The campaign for the Republican nomination took a sharp but not altogether unexpected turn on Thursday night as both Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio confronted Donald Trump head-on in the debate, with Rubio proving to be able to fight Trump on Trump’s terms.
Suddenly Rubio positioned himself as the GOP’s last best hope for keeping the nomination from Trump and thus saving the party from certain implosion. What is derisively known as the Republican establishment didn’t set out with the intention of backing Rubio and it took a long time, but finally, after South Carolina, it appeared that broad support from Republican elected officials and party elders was headed Rubio’s way. In the week since the South Carolina primary, Rubio has picked up endorsements from 13 congressmen, five senators, and two governors. Among these are various Floridians who had previously pledged their support to Jeb Bush.
Conspicuous in his absence among those rushing to endorse Rubio is Florida Governor Rick Scott. Scott, like Rubio, was first elected in the Tea Party wave election of 2010. It was the wealthy businessman’s first campaign and it was a tough one in which he faced a lot of negative advertising and rhetoric because of his history as the former chairman and CEO of the country’s largest hospital corporation. Still, largely because of the wave of anger at Obama among Florida voters in the off-year election and a weak Democrat opponent, Scott won and was sworn in as governor.
Governor Scott hasn’t exactly been a popular governor, though he was re-elected in 2014, again in large part because of the off-year dynamic that brought Republicans control of the Senate as well as 13 new House seats and two new governorships. In November of 2015, a year after re-election, Scott’s approval rating sat at 44%, making him the eighth least popular governor in the country.
Back in 2013, Rick Scott subtly revealed himself in how he handled two issues. First, in February of that year, he came out in favor of Medicaid expansion for Florida under Obamacare.
As Avik Roy (now an advisor to Rubio) then noted, “It was a striking flip-flop for the governor who spent millions of dollars of his own money fighting Obamacare, and had sworn earlier that he would not implement the law’s Medicaid expansion.”
The Florida Senate passed the expansion but it died, as expected, in the House. Scott had made a political calculation. He could have the cover of officially standing for the expansion knowing full well that it and the future financial burden on the state that it represented would never see the light of day. Some might see this a clever piece of political gamesmanship, but it doesn’t commend him highly as a principled conservative.
Another telling issue was his 2013 veto of a bipartisan alimony reform bill. The divorce laws and alimony guidelines in Florida are extremely nebulous, a situation that makes for long and litigious divorces along with huge legal fees. The bill was, of course, opposed by lawyers who operate in Florida’s family courts. In vetoing the bill, Scott hid behind a weak argument. “In weighing the issues associated with this bill, however, I have concluded that I cannot support this legislation because it applies retroactively and thus tampers with settled economic expectations of many Floridians who have experienced divorce,” Scott said.
It seems strange that in the 21st century, in which women are more likely to get a college degree than men and in which equal treatment of women is a major issue, a human being should have to pay another able-bodied human being support simply because their romantic relationship ended (note that I am not talking about child support). Some older men in Florida have been unable to slow down or retire because of alimony awarded to their ex-spouses decades before. If that’s not indentured servitude, I don’t know what is. If Scott had been governor of Florida at the time of the abolition of slavery, he might have objected to it on the grounds that it interfered with the “settled economic expectations” of slave owners.
Which brings us to the situation at hand. It’s understandable that Governor Scott didn’t immediately endorse Marco Rubio. Jeb Bush is a giant in Florida politics and the overlapping circles of support for the senator and former governor put many people in a tight spot. But now that Bush has suspended his campaign, with the Florida primary looming and as others begin to endorse Rubio, it would seem appropriate that Florida’s Republican governor now endorse Florida’s Republican senator just as Greg Abbott in Texas endorsed Senator Cruz.
I suppose it’s possible that he is going to endorse Rubio and has been asked to hold off for some reason, but I suspect otherwise. Recently a couple of articles have been published speculating that Governor Scott might be Donald Trump’s choice for vice-presidential running mate. It should be noted that Scott has made no effort to disavow such speculation or tamp it down.
If there’s any truth to the idea that Scott is toying with joining Trump’s Republican suicide-show, that would make him one of what Rick Wilson calls “the Vichy Republicans.”
An equally unflattering read of the situation is that Scott sees Rubio trailing Trump in the Florida polls (by a wide margin in some) and is waiting to see how everything shakes out in the state on March 15th before deciding whether or not to endorse the senator. This would be a coward’s way out and would deny Rubio any press coverage about the endorsement in the state where it’s most relevant. What good is having political capital (as little as an unpopular governor may have), if you refuse to use it in a time of dire emergency?
On the day that Rubio solidified himself as the remaining Republican candidate with a formula that has a chance of knocking Trump off his game, another Republican governor, Chris Christie, betrayed the conservative movement (if he was ever part of it) and the Republican Party. Will Rick Scott be next?