Are Florida Republicans a leaderless party?
Who is the leader of the Florida Republican Party?
Governor Rick Scott? Marco Rubio? Adam Putnam? Pam Bondi? Jeff Atwater?
Or perhaps Jeb Bush?
Or – are Florida Republicans so fractured that there is no single leader of the party?
Today’s Florida Republican Party is very different than the one Bush took over when he staged a coup in 1994. He showed up in that year’s governor’s race as candidate who had never run for office, had limited campaign experience and a business background marked by notable failures. Like Donald Trump, what he did have was a name everyone knew – Bush.
With the help of his family name, Bush easily pushed aside more established GOP candidates to become the party’s nominee for governor. Bush would narrowly lose that election to incumbent Democrat Lawton Chiles, but the GOP would take over the Senate and the Florida Cabinet. And Bush began his reign has the undisputed leader of the Florida Republican Party.
Today, Florida Republicans are rudderless. The party that Bush ruled with a firm hand for more than a decade, is fractured. The slide began with the election of Charlie Crist as governor in 2006. It’s hard to believe now that at one point Crist was among those being considered to be John McCain’s running mate in the 2008 presidential campaign.
Crist, much like his arch-enemy Marco Rubio, was always a malleable Republican shifting direction as fit his political ambitions. Florida Republicans tolerated Crist because, well, he was governor. And by golly, if a Floridian became vice president that would be swell too.
Bush deeply cared about the machinery of politics. He put his best people in the right places. Crist could care less. He turned the party machine over to the now notorious Jim Greer who plundered the party coffers and ended up in prison.
Crist’s hold on the party was so tenuous that a faux hug from President Obama led to screams from
the hard right and opportunity for Rubio. The once moderate Rubio found maneuvering room by suddenly becoming an ardent follower of the emerging Tea Party movement. Many establishment Republicans laughed at the notion that Rubio could successfully challenge Crist who decided he would rather be a U.S. Senator than run for a second term as governor.
It was a calamitous moment for the Florida GOP and it began the cracking of party unity.
Rubio became a hero of the Tea Party and as the 2010 primary approached, his ardent followers were overwhelming the GOP establishment. And Republicans who had been lukewarm about Crist suddenly had an opportunity to abandon him
Crist leaves the GOP to run as independent. Rubio captures the party nomination and goes on to win a three way race defeating Crist and Democrat Kendrick Meek.
At the same time, a stranger arrived in town – Rick Scott.