Florida Republican Party at crossroads after Capitol violence

A mob of radical Trump supporters broke into the federal Capitol on January 6 while a congressional meeting was underway to certify the election of Joe Biden.

A mob of radical Trump supporters broke into the federal Capitol on January 6 while a congressional meeting was underway to certify the election of Joe Biden.

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After the revolt in the federal Capitol on Wednesday, as Congress debated whether to accept each state’s presidential election results, three prominent and ambitious Florida Republicans voted three different ways.

US Senator Marco Rubio rejected efforts to invalidate President-elect Joe Biden’s victories in Arizona and Pennsylvania, the two states where GOP objections forced debate and votes. Senator Rick Scott split his vote, voting to accept the results in Arizona but not Pennsylvania. And Federal Rep. Matt Gaetz rejected Biden’s constituents in both states, repeating a false claim that some in the mob that stormed the Capitol were actually leftists posing as Trump supporters.

The positions reflect the conflicting paths ahead for a Republican Party fractured by the assault on Congress and a demoralizing special election in Georgia, in which Democrats won both Senate races at stake, to take control of Congress.

“There is a real division within the party over which direction to take,” said Alex Conant, a Republican adviser who was director of communications for Rubio’s presidential campaign in 2016, during an interview in the opening moments when Trump supporters began to clash with police on Wednesday in Washington. “Clearly some Republicans want to remain Trump’s party, and some want to move on to focus on stopping the Biden agenda. And I think those are mutually exclusive directions. ”

The way forward is unclear. Republicans who have loathed Trump’s behavior for years hope that other conservatives will walk away from Trump as quickly as they assimilated into him, now that he is only days away from office. Several senior Trump administration officials have resigned and close supporters have become critical.

“The divorce has started. How long it takes and how it unfolds, we will see in the coming months, “said Carlos Curbelo, a former federal representative in Miami who frequently clashed with Trump while in office.

Back home in Florida

But in Florida, the state where Trump officially resides, where he has played king and tilted the balance of power even more toward the Republican Party, Republicans largely believe that his influence will last as long as he wants to maintain it.

“Donald Trump and his family, and a whole army of the corrupt are not going away,” said Al Cárdenas, former chairman of the Florida Republican Party, a longtime critic of the president. “They have raised all this money, ostensibly to fight in court, and they have several hundred million dollars. My feeling is that they intend to use it fundamentally [para que buscar e impulsar candidatos republicanos contra los titulares] in the elections of 2022 ”.

Trump’s base in the Florida Republican Party remains robust. Over the past four years, he created a coalition of Trump voters that appeared to help Republicans strengthen their grip on Tallahassee and Washington politics last year. Its passage secured a Republican primary victory in the 2018 gubernatorial race for Ron DeSantis, and helped Republicans like US Rep. Carlos Giménez, who voted to reject Biden voters on Wednesday, to win tough races.

In the state Republican Party, President Joe Gruters was a co-chair of Trump’s 2016 Florida campaign. Party Vice Chairman Christian Ziegler attended the rally Stop the Steal in Washington on Wednesday, which preceded the assault on the Capitol.

In an interview, Ziegler said the president’s rally was “peaceful, typical of Trump,” but as the crowd marched to the Capitol there were people suspected of being “professional protesters” who “hijacked the event” and caused the riots. .

He also distanced the party from the actions of the insurgents and the false claims of the president saying: “It was very important that the Republican leaders very quickly condemn what happened on Capitol Hill, even those who opposed the Electoral College vote.” And he added: “I cannot control what the president says.”

Trump’s name still carries significant weight in South Florida. His supporters have called Rubio a “traitor” in recent days and held a rally outside his home in West Miami. Thursday, the Washington Post reported that Trump received a shout of “We love you!” when he called the winter meeting of the Republican National Committee on Amelia Island in northeast Florida.

Trump is still a political force

Republicans interviewed acknowledged that Trump had been harmed by the results in Georgia and the riot on Capitol Hill, but said Trump supporters remain a force in Florida. A majority of the state’s elected Republicans voted Wednesday night to sustain objections to the vote in Arizona and Pennsylvania, the only two states where pro-Trump representatives were able to garner the necessary support in the Senate to take their objections to a vote. .

“All this mess is going to cost some people, in the primaries, particularly. In the end, the base is the base, ”said a Republican Party strategist the morning after the Georgia election, before the riot in Washington. “If people think there is going to be a return to Mitt Romney Republicanism … they are crazy.”

For Scott and Rubio, who have tried to pave their own paths after Trump, the president’s uncertain position creates its own opportunities and challenges.

“They have been Trump supporters, lukewarm, but they have been supportive,” said another Republican strategist who spoke privately to the Miami Herald. “I don’t know what they do now. In the Florida, [Trump] is popular”.

Nor is there necessarily a warm hug waiting for Republicans who reject Trump. When Rubio tweeted Thursday that some people had “misled” Trump supporters into believing that the results of Biden’s victory could be overturned as a means to further his political careers and raise money, he received a response from the anti-Republican Republican group. Trump, The Lincoln Project: “Look in the mirror.”

Cárdenas, the former chairman of the Florida Republican Party, says Republicans in the state are “petrified of pro-Trump supporters who would get them out of their jobs,” but he blames the party for condoning “a lot of the nonsense that happens now.” . He warns that unless party leaders oppose what he believes to be a trend toward violence, the situation will continue, “and we are going to live in continuous chaos.”

Conant, a former spokesman for Rubio, wonders if Trump, who often says he only likes to hold rallies for himself, will remain interested and involved in Republican politics and primaries across the country once he leaves office.

But from the outside, David Jolly, a former Republican congressman from Tampa, said he believes Trump’s leadership of the Republican Party, particularly in Florida, will remain as strong as he wants it to be.

“His control is real and very effective, and if he wants to maintain that, he will. If he decides to pursue fortunes elsewhere, and meet his fame through other platforms, then perhaps the Republican Party would have some room to analyze his work over the past five years, ”said Jolly, now executive chairman of the Serve America Movement, an independent political reform organization active in some states.

But Jolly, who is now independent, said the Republican Party has been “totally reshaped by Donald Trump” and is also “as strong as it has ever been.”

“What we see today is going to be with us for a long time,” he said. The question for me is, who is going to run it? If Donald Trump tries to stay ahead, there will be no room for anyone else. “

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