‘You think I’m crazy?’ Florida GOP sweats Trump vs. DeSantis
The 20 House GOP members of the Florida delegation are clearly hesitant to choose sides between the party’s two heavyweights in 2024, as the former president shoots their governor before he even officially enters the race. And it’s not hard to see why lawmakers stay out of it — a bad decision risks political repercussions.
Trump is known for his politics of revenge, having spent his two years after the White House defeating GOP lawmakers who crossed him by encouraging his base to support their main opponents. But with his influence on the party waning, Republicans in Florida are equally aware that they need a strong relationship with their governor.
And DeSantis, who is particularly vocal on natural disaster response and home state projects, has the power to inflict pain on any of his own grudges. That puts Florida House Republicans in a bind as they gather for their annual retreat, which is due to begin Sunday in Orlando.
First term representative Aaron’s Bean (R-Fla.) was more succinct than Dunn, calling it “Sophie’s Choice” in reference to the four-decade-old film about a woman forced to kill one of her two children.
Another Florida Republican, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly, addressed Don against Ron, exclaiming, “Do you think I want to talk about this? Do you think I’m crazy?”
Conversations with all members of the Florida GOP Congressional delegation (except Rep. Greg Steube, whose office did not respond to a written request for comment as it recovers from a January fall) point to clearing future rifts over which candidate to back. And the hour of the decision is fast approaching, because the first polls show that the primary of the party tends towards a two-way battle between the two Floridians.
Although Trump has yet to begin seeking endorsements in the state, his level of support on the Hill is still lackluster. Only two Florida Republicans, Reps. Matt Gaetz And Anna Paulina Lunahave publicly backed his 2024 candidacy since launching his campaign in November.
“Who am I supporting, Governor DeSantis or Trump? Trump,” Luna said without wasting time. “I love DeSantis. I don’t think anyone can ever match him as governor and I’ll be sad to see if he leaves early. I hope he doesn’t, but I love them both. .
Others are preparing to hear a request for approval from Trump.
“I think I’m going to get a call soon,” Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), who said he was undecided in the GOP primary and would consider DeSantis. “We’ll have a nice chat.”
No Florida member has openly endorsed DeSantis, who has yet to announce a campaign. One Republican described DeSantis’ reach so far as “non-existent.”
As a representative Byron Donald (R-Fla.) said it: “Frankly, he is not in the race. So the members are not going to put themselves in danger.
But some have subtly indicated that they lean toward their state’s governor.
“DeSantis is the perfect candidate,” said a Florida Republican lawmaker, who spoke on condition of anonymity to speak candidly.
“The most important thing is that Florida will be there,” Bean said. And when pressed to choose, Bean didn’t respond explicitly, but he did praise DeSantis and noted that the two had served “side by side” for four years in the state Senate.
DeSantis also maintains close ties with other House members. Some are former colleagues in a chamber where he served three terms before winning the governor’s mansion in 2018. Other Florida GOP lawmakers still know him from his own administration; first term representative Laura Lee (R-Fla.), for example, was its Secretary of State.
Some Florida GOP members, like Neal and Freshman Rep. Cory Mills, say they have made a decision on the presidential race but declined to name their choice. Other Florida Republicans, like Reps. Daniel Webster, Mario Diaz Balart And Vern Buchananindicated that they are waiting to see who else is running.
“We’re going to have to make a choice,” said Rep. John Rutherford (R-Fla.). “Choices are coming. … I’m open, but I think it’s a good thing for Florida State.
Buchanan said, “I’m not in the middle of it. I want to let things happen, and so many people are going to be involved.
Florida House Republicans have referenced several different strategies for handling the upcoming choice, ranging from avoiding the primary to approving only after one of their two candidates in the state drops out. of origin.
But weighing their options also means recognizing the pros and cons of each man.
Some Florida Republicans noted how approachable Trump was and was, not to mention his ability to provide the resources they needed in their districts when it mattered. While the delegation largely reports good working relationships with the governor’s staff, other Florida Republicans noted how closely DeSantis personally sought to build relationships with them ahead of a possible race.
Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who preceded DeSantis in the governor’s mansion, hinted at closed lines of communication with DeSantis in a brief interview, describing a relationship that got bumpy during their transition.
“DeSantis doesn’t talk to me, so I don’t know anything about DeSantis. I’m talking to Trump. I wish him good luck,” Scott said, noting that he hasn’t “historically” endorsed in primary races.
Gaetz has made it clear that his once solid relationship with DeSantis has crumbled since the former helped the latter win the governor’s mansion.
“I have no ill will, but we’re not as close as when I was his interim president,” Gaetz said.
DeSantis supporters counter that he can be Trump without the drama, arguing that anointing him will help the party move away from the constant scandals of the former president’s tenure. While they see the Florida governor as qualified enough to go the distance, some recognize it’s early days and they’re waiting to see how he fare against a bruise-inducing Trump if the duo end up sharing a scene of debate.
A few in the state have completely dismissed the impending issue. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) Said he had “spent no time thinking” about Trump versus DeSantis, though the rivalry has been a constant topic of discussion among other state lawmakers.
The primary, Rubio added, “is a long way off.”
However, other Florida Republicans are acutely aware that House’s retirement next week will bring them into the shared backyard of Trump and DeSantis.
“It’s going to be a tough primary,” Rutherford said. “Even though it’s coming fast, it’s still a bit early.”
Burgess Everett and Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.