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GOP strategist Rick Wilson tees off on Donald Trump

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As the Republican field running for governor grows, a top GOP strategist offered some advice Wednesday to candidates seeking to follow term-limited Gov. Rick Scott.

“Just don’t be Trump’s mini-me, a simple rule,” Rick Wilson told the Capital Tiger Bay Club in a luncheon speech.

Wilson, a Tallahassee-based national Republican strategist who has become one of the most-outspoken critics of President Donald Trump, said most of the Republicans positioning themselves to run for governor next year “are pretty much onboard the Trump train to Trash Fire Mountain.”

Wilson, who has nearly three decades of political experience, said he understands the attraction of trying to appeal to Trump supporters in a Republican primary, but he warned it’s a “sugar high” that could have consequences in the general election.

“Their consultants are looking at that Trump base approval number and encouraging their guys to get an orange wig and rage tweet every morning at 6 a.m.,” Wilson said. “It’s a really bad look on most people. Trying to out-Trump Trump is the biggest sin in politics.”

Wilson said voters will “know you’re faking it.”

“Be real, guys, be yourself, be better than Trumpism,” Wilson said. “You’ll thank me in the general election, I promise you.”

In a nearly hour-long appearance before the political club, Wilson talked about his transition from a “rock-solid party guy,” who got his start with George H.W. Bush in the 1988 presidential campaign,” to a man who underwent a “political midlife change” in the 2016 election.

Wilson, who ended up supporting Evan McMullin’s independent bid for president, said Trump was not aligned with his political beliefs of limited government, individual liberty, an adherence to the Constitution and support for government restraint.

“I just couldn’t bring myself to pretend that Donald Trump was a conservative or that he was a Republican,” Wilson said. “He doesn’t believe in anything except himself, his celebrity and his brand. That’s not the party I signed up for.”

Wilson said the “real election” last year was “for the heart and soul” of his party.

“Republicans were hypnotized by a celebrity con man with a nationalist message, who was given virtually unlimited media attention,” he said.

With Trump’s recent equivocating on condemning racial violence in Charlottesville, Va., Wilson said “this is a bad time to be a Republican.”

“I have to call out not just Donald Trump right now but leaders of my party who will not call Donald Trump out by name for what he has done and said in the last few days to give aid and comfort to Nazis, Klansmen and racists,” Wilson said.

But he added he was “heartened” by remarks from Republican leaders, who unlike the president, directly condemned the actions by the nationalist groups in Virginia.

“They have recognized finally that this is a man who is off the rails,” Wilson said.

Wilson also warned that neither Republicans nor Democrats are “ready for the future.” He predicted that an accelerated cycle of change politically, socially and economically “will make the last 10 years look like the 1950s.”

He said voters are disengaging from both parties, reflected by the growing number of voters who claim no party affiliation.

“They increasingly sense that politics is disconnected from the things that affect their daily lives,” Wilson said.

Wilson’s outspokenness has drawn the ire of Trump supporters and the president, who has 36 million Twitter followers to Wilson’s 221,000 followers.

“One of the most amazing experiences you can have in your life is when Donald Trump tweets something terrible about you. Wow,” Wilson said. “You learn very quickly who your enemies and your friends are.”

Wilson said impeachment of Trump is not likely.

“Unless they find a note in Cyrillic from Trump, impeachment is a very high hill,” he said, alluding to investigations about alleged ties between Trump’s campaign and supporters to Russia.

But he raised the possibility that Trump might not seek re-election.

“I think Donald Trump is miserable. I think he hates this job,” he said.

Wilson also predicted that Trump, despite his controversies, will not change.

“It’s always the worst week. This is another worst week,” Wilson said. “I have two big theories. It never gets better. And everything Trump touches dies.”

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Lloyd Dunkelberger is a Tallahassee-based political reporter and columnist; he most recently served as Tallahassee bureau chief for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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