TALLAHASSEE — With his lopsided re-election victory and former President Donald Trump’s 2024 campaign announcement, Gov. Ron DeSantis is in a swirl of questions about his and the Republican Party’s future.
“What do you think about Trump’s big announcement and some of the less-than-flattering comments he has made about you?” an audience member asked Tuesday during an event in Fort Walton Beach.
“Do you fear that there might be a civil war brewing in the GOP, where people are going to have to choose between you and Donald Trump?” a person attending a DeSantis event asked Wednesday in Lee County.
DeSantis has publicly tried to downplay the chatter and has been coy about whether he will run for president. He told supporters Wednesday to “chill out a little bit on some of this stuff,” after he tried to turn attention Tuesday to a familiar target, saying “corporate” media outlets “have a spasm with just the fact that I’m getting up in the morning.”
But DeSantis’s re-election win and Trump’s announcement Tuesday of another White House bid have simply speeded up the process of Republican donors, insiders and voters taking sides.
Media mogul Rupert Murdoch has reportedly told Trump that Murdoch holdings, including Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, and the New York Post can’t continue to provide support for the former president. Republicans were stung by the poor performance of candidates backed by Trump in key Nov. 8 elections.
While the GOP won a slim majority in the U.S. House, it failed to take control of the U.S. Senate after losses in states such as Pennsylvania, Arizona and Nevada.
In a not-so-subtle dig at Trump, the cover of the New York Post on Wednesday did not feature the campaign announcement. It included only a line at the bottom of the cover that said, “Florida Man Makes Announcement.” Next to it was “Page 26.”
After DeSantis crushed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist in last week’s election, the Post cover had a big picture of DeSantis and his family and the headline, “DeFuture.”
But another conservative media staple, One America News Network, appears to be sticking with Trump.
On Monday, One America News Network’s Dan Ball called it “political suicide” for DeSantis to take on the former president, while complaining “the mainstream media, Democrats, and RINOs (Republicans in name only) are all teaming up against Trump, trying to cause turmoil in the Republican Party.”
Rearranging the chairs
In the past, Republican Florida Senate presidents have typically tapped a few Democrats to chair committees and subcommittees.
It added a veneer of bipartisanship in a chamber controlled since the 1990s by the GOP. But it also helped spread the work, with more than 25 committees to fill out in a chamber of 40 members.
But after Republicans came out of this year’s elections with 28 Senate seats, it remains to be seen whether incoming President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, will appoint Democrats to leadership posts.
The group Florida Voice for the Unborn wants just “pro-life Republicans” as chairs.
Andrew Shirvell, executive director of the group, urged Passidomo against emulating the past two Senate presidents, Wilton Simpson and Bill Galvano, who Shirvell said “unwisely appointed pro-abortion Democrats as the chairpersons of key Senate committees, despite having clear pro-life Republican majorities in the Senate during their respective tenures.”
Passidomo has already announced that Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze, will chair the Appropriations Committee, Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Rockledge, will chair the Rules Committee and Sen. Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine, will chair the new Fiscal Policy Committee.
Back on the bench
None of the five Florida Supreme Court justices up for merit-retention elections last week were in jeopardy of being unseated.
But their winning percentages were the lowest overall for justices in more than a decade, including during the 2012 elections, when Republicans targeted three then-justices who were tied to the late Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles.
Under the merit-retention process, Supreme Court justices appear on the ballot every six years but do not face opponents.
All five justices on the ballot this year – John Couriel, Jamie Grosshans, Charles Canady, Ricky Polston and Jorge Labarga – received 64 percent support or less. DeSantis appointed Couriel and Grosshans, while Crist appointed Canady, Polston and Labarga back in the days when Crist was a Republican governor.
Labarga, who is generally the most-liberal of the five, had the lowest winning percentage at 62.35 percent. Four counties, Calhoun, Lafayette, Madison and Sarasota, voted against Labarga’s retention.
Alachua County, home of Gainesville and the University of Florida, was the only other county where voters went against sitting justices, rejecting Couriel and Grosshans.
Spreading the love
Crist decided to spread unspent campaign cash to 20 Florida-based organizations.
“With women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and the rights of all of our fellow Floridians still on the line, I am proud to announce our campaign will redirect our resources towards organizations standing up for freedom and democracy in our state,” Crist said in a prepared statement.
Examples of groups on the list included Planned Parenthood Action Fund Florida, Ruth’s List Florida, Equality Florida, the Florida Immigrant Coalition, Florida Insulin 4 All, the Florida State Conference of the NAACP and Ban Assault Weapons NOW.
As of Nov. 3, Crist had about $530,000 left unspent in his personal campaign account from $17.6 million raised.
TWEET OF THE WEEK: “The status quo is broken and big change is needed. It’s time for new leadership in the Senate that unites Republicans to advance a bold conservative agenda. That’s why I’m running to be the Senate Republican Leader.” – U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., (@SenRickScott) before his unsuccessful attempt to replace Sen. Mitch McConnell as Republican leader on Wednesday.