If you’re keeping track of time, there is B.T. and A.T. — Before Trump and After Trump.
At the beginning of summer, there were (at least) 10 big questions facing Florida politics. But those questions, particularly the ones involving the myriad of presidential candidates hailing from the Sunshine State, are so B.T.
On June 16, Donald Trump entered the presidential race and very little about the campaign has been the same since. As the venerable Tom Brokaw recently observed about the race, there are no rules, and they’ve all changed.
At the state level, the Monopoly board of legislative politics has been thrown into the air by the Florida Supreme Court’s order that the state’s congressional districts be redrawn. An agreement forced upon the Legislature to redraw the state Senate districts only increases the confusion.
It was Florida’s summer of discontent. What was expected did not occur and what did occur could not have been expected.
Here are the answers to the 10 big questions that faced Florida at the beginning of Summer, B.T.
What does Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign roll-out look like? The former governor’s formal entrance into the race was as eagerly anticipated — and predictable — as a summer movie blockbuster. And while Bush’s campaign pulled off a perfectly produced curtain-raiser, that really doesn’t matter now. Despite nine-figures worth of campaign money behind him, Bush is struggling to remain in the top-tier of presidential candidates. Bush’s biggest challenge is how to operate in the same ecosystem as Trump. As Chuck Todd said Sunday on Meet the Press, this is not the campaign Bush wanted to run.
Can Marco Rubio remain in the top-tier of presidential candidates? When this question was first asked, Rubio led or was in the top three of several national GOP presidential primary polls. Today, Rubio is barely inside the Top 10 in most polls, including those of Iowa and New Hampshire. Rubio’s campaign insists it is biding its time and it has the financial resources to be competitive, However, given the fact that he’s not only trailing Trump and Bush, but is being lapped by Ben Carson, John Kasich, and Ted Cruz, might Rubio be regretting not giving himself more of an out to run again for the U.S. Senate?
Is Florida ready for Hillary? The former secretary of state would love to already be positioning herself in Florida as a general election candidate, but the controversy over her emails while at State and the rise of Bernie Sanders has Clinton “feeling the Bern.” And now Vice President Joe Biden is close to entering the race. Yet, for all her troubles, there are a dozen Republican presidential candidates who would gladly take her poll numbers.
What will the field for Rubio’s U.S. Senate seat look like come Labor Day? It looks a lot less crowded than it was three months ago. Carlos Lopez-Cantera and David Jolly joined Ron DeSantis, but Jeff Miller, Don Gaetz, and Randy Fine passed on running. Yet who is in seems to hardly matter because no one knows who’s who anyway. A recent Quinnipiac poll showed that 86 percent of voters said they hadn’t heard enough about Lopez-Cantera, Jolly or DeSantis to offer opinions about them. “The U.S. Senate candidates in Florida might want to put their pictures on milk cartons to increase their visibility,” Quinnipiac pollster Peter Brown joked.
What will happen further down the ticket? It was so widely assumed that Miller would run for the U.S. Senate that candidates were lining up for the seats of the legislators expected to run for Congress. But those dominoes never fell. No worries. The chaos created by the redistricting ruling has created more than enough opportunity for ambitious politicians.
What does Rick Scott want? If there’s a winner emerging from the summer doldrums, it may be Scott, whose approval ratings are right-side-up for the first time since taking office in 2011. He’s done this by remaining above, or at least out of, the fray. His economic summit in June was a stagecrafting success. And Scott continues to raise large sums of money for an expected 2018 U.S. Senate run.
How does the upcoming special session play out? Remember those quaint days when special sessions focused on budget issues and Medicaid expansion? That was what was on the Legislature’s plate three months ago — before the redistricting ruling. Despite a lot of smoke, there wasn’t much fire by the time the House and Senate went through their respective motions. But the atmosphere in Tallahassee has rarely been this toxic and already lawmakers and lobbyists are bracing for a contentious 2016 session.
What will happen with Senate maps – the ticking time bomb of Florida politics? It’s worth revisiting what was written in May: “Talk to the consultants who know, and they’ll tell you the courts throwing out the state Senate districts is a fait accompli. Some of these same consultants have suggested the lines will be thrown out as early as October. Tick, tick, tick.” As anyone working in Florida politics now knows that ticking time bomb has exploded.
Can the Florida Democratic Party get its act together and recruit quality candidates to challenge the GOP’s majorities in the Legislature? As much as it does to jeopardize its hegemony over state politics, the Florida GOP will likely remain firmly in control of Tallahassee because its adversary, the Florida Democratic Party, is less capable of winning than the Washington Generals. There’s been little evidence to suggest the FDP has done much of anything to capitalize on the Republicans’ problems.
What do we not know about Florida politics that we don’t know? The Sunshine State remains the Chinatown of American politics. Who could have guessed that the Floridian running for president who would be in the best poll position would be Ben Carson? Who could have guessed that Charlie Crist very well could be in Congress after 2016? Who could have guessed that Gwen Graham might not be?
A better question might just be, how could we not have expected the unexpected?