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Joe Gruters confident Florida GOP will come together to back Donald Trump

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Joe Gruters‘ association with the Donald Trump campaign is controversial, because, well, Donald Trump is controversial.

Gruters was named last fall to be the campaign chair for Trump in Florida. That’s in addition to his other public duties, which include being the vice-chair of the Republican Party of Florida, the chair of the Sarasota County Republican Executive Committee, and a member of the board of trustees of Florida State University.

Those conflicting roles have led some of his critics to say that he should step down from one of those public positions. Gruters has rebuffed the critics, and is feeling more confident than ever that his candidate will be the nominee this fall. And he has no qualms about the party coming together in November.

“Listen, primaries are tough,” he said while standing outside the room used by Trump at the Tampa Convention Center on Monday afternoon. “A lot of things get said in primaries. People are unhappy. Their candidate loses, and just like me, there’ve been times before where I didn’t like who are nominee was going to be. But by the end of the day, I was one-hundred percent doing everything I could for the person, and I think the same will happen here.”

Members of the GOP establishment continue to maintain that the majority of Republicans don’t support Trump, referring to how his victories in previous primaries and caucuses rarely exceed forty percent of the total vote.

That’s among a scattered field, however, and Gruters says that Trump’s numbers are growing as candidates like Ben Carson and Chris Christie drop out of the race.

“Eventually, all will be forgiven, and the Republican Party will come together, stronger and united and bigger and better than before, and I think we’re going to win,” he maintains.

Perhaps.

Earlier on Tuesday, former Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, a former surrogate for Jeb Bush, who is now supporting Marco Rubio, says he has certain expectations of who the GOP’s standard bearer should be, and says Trump is lacking in those qualities at the moment.

“I expect the nominee of the Republican Party to be presidential,” he told MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “I expect them to care about the poor. I expect them to care about free markets and free enterprise. I expect them to care about life. This is not a person who has not embodied what I look for in a candidate for the Republican nomination, and somebody I can support in November.

Gruters says that Trump has ignited a movement, referring to the dramatic increase in Republicans turning out to vote in some of the nation’s first primaries and caucuses.  Democratic strategist Steve Schale told the Wall Street Journal that based on the early vote in 14 counties across Florida, more than half didn’t cast ballots in the 2012 GOP presidential primary.

“I think at the end of the day we have to win the general election, and I think that Donald Trump has the ability to expand our base, to increase the size of our tent,” says Gruters. “You’ve seen it in the primaries; I think that the energy and enthusiasm that’s been created will be transferred over to the general election, and I think it’s going to be a historic election with DT carrying states that we were never even considered to have a chance of winning before.”

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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