority of close competitive races around the state and the Congressional and State House level were won by the Republicans on November 6, or in subsequent recounts. That’s Trump, plain and simple.
CNN and MSNBC and various print news outlets spent the entire cycle trying to find evidence that Trump was hurting Republicans. They created focus groups that from outside observer appeared imbalanced. They asked leading questions in polls that were sure to make Trump-backed candidates defeats look inevitable. They pulled every subtle trick in the book.
Yet the evidence, at least here in Florida was on the contrary. Trump-backed candidates won the Governorship and US Senate seats. The President’s appearances in Estero and Pensacola stimulated large Election Day turnouts in those critical counties for the GOP, stifling what had been previously Democratic over-performance there in early voting and VBM.
The Trump trade policies which actually resemble the traditional views of many Democrats also appear to be a motivating factor (need more data on this but it’s likely IMO) for why so many Trump adherents reside in our state. A feeling elites have shipped jobs overseas and collected the profits for themselves permeates any trade discussion. It does not matter that Trump is a billionaire whose family keeps company with those same elites, he’s fighting the fight for the little Florida farmer who feels crushed by “unfair” trade deals negotiated by the last four Presidents.
Trump’s allies like Newsmax publisher Christopher Ruddy and Roger Stone have a great deal of influence on local politics in the southern tier of the state as well a credibility to impact certain statewide races *(2). The Trump network may be something elites and progressives like myself sneer at it but it’s a winning hand in Florida. Donald Trump’s 2016 Presidential Election victory margin in Florida was the largest at the top-of-the-ticket since 2016, and Ron DeSantis’ Gubernortial win owes itself to Trump popularity. Never mind DeSantis’ post-election dash to the middle to placate critics, he WON AS A TRUMP REPUBLICAN, even if he governs as a Curbelo-Jolly moderate. In fact, if he distances himself too far from Trump it might be good for the state but bad for his own reelection prospects. This is something he will have to weigh carefully in office.
We need to wait for all the data to come in from this election and TFS we will be crunching the numbers. But the early returns indicate instead of a wave, it was a simple electoral correction which almost always happens in midterms. Why was a potential wave, just a correction? Trump is the simple answer, the more complicated answer is probably some sort of Democratic incompetence that fuels Trump’s deceptively effective influence.
Most thinking Americans rightly dislike our President, but we don’t have a poll tax these days or limit voting to large landowners. Winning over the masses is critical and the Democrats have shown once again they really don’t understand how to do that. Onward to 2020 and another new hope for the future, and maybe a better day for the Democrats here in Florida and around the country.
*Kartik Krishniayer served as Democratic nominee George Sheldon’s Deputy Campaign Manager in 2014 against Attorney General Bondi.
*2 Roger Stone’s strong opposition to Ron DeSantis in the GOP Primary was well known. But Stone was unable to stem the tide and DeSantis was nominated. However, Stone retains influence with other Republicans in the state. Whether he mends fences with DeSantis remains to be seen. My guess is DeSantis smartly wants no part of Stone.