The Trump Effect in Florida

Donald Trump’s support of Florida gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis has propelled DeSantis in front of the early establishment favorite, Adam Putnam. Far from being a liability to run away from, in today’s Republican Party, fidelity to the popular president helps the cause.

Florida has been a Republican stronghold for some time. Prior to 2016, Putnam had a reputation as a fairly solid conservative with strong support for gun rights, limited government, and other classic Republican staples. Yet, even prior to Trump’s visit, Putnam was running behind DeSantis, who was further elevated by Trump’s rally in Tampa on Tuesday.

Trump Won An Uphill Battle in the Florida Primary
Consider recent history. Trump beat two long-time Florida Republicans, sitting Senator Marco Rubio and former Governor Jeb Bush, in the 2016 Florida primary. Some attributed this result to the two standard-issue Republicans dividing conservative voters, but Trump, in both the primary and the general, voiced the worries of a great many independents and nominal Republicans about broad economic and cultural issues that hit Florida particularly hard.

Prior to 2016, Florida was divided by the Trayvon Martin incident, which touched on widely held (but quietly voiced) concerns about crime and diversity, concerns only amplified by the unhinged rhetoric of agitators during the trial. Florida was particularly hard hit by the housing crisis, which left a great many Floridians skeptical of banking interests and the related TARP bailout. Florida also has peculiar demographics. It is a state where a majority come from elsewhere—even Trump himself owns a Florida home—but it is filled with classic, self-selected Trump voters: culturally conservative, middle class, modern and itinerant, and skeptical of the traditional GOP, which is perceived to have taken many of them for granted and of serving the interests of an increasingly hostile moneyed elite.

Even after he won the nomination, Trump fought a two-front war. On one side, he faced Hillary, her co-conspirators in the press, as well as unprecedented harassment from law enforcement and intelligence agencies. At the same time, he faced a great deal of resistance from legacy Republicans. National Review devoted a whole issue to opposing him. Jeb Bush, in spite of ostentatiously demanding a pledge among the candidates to support the nominee, spoke out against Trump after Trump, much to Jeb’s surprise, secured the nomination. While many of the GOP leadership and volunteers once strongly supported Jeb, new blood has come into the party with Trump’s election, and even the old leadership has found something unseemly in Jeb and Putnam’s self-important and counter-productive virtue signaling.

In spite of all this, Trump won Florida in the general election, but it was close.

Adam Putnam Has a Whiff of NeverTrump
Adam Putnam is a lifelong politician, and it appears he had absorbed the elite consensus on a variety of issues, as well as absorbing their general tastes. Before 2016, Adam Putnam had supported amnesty, expressing his agricultural supporters’ desire for cheap labor—he comes from a long line of Florida farmers. He supported the bank bailout, just like McCain. During the campaign, he sided with the Kahn family, whom the Democrats employed to attack Trump, crying foul when Trump counter-attacked. Putnam said, at the time, “Capt. Khan is an American hero … Any effort to say otherwise is abhorrent and dishonorable. It makes me question how badly he [Trump] wants to win. He keeps running his mouth about the most ridiculous things and attacking a family who has sacrificed so much for the freedoms we all enjoy.”

What Putnam did not realize was that while Republicans are pro-military, they are even more pro-winning. Trump’s sometimes acerbic attacks on the neoconservative John McCain similarly resonated with many; after all, McCain had spent a decent portion of the last 15 years selling out conservatives and fellow Republicans, never more so than in his no vote on repealing Obamacare. Military service, while a positive, is not a magic shield permitting one to promote swamp values against all comers.

The utter hypocrisy of the whole crew of anti-Trump Republicans has just been too much to bear. For many years, Republican voters were told to be realistic, team-players, and to remember the crucial importance of the Supreme Court. Moderates John McCain and Mitt Romney were sold in this way to skeptical conservatives. While imperfect, voters accepted that whoever runs has to be a compromise by necessity, as the country as a whole is divided, and undecided voters are the ones that sway an election. When Trump came along, the same pundits and politicians who previously promoted party unity abandoned their earlier arguments, even in the face of an opponent like Hillary Clinton, whose liberal policies and poor character would be amplified by the multiple, aging Supreme Court justices stepping down. In other words, 2016 was pretty high stakes, and a lot of people, including Putnam, picked the wrong side.

Trump Deploys His Loyal Supporters
These incidents solidified the skepticism of Trump voters. A great many alienated voters rightly perceive that Republican politicians historically ginned up enthusiasm with talk about culture war issues, immigration, crime, and affirmative action, but that when in power, voters’ concerns would be set aside in favor of policies that favor the donor class’s concern for big business. Their interests are sometimes directly opposed to the struggling middle of the country. That middle has rightly perceived that globalization, immigration, and a general coziness with Wall Street have all combined to advance two things: wage suppression and job expulsion. They and America have gotten weak, while a small coterie of hostile globalists have gotten rich. This is conservative?

Florida also consists of a huge retired population. People come from all over the country to retire to Florida, taking advantage of its wonderful climate, affordable real estate, and low taxes. Baby boomer and older, this group also skews conservative. Thus, Trump’s motto, “Make America Great Again,” and its appeal to the way things were better in recent memory, had a certain intrinsic appeal.

Finally, Trump has a track record now, and people like how he has governed. The economy is booming. Taxes are lower. Perennial problems, like North Korea’s nuclear program, appear to be on the road to resolution. ISIS has been defeated. Regulations are being reduced, including job-killing ones made to combat global warming. Trump has nominated amazing Supreme Court justices. Democrats are losing their minds, which may be reason enough to support him, after their eight triumphant years under Obama.

Most important, Trump, while not a plaster saint, does have the right kind of morality for politics: he is patriotic, identifies with ordinary Americans, and keeps his political promises. This kind of honor-based morality is essential, and it escapes the Jebs and Romneys of the world, who betrayed Trump’s voters by assisting someone they had spent years reviling as evil incarnate. If Hillary Clinton was so bad, why do a few jokes and some pro-worker trade policies offend so much?

The Tampa rally was typical. Trump got in a few one-liners, bragged a bit, and the fake news was pilloried by the rowdy crowd. Trump said little about DeSantis in Tampa, but his endorsement may be enough. DeSantis is a Trump-supporting Congressman with an impressive academic record augmented by his service in the Navy. He is certainly not as versed in the intricacies of state politics as his opponent, but he is one thing that Putnam is not: he is in touch with the zeitgeist. He is not pushing yesterday’s policies like the Sioux Ghost Dance; rather, he is pushing nationalist policies deployed at the state level by targeting dubious pro-illegal-immigration policies like scholarships for “Dreamers.” I expect he will win the nomination. It is Trump’s GOP now. Pro-worker. Pro-Citizen. And Pro-Making-America-Great-Again.

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Photo Credit: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

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About Christopher Roach

Christopher Roach is an adjunct fellow of the Center for American Greatness and an attorney in private practice based in Florida. He is a double graduate of the University of Chicago and has previously been published by The Federalist, Takimag, Chronicles, the Washington Legal Foundation, the Marine Corps Gazette, and the Orlando Sentinel. The views presented are solely his own.