To: Interested parties
From: Bradley Beychok, American Bridge President
Date: Tuesday, May 8, 2018
RE: Ron DeSantis has a Donald Trump problem
The campaign for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in Florida is a dumpster fire. Adam Putnam, long believed to be the front-runner, has turned in a remarkably weak performance, and Congressman Ron DeSantis increasingly looks like the new front-runner in the Republican primary. As a permanent fixture on FOX News, an entrenched member of the Tea Party, andTrump’s personally endorsed nominee, on paper, he looks like a GOP primary voter’s dream. The same profile that makes DeSantis a strong primary candidate, however, will be toxic in the general election, as demonstrated by historical trends, current polling, recent Democratic gains in the state, and the swing nature of Florida’s electorate. Recognizing this reality, American Bridge will undertake a campaign highlighting how DeSantis and Trump are perfect for each other but wrong for Florida – leveraging DeSantis’ weakness into victory for Democrats in November.
Trump is a Political Liability in 2018
Anyone who fails to recognize this reality is ignoring history, polling, and the results of dozens of special elections. While Trump won Florida in 2016 by a slim margin, there is no indication that his victory foreshadows GOP success in 2018. In fact, history suggests the opposite; in 2008, former President Obama carried Florida by nearly 3 points, only to see Republicans win the Governor’s mansion in 2010 by more than 1 percentage point. In 2012, Obama again carried Florida, but two years later, Scott was reelected, once again by a full percentage point. In other words, in midterm elections, Florida swings against the party in control of the White House.
Beyond the historical data, polling clearly indicates that the electorate is turning on the Republican Party. Nationally, Democrats enjoy a nearly eight point average advantage on the generic ballot, a clear indicator that the electorate is unhappy with Republicans across the board. Meanwhile, the President spent the better part of the last year with historically low approval ratings, and he remains underwater by double digits on average. One recent Florida survey echoed those results with Trump posting a net negative twelve-point job approval, a troubling number for Republicans when you consider midterm elections are ultimately referendums on the President and his party.
Finally, there is ever-increasing enthusiasm on the Democratic side, which also suggests 2018 is shaping up to be a bad year for the GOP in Florida and across the country. On May 1, Democrat Javier Fernandez won a special election in a swing Miami-Dade state house seat by 4 points, despite being outspent in a district where “Republicans slightly outnumber Democrats and down-ballot Republicans have outperformed the top of the ticket.” On February 13, Democrat Margaret Good delivered a dramatic upset in a Sarasota-based special election, defeating her Republican opponent in a state house race by seven points – in a seat Donald Trump had won by four points in 2016. This swing of nearly 12 points is only the latest special election victory for Florida Democrats, who continue to make gains in the suburban communities where voters have been disgusted by the Trump administration’s chaos and policies. Nationally, the picture is no better for Republicans. On March 13, Republicans lost a deep-red congressional district in Pennsylvania that Trump carried in 2016 by more than 20 points. On April 24, Democrats almost pulled off an upset in Arizona in a district Trump carried by 21 points and in which Democrats hadn’t even fielded a candidate for in 6 years.
The takeaway is simple: disdain for Trump is fueling an anti-GOP wave and, as a result, 2018 is shaping up to be a bad year for the Republican Party, especially in a swing state like Florida.
The Trump–DeSantis Agenda Will Only Make Things Worse
Republicans’ structural weaknesses will be compounded when voters begin to hear more about the disastrous DeSantis–Trump agenda and its consequences for Florida. In Washington, DeSantis has voted with Trump more than 94% of the time, and together, the two have advanced policies with disastrous consequences for Florida families.
DeSantis now owns Trump’s reckless proposals to address gun violence, his tax plan that further rigs the economy for the rich, his failed responses to natural disasters, his repeated efforts to repeal Floridians’ health care, and their his failure to address the opioid epidemic that is ravaging Florida communities.
- On Gun Safety, Trump and DeSantis Side with the NRA at the Expense of Florida’s Safety. In the aftermath of the deadly shooting in Parkland, Trump and DeSantis both have refused to offer real solutions that will keep schools safe from gun violence. Instead, the two have parroted NRA talking points, including calls for armed veterans to patrol schools, as if more guns would somehow prevent further mass shootings.
- The Trump–DeSantis Tax Plan Further Rigs the Economy for the Rich. With their tax plan, Trump and DeSantis sold out Florida’s middle class. The plan crystalizes for voters exactly whose side DeSantis is on — the richest Floridians – and will be a drag on his campaign. As voters learn more about this reckless tax scam moving forward, they’ll only further turn on the GOP. The fact that Florida’s richest 1% receive an average tax cut worth more than $12,000, paid for by the poorest Floridians down the road, highlights exactly how this scam further rigs the system for the wealthy. When voters learn that the plan will cost 870,000 Floridians their health insurance, increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion, and raise taxes on middle and lower-income taxpayers in the long term, they will rightfully direct their anger at the Republicans responsible, and in Florida that is Ron DeSantis.
- The Trump administration Failed Puerto Rico – And DeSantis Cheered Him On. The 2017 hurricane season devastated Florida and the region as a whole. Hurricane Maria caused millions in damage to Florida and completely decimated Puerto Rico. The storm knocked out all power and most cell phone service to 3.4 million Americans. What did President Trump, as the head of disaster response, do? He claimed that the hurricane was not “a real catastrophe” like Hurricane Katrina before ultimately visiting Puerto Rico for a phony photo opp. More than seven months since the Hurricane, most of the island is still without basic services and tens of thousands remain without power. Meanwhile, demographers expect that many Puerto Rican families — up to 82,000 people per year — will permanently relocate to Florida, a significant influx of new voters being added to the rolls in no small part due to the President’s incompetence.
While most politicians would respond to this failed response by standing up and demanding accountability, DeSantis elected to go in the opposite direction, issuing a statement applauding the Trump Administration’s response just days after the hurricane hit. That decision will come back to haunt DeSantis moving forward because it perfectly illustrates to voters that when it comes to siding with Florida or the President, DeSantis will pick Trump no matter what.
- The Trump–DeSantis Agenda Rips Healthcare Away From More than 4.3 Million Floridians. In 2017, DeSantis and his colleagues in Congress fought to rip away healthcare from millions of Americans, including more than 4.3 million Floridians who rely on Medicaid and CHIP, and 119,000 military veterans who rely on Medicaid — and that was just last year. Over the course of his career, DeSantis has repeatedly voted to kick millions of Floridians off of their health insurance, and even suggested a cancer patient could use the emergency room, saying, “If people really need [health care], they show up to the emergency room.” Meanwhile, Trump has been actively working to sabotage health insurance markets, resulting in higher costs for consumers, and DeSantis has stood by him every step of the way.
- A Failure to Address the Opioid Epidemic. The Trump administration has failed to take serious action to address the opioid epidemic that is ravaging the country, particularly the state of Florida, where 4,996 people died of drug overdoses in 2016. Instead, the White House decided to appoint a 24 year-old campaign worker to help lead the government’s drug policy office tasked with responding to this public health crisis. In response, DeSantis again stood by Trump, while also pushing Medicaid cuts that would undermine the effort to fight the epidemic in Florida.
The GOP starts with a structural disadvantage in 2018 because of Donald Trump and there is zero evidence to suggest that this White House knows how to right the ship. Those disadvantages will be amplified by the toxic nature of the party’s agenda, and when combined with the swing nature of Florida’s electorate, add up to a recipe for Democratic victory in November. Ron DeSantis can run, but he can’t hide from these dynamics, and come November, he should expect a wholesale rejection of Trump, their shared agenda, and the Republican Party as a whole at the ballot box.