Never before has the Republican Party’s present and future been so dominated by leaders from one state. Currently, four Florida politicians are in line to influence the results of the 2022 midterm elections and the 2024 presidential contest, making Florida, not Capitol Hill, the GOP’s real national headquarters.
Furthermore, due to population growth, the Sunshine State is likely to add two congressional seats to its delegation in 2022, increasing its Electoral College votes from 29 to 31. That means, even more, that Florida is the red state presidential prize, upping the stakes for the four men intertwined in a web of power and ambition.
At the web’s hub is the entangler-in-chief ensnaring the other three.
Former President Donald J. Trump
Exiled to Mar-a-Lago, the 45th president is occupied with four missions. The first is to act powerful and stay relevant in the midterm election cycle. Then, take full credit if the GOP regains control of Congress. Second, seek revenge against officeholders who voted to impeach him and voted on Jan. 6, 2021 to certify Joe Biden the 46th president. Third, continue molding the GOP into the MAGA Party in his image. Fourth, work toward coronating himself as the 2024 Republican presidential nominee without a primary. (“Think of all the money and time we save!”)
The success of these four missions hinges on four factors, and the first is Trump’s ability to continue raising barrels of cash. Second, ensure that MAGA candidates continue visiting Mar-a-Lago to “kiss his ring” — seeking an endorsement or contribution. Factors three and four are linked: Trump maintains his power through fear while using fear to freeze the field of 2024 presidential wannabees – three of whom are Florida officeholders.
Gov. Ron DeSantis
DeSantis won his title in 2018 thanks to President Trump. Then DeSantis emerged as the runaway 2024 frontrunner – Trump’s “heir apparent” – a dangerous title after dominating the CPAC poll without Trump in the race. (CPAC moved to Florida, of course.)
Republicans already perceived DeSantis as the new Trump, “fighting” against the liberal establishment. However, this week he enhanced his reputation by engaging in a high-profile media brawl with CBS over his controversial “60 Minutes” interview. DeSantis is now the new hero, earning accolades from the conservative media. That makes him a national target and his 2022 reelection more challenging. A poll in March against the leading Florida Democrat showed him virtually tied, but after “60 Minutes,” everything changed.
DeSantis’s reelection mission is to win big and emerge as the uncontested 2024 frontrunner not named Trump. Then, once reelected, DeSantis dreams of Trump kissing his Harvard Law School ring, while the former president anoints him the GOP’s “MAGA approved” 2024 candidate.
Conversely, an inevitable Trump vs. DeSantis showdown could turn into a “who blinks first” drama. The young governor, born in 1978, has White House time on his side. But in politics, timing is everything.
Ultimately, Trump and DeSantis are politically joined at the hip, and Trump will either be a blessing or a curse for DeSantis’s reelection and his presumed 2024 presidential bid.
Another Florida officeholder closely aligned with DeSantis has recently become a curse. His name is Matt Gaetz. How closely aligned? After DeSantis was elected in 2018, FloridaPolitics wrote, “Gaetz is one of four co-chairs of DeSantis’ transition team. He was also one of the earliest and most outspoken backers of DeSantis’ underdog bid for Florida Governor.”
No doubt that Trump and Gaetz’s longstanding alliances with DeSantis will provide ammunition for Democrats who desperately want to defeat the Florida governor before he gets near the White House.
Two more Florida men’s national political fates are also tied to Trump and DeSantis.
Sen. Marco Rubio
When Rubio ran for president in 2016, he “crashed and burned.” Then he quickly backtracked, filing for Senate reelection just days before the June deadline. (Coincidentally, DeSantis was running for Rubio’s open seat. Rubio’s change of heart caused DeSantis to drop out and run for reelection to Congress.)
Fast forward to a January 2021 radio show, when Rubio said, “When you’re running for reelection in the Senate, you’re signing a six-year contract.” Still, he dreams of being the first Hispanic/Cuban president.
Rubio has yet to declare his reelection intentions, but laughingly, Matt Gaetz decided against a primary challenge, as did Ivanka Trump. In January, The Hill listed Rubio on “Seven Senate Races to watch in 2022,” citing his closeness to the party’s “Trump wing” as problematic. Then in March, CNN ranked Rubio among “10 Senate seats most likely to flip in 2022.”
What role will Trump play in helping or hurting Rubio’s reelection? Will DeSantis have coattails? For the GOP, retaining Rubio’s seat is a foregone conclusion while trying to win back control of the Senate — the job of another Floridian.
Sen. Rick Scott
The former Florida governor-turned-senator in 2018 is not up for reelection until 2024. Then, it is widely presumed he will run for president while appearing at the top of every 2024 “Most Vulnerable Senators” list. Now for the 2022 midterm cycle, Scott relishes his role as chairman of the NRSC (National Republican Senatorial Committee). The organization is responsible for recapturing the Senate while providing Scott with an opportunity to raise his national profile and earn IOU’s for 2024.
The tangled web of Scott vs. DeSantis vs. Trump (with Rubio dreaming) makes Florida the 2024 GOP presidential epicenter and the state to watch in 2022, while Florida basks in its golden age of Republican dominance.
Cross-posted at The Hill