Like the GOP itself, Rick Scott wants to be everything to everyone

Writing for the Atlantic last year, David Brooks described the three groups that made up the “intellectual wing” of the right, the faction for which conservatism is based not on MAGA hats but on stacks of books ( many, it seems, with uncracked backs).

There were the older people who had looped into conservative politics for a while but found themselves “radicalized by the current left,” as he put it. There were the political candidates — Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), JD Vance — who recognized that steering their rhetoric in a new direction could reap rewards. And then there were young people, for whom the political space is, among other things, refreshing and against the grain.

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Brooks’ categorizations were prompted by his attendance at the National Conference on Conservatism, a relatively new participant in the seemingly endless cascade of right-wing rallies. He found the rhetoric alarming – but understood why it was appealing.

“America’s rarefied NatCon World is just one piece of a larger illiberal populist revolt that is strong and growing,” Brooks wrote. It was, at its core, the same kind of anti-establishment, anti-elite backlash that propelled Donald Trump in the first place.

This has been a tension within the Republican Party for more than a decade. The party has its own establishment, closely tied to the media and the left in a way that much of its base has come to find repugnant. The tea party found a pitch that this group liked and Trump found a better one. Now it comes in different flavors – forcing the party and its still-existing establishment to learn a variety of new dance moves to join the party. It’s Brooks’ second grade, and some are better dancers than others.

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) is not the best dancer in the party. But that’s probably because – like the party itself – he’s trying to do more than one dance at the same time.

Scott spoke at the third annual National Conference on Conservatism, held over the weekend in his home state. He was one of many elected officials to do so, along with senses Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R). Otherwise, the lineup was a who’s who of a specific right-wing universe: Rod Dreher, Darren Beattie, various federalists, the Hungarian Balázs Orbán.

His speech contained the sort of appeals one would expect, given the venue. The left is burning books, opening borders and prisons and dig america inside. But it was DeSantis who delighted. The Florida governor was ‘a complete contrast to Rick Scott – and, frankly, Donald Trump’, Dreher wrote on Twitter. “DeSantis is not primarily a talk; he gets things done. The deployment of state power to advance conservative causes is a dada by Dreher, so a grain of salt is helpful. But it seems clear that the crowd was much more DeSantis’ than Scott’s.

In part, it’s precisely because Scott’s power is limited in ways that DeSantis is not. Of course, Scott can outline a broad program for his party and the country, such as he did it in his speech and as he did earlier this year. But DeSantis can sign new laws and take executive action. He also has a communications team that speaks the language of online law in a way that few other politicians can. (His campaign’s rapid response director, Christina Pushaw, was also on the list of speakers at the conference.)

Scott also has this other constraint: he is literally part of the Republican establishment. He heads the party’s campaign arm in the Senate, a role he used to unveil a political platform loaded with old-school GOP positions earlier this year. It’s his job to get his party members elected in the red and blue states, tailoring messages that can work in November.

But, then, Scott is also clearly thinking about running for president. He was in Iowa this weekend, offering his support to a Republican candidate. A candidate for the House. He doesn’t need to back Republican state Senate candidate Chuck Grassley, who has a comfortable lead. And there’s only one reason politicians take seemingly inexplicable trips to Iowa.

That’s why he published this political platform, of course: he wants to be the opinion leader of the party. That Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was angered by Scott’s articulate policy positions that gave Democrats something to run against — as they did – was apparently neither here nor there. More problematic for Scott is that he has a stable of Senate candidates whose November odds are weaker than the candidates they defeated in the primaries, like Herschel Walker in Georgia, for example. If the GOP doesn’t take over the Senate, Scott will bear much of the blame.

In the meantime, however, he is trying to turn criticism of these candidates into an anti-establishment talking point.

“[M]all the very people responsible for the loss of the Senate in the last cycle are now trying to prevent us from winning a majority this time by talking trash to our Republican candidates, ”he wrote for the Washington Examiner earlier this month. here, clearly referring to McConnell. “It’s an act of incredible cowardice, and ultimately, it’s a betrayal of the Conservative cause.” Complaints against the candidates, he insisted, were merely “contempt for the voters who chose them”.

Running against McConnell is a proven tactic to attract Republican voters. It’s not entirely clear, however, how that might help get Republicans elected. Especially in the face of slow fundraising under Scott’s watch.

Senate candidates don’t depend on Scott for messaging, but his messaging has been almost exclusively centered on the excitement of right-wing Republicans. Maybe it’s tactical, aiming to increase turnout like Donald Trump did in 2016. Or maybe it’s just Scott using his platform to talk to Republican primary voters.

He was there over the weekend, after all, trying to woo a right-wing constituency with growing clout but clearly not moving votes. He is the establishment, fighting against the establishment. He is seeking to elect senators as he battles with the Senate Republican caucus leader. He, like the GOP, wants to gain power by fighting the powerful of which he is a part.

But he is above all an ambitious politician. His conference speech, after all, wasn’t titled “Why We Need to Elect Republicans” or “How the Right Can Unite to Defeat the Left.” It was title “My plan to save America.”


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