Florida congressional Republicans seem to be staying out of the apparent rift between former President Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis as speculation continues to rise on the prospect of DeSantis launching a 2024 presidential bid.
Florida Republicans made congressional gains in the midterm election, jumping from 16 GOP members of the U.S. House from Florida to 20 post-election. That, coupled with the Republican Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, means Republicans have 22 GOP congressional members representing Florida in Congress. But, the current battle between Trump and DeSantis puts them in a unique and perhaps uncomfortable position, as some expect them to pick a side and reveal their loyalties.
“Rep. Aaron Bean called deciding between Trump and DeSantis a “Sophie’s Choice” … (It’s worth pointing out here that during a Republican Party of Florida debate last year, Bean was asked the same question and sided with DeSantis.)”
https://t.co/v24S8WP1eU via @politico
— Sally Goldenberg (@SallyGold) March 17, 2023
However, that is not happening — at least, not en masse. While Reps. Matt Gaetz and Anna Paulina Luna have openly supported Trump, Politico Playbook reports that most of the Republicans in the Florida GOP delegation are not taking sides as the tensions between the former president and governor mount.
Rep. Neal Dunn (R-FL), for example, told Politico that he has decided who he would endorse but is choosing to keep it to himself for the time being.
“Oh, wow. You really are trying to get me into a situation here,” he said, adding, “I don’t need to make myself a target for a year.”
Sen. Rick Scott also provided a non-answer, noting that he does not like to endorse in the primaries. However, he did hint at what Politico described as an “icy” relationship with the governor.
“DeSantis doesn’t talk to me, so I don’t know about DeSantis. I talk to Trump. I wish him all the best of luck,” Scott said.
Meanwhile, Rep. Aaron Bean is also refusing to overtly choose a side, despite what he has said in the past:
Rep. Aaron Bean called deciding between Trump and DeSantis a “Sophie’s Choice” — a reference to the film and novel where the Nazis force a woman to select which one of her children will die. (It’s worth pointing out here that during a Republican Party of Florida debate last year, Bean was asked the same question and sided with DeSantis.)
However, even the Florida Republicans who have revealed their preferences have made it clear that they love both Trump and DeSantis.
“I love DeSantis,” Rep. Luna said. “I don’t think anyone will ever be able to compete with him as governor and I’ll be sad to see if he leaves early. I hope he doesn’t, but I love them both.”
During an interview from CPAC, Rep. Gaetz also made it clear that he loves both potential candidates but argued that Trump has the “magic for this moment.”
“I support President Trump,” he said. “I have worked very closely with Ron DeSantis. I worked very hard to get him elected governor, and I want all eight years of Ron DeSantis as the governor of the state of Florida.”
“If we do it right, we’ll get the best of both,” he continued. “We’ll get four years of Donald Trump’s presidency in his second term. Then we may have Ron DeSantis’ presidency thereafter. But I think Trump has got the magic for this moment, and this seems to be a crowd that’s ready for the MAGA movement.”
All eyes then turn on the Republican Party of Florida, but the organization also will not make a choice — at least, not under the leadership of chair Christian Ziegler.
While he has praised both men — deeming Trump “one of the greatest presidents we’ve ever had, if not the greatest” and DeSantis as possibly one of the greatest governors in the history of the country — he said the Florida GOP will stay neutral throughout the primary battle as the grassroots decide who should be the nominee in 2024.
“We’re going to support both men,” Ziegler said during a March appearance on Breitbart News Saturday.
“We’re going to stay neutral. And we’re going to allow the grassroots to pick and then whoever they pick, we’re gonna make sure they get elected, whether it’s President Trump [or] Governor DeSantis. We’re going to let the grassroots pick,” he said, adding that the Florida GOP will “work like hell to get them elected afterwards” when the primary is completed.
As Breitbart News reported:
He added further perspective, recalling the crowded GOP field in 2016, which included the likes of Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio in the mix. That year, the grassroots in Florida overwhelmingly came out for Trump. However, if the Florida GOP had gone all-in for one of those other candidates during the primary, it would have resulted in a major disconnect with voters, who chose Trump.
“And if the party were to get involved back in 2016, I promise you it probably would have been for one of them [Bush or Rubio]. And we saw the grassroots — 66 out of 67 counties in Florida — went with Trump. So there would have been a big disconnect. That’s why I’m a fan of the party staying neutral,” he said, explaining that the party will be ready the “moment” after the primary to go to battle for the nominee.
Andy Vermaut shares:DeSantis laughs off question about his 2024 presidential plans: 'Wouldn't you like to know': Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis offered a blunt response Tuesday when… https://t.co/QnsL1YrHAd Thank you. #ThankYouJournalistsForTheNewsWeGetFromYou #AndyVermautThanksYou pic.twitter.com/jrNPvY2kPT
— Andy Vermaut (@AndyVermaut) February 14, 2023
Despite the looming speculation, DeSantis has yet to reveal his political aspirations, continually remaining coy and dismissing inquiries on his relationship with the former president. When asked about his presidential plans in February, he coyly told a reporter, “Wouldn’t you like to know.”
However, his pro-police tour and recent nationwide book tour have added to the speculation that he is seriously mulling a 2024 White House bid, perhaps serving as a catalyst for the pro-Trump super PAC Make America Great Again Inc. filing an ethics complaint against DeSantis, accusing him of running a “shadow presidential campaign. DeSantis’s administration has dismissed the complaint as nothing more than a “politically motivated” attack.
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