Milestones present the ideal opportunity to reflect, both on the past and to the future. With only 150 days until Election Day — a marker that seems like a way off, but is truly not — it would be tough to resist the urge to catalog the seemingly never-ending list of unforced errors by the communications staff of the Rick Scott campaign and the Republican Party of Florida.
In framing the discussion, one thing to keep in mind is that many of the key players in Scott’s campaign represent something of a “dream team,” assembled to secure the re-election of a “flawed” candidate (to put it charitably). Republicans certainly have an advantage in Florida, as the RPOF boasts a large staff of experienced veterans and war chests several times larger than that of their opponents.
Overall, many of Rick Scott’s unenforced errors could be speaking to broader issues with voters and the public.
At the top of the list is the resignation of health care billionaire Mike Fernandez as Rick Scott’s campaign finance co-chair. Fernandez left in March after a flurry of emails charging, among other things, top campaign staffers made a number of racist comments to an associate. His departure, as well as the subsequent flurry of cross accusations, brought to surface an incredible amount of internal drama and provided a blow to the governor’s Hispanic outreach efforts.
Speaking of Hispanic outreach, Scott also issued this “bizarre” Cinco de Mayo statement afterwards: “The Mexican community has been growing for many years in Florida, coinciding with my efforts…” demonstrating an astonishing level of tone-deafness.
Also in the Republican departure lounge was Lenny Curry, who resigned as RPOF chair on May 1 to pursue a bid for Jacksonville mayor. His abrupt announcement left the Party scrambling to find a replacement. The election of Clay County GOP chair Leslie Dougher left some members with a bad taste in their mouths, complaining that the process, which took place in Tampa on May 31, had “a scripted feel.”
Another slip up was Scott’s April 29 anti-Obamacare event, where the Governor met with about 20 senior citizens for feedback on recent Medicare Advantage cuts under the federal health care law. What he did not expect was for all but one of them to voice strong support of Obamacare, turning the event into a national news story of “a very public amateur hour blunder.”
Then there was Scott’s claim that paying more in property taxes for education did not amount to a tax increase, leading Associated Press reporter Gary Fineout to send a number of tweets setting the incumbent governor straight. Fineout flatly declared that Scottworld clearly does not comprehend how Florida funds education.
Making Scott and the GOP’s life more difficult was YouTube, where digging up the past has become easier than ever; old video interviews led to PolitiFact Florida giving Scott a “Full Flop” rating, just days after he said had never changed his position on in-state tuition for Dreamers. Reporters found that in September 2011, Scott said in an interview that he “completely” opposed in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. However, in April 2014, he now said he “always” supported it.
When Scott goes on the attack, it always seemed to result in a series of missteps and gaffes. One example was attacking likely Democratic opponent Charlie Crist on his position on foreclosures, which immediately opened the door for charges of hypocrisy. Another was attacking the Tampa Bay Times for apparently no reason, as well as trashing the press in general for joining a lawsuit challenging his use of blind trusts. (Scott is the only Florida elected official that put his assets in a blind trust upon taking office.)
Complicating matters is when Scott’s campaign called on Crist to disclose his finances, only to lash out when the same was asked of him.
Of course, PolitiFact has rarely been on Scott’s good side, but Juston Johnson trashing the Pulitzer Prize-winning website on Twitter may not have been the best strategy, and one that is certain to come back to haunt him.
Although it may not be strictly the Governor’s fault, it is difficult to overlook the reappearance of former Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll, who quit last year over her association with a fraudulent charity embroiled in an Internet café scandal. Returning to the limelight with a new memoir, Carroll told Jacksonville CBS affiliate WETV, that she was angry with Scott for casting her out of office without the same “courtesy” as the “good ol’ boys” in the Capitol.
South Florida has always been a battleground for the state GOP, but after hours of testimony against new nuclear power plants outside Miami, and then approving them without discussion, Scott and the RPOF foolishly and needlessly picked a fight in the part of the state they desperately need for reelection in the fall.
Further proving how out-of-step the RPOF can be is their insistence in trashing high-speed rail. For Democrats, every moment Republicans think about HSR represents a win for the Dems, and is proof that they simply do not realize how damning Scott’s veto appears to outsiders. It is as if they are waging a war against sarcasm.
One recent press release, described as “mind-blowing,” began this way: “For the Florida Democrats to criticize anyone for their positions on same-sex marriage while they won’t even allow for a debate between their candidates for Governor is absurd.”
With the RPOF, sometimes it really is little things that matter, such as Rick Scott’s climate change denial and following admission that he’s “not a scientist.” The same goes for blasting Crist for announcing a trip to Cuba, when one of the RPOF’s vendors did the same, while even encouraging others do it.
The 2014 hits don’t end there:
- The Council of 100 fiasco, where the “non-partisan” group abruptly cancelled a speech by Charlie Crist, ostensibly to avoid incurring Scott’s wrath, becoming just one of several examples of the EOG censoring political opponents.
- Permitting Scott to share the stage with, and then praise, Bay County Commissioner Guy Tunnell, who resigned under controversy as FDLE commissioner during Jeb Bush’s administration over his management of the death of a 14-year-old boy in a Panama City boot camp. Tunnell also made comments likening black leaders to Jesse James and Osama Bin Laden.
- And most recently, Scott’s campaign planning a fundraiser at the Boca Raton home of real estate developer James Batmasian, convicted for federal tax evasion, only to cancel it abruptly after reporters called him on it.
A play on the ol’ joke goes: How many RPOF’ers does it take to screw in a light bulb? 22, one to screw it in and 21 to screw up the press release.