Gov. Ron DeSantis had to know it was risky to try to keep former President Donald Trump off the Florida ballot by using a loyalty pledge.
Loyalty in politics? Please. Loyalty in the Republican Party of today? Hilarious.
So when the strategy backfired on the governor during a Republican showdown in Orlando on Sept. 15, perhaps the only person who was surprised was DeSantis.
This goes back to last May, when the state party decided that, in order to get onto the March 19 Florida primary ballot in 2024, GOP presidential candidates would have to pledge to support the eventual nominee, no matter who it is. DeSantis backed the idea. Trump, predictably, balked — not just at the Florida oath but also one required by the Republican National Committee to participate in GOP debates. Trump did not participate in the first GOP debate in August.
During the Orlando meeting — which was preceded by intense lobbying — state GOP leaders were forced to choose. They chose Trump, voting to rescind the loyalty pledge requirement. In a state where both candidates reside, it was a triumph for Trump and a stinging loss for DeSantis.
But that’s the trouble with using brute political force to keep your party in lockstep with you. They’ll only obey as long as they fear you more than the next guy.
Right now, they apparently fear Trump more. Plus, they think he’s going to win the nomination. They’re voting for their own interests, as usual. They see who’s leading in the polls, the same as the rest of us, and they want to back a winner. With this loss in Orlando, no matter how symbolic, the governor’s five-year grip on the state party seems to be weakening.
It’s no wonder. A Fox News poll last week put Trump at 60% of GOP support nationally. DeSantis had just 13%, two points ahead of businessman Vivek Ramaswamy. That’s a 47-point lead for Trump over DeSantis. Those numbers are hard to ignore.
The loyalty pledge was mostly for show, of course. Former state GOP chair Joe Gruters, who supports Trump, said candidates shouldn’t have to endorse someone even if they don’t like them. He’s the one who called for the vote to scrap the pledge. It passed, he told the Orlando Sentinel, with just two or three votes in opposition out of 39 cast by voice vote.
DeSantis’ campaign spokesman Bryan Griffin, meanwhile, called out the party for lack of unity, and said that anyone who wants to run should be willing to back the eventual nominee in the fight to defeat President Joe Biden in 2024.
Those were the stated reasons, but they weren’t real. This was about loyalty, all right, but not about an oath or who gets on the ballot. (Was there ever any doubt that Trump would find a way to get on the Florida ballot?) It was about who stands with Trump and who stands with Florida’s governor. For DeSantis, who has long gotten almost everything he wanted as this state’s iron-fisted governor, harsh reality finally has intruded.
In the end, though, neither candidate has even an ounce of credibility on the subject of loyalty. DeSantis has used his veto pen and his office as a weapon, even against his own party. He’s humiliated some Republican lawmakers by axing their projects from the budget without so much as a word to them. One of those lawmakers — who saw millions of dollars in his hometown projects cut by the governor this year — was fellow Republican Gruters.
Trump is even worse, of course. He threw his own vice president to the wolves in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 as they chanted, “Hang Mike Pence” and he betrayed the people of the United States and democracy as a whole. Loyalty is in his vocabulary only as it pertains to himself.
With all this talk of loyalty in Republican circles, we have one question: What about loyalty to voters?
Sadly, we already know the answer.
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