Last night I was writing a headline for today's 5am post. I started with "There hasn't been a Florida governor as bad as Ron DeSantis since..." I figured I would scour the pages of the post-William Moseley governors and see if anyone was as bad as secession-crazy John Milton (1861-1865), who declared that he would rather die than see a reunion of Florida with the Union-- and then shot himself in the dead. And there were a lot of really bad governors of Florida-- racist Democrats-- but I cut my search short as soon as I remembered who came right before DeSantis!
It's too early to tell, but some people say that Rick Scott will go down in history as an even worse governor than Ron DeSantis. Among Republicans there seems to be no bottom. Scott, most famous, as head of the nation's largest private for-profit health care company, for engineering that largest Medicare
fraud in history, was elected governor in 2010 and reelected in 2014. (His company was fined $1.7 billion.) A billionaire teabagger and Climate Change denier, he spent over $75 million of his own money to win his first campaign by just 1.3%. When he was termed out of office, he ran a lies-driven, dirty campaign for Senate against a senile incumbent. He won 50.05% to 49.93%, a margin of 10,033 votes out of 8.19 million cast. His record as a campaign cheat and bold liar made him the perfect choice to lead the NRSC. But many Senate Republicans-- starting with McConnell-- are sure sorry now!
This morning, Washington Post reporters Michael Scherer and Josh Dawsey explained why Republican senators are sorry they elected Scott to head their reelection effort. Short version: a crook is a crook and if he'll steal from Medicare, he'll steal from his own party as well. Which is exactly what he has been doing. They wrote that he's been publicly dressed down by McConnell, privately rebuked by his colleagues and repeatedly accused of running the NRSC "in a way that benefits his own future over the candidates he was hired to get elected. He has directed a sizable share of his fundraising as NRSC chair to his own accounts, while shifting digital revenue away from Senate campaigns and buying ads promoting himself that look all but identical to spots he does for the national committee." Everyone I've asked for a comment for this post has turned me down, though more than one Republican mentioned that Scott is an asshole who is almost as hated on Capitol Hill as Ted Cruz!
[D]uring the seven weeks of turmoil since Scott dropped a provocative conservative policy bomb on an unsuspecting party-- a plan that called for tax increases and expiration dates for all federal laws, including those establishing Social Security and Medicare-- he has not once expressed regret. Instead, the former hospital chain CEO and two-term governor, the richest man in the Senate, argues that he owes his detractors nothing.
“My whole life has been people telling me that, you know, you’re doing it the wrong way. You can’t, you shouldn’t be doing this,” he said in a recent interview at NRSC headquarters. “I’ve been up here for three years. Do you know how many people have come to me and asked me, before they vote, what my opinion is on something and whether it’s good for my state? That would be zero.”
Barbs like these from the inner sanctum of GOP leadership toward his fellow senators and political operatives have cut unexpected fissures into what appears to be a banner election year for Republicans, who are a single seat away from majority control of the Senate. Private grumbling about how Scott has turned the NRSC into the “National Rick Scott Committee” has become widespread enough in some Republican circles that other jokes have been added. “All this, for four percent in Iowa,” is the punchline of one about the harm he could do to Republican fortunes in November in pursuit of national ambitions.
During a Feb. 29 meeting with Senate leadership in McConnell’s office, other senators brought articles that showed members being attacked for various parts of his plan, particularly the tax provision and another imposing term limits. They chastised him in round-robin fashion for the unnecessary headache he had created, said people familiar with the meeting, who like others interviewed for this article spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
Scott answered days later with a Wall Street Journal op-ed-- “Why I’m Defying Beltway Cowardice”-- and a March 31 speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
“Bring it on,” he said there.
...“We’ve got three words for him: Keep it up,” said David Bergstein, the communications director at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which has been championing the Scott plan as a way to scare voters. “No NRSC chair has done more for Senate Democrats than Rick Scott.”
...[F]undraising has come with significant grumbling from fellow Republicans. High dollar donors at some of Scott’s fundraising events, including in a swing through Florida in the summer of 2021, have been asked to give their first $10,800 to his campaign account and a separate leadership PAC, before anything goes to the NRSC, a departure from the practice of his predecessors who were less reliant on such fundraising vehicles.
Scott raised $6.6 million in 2021 for this high-dollar joint fundraising account, the Rick Scott Victory Fund, and diverted about 25 percent of it, or $1.6 million, to accounts that fund his own ambitions, according to federal filings. The rest went to the NRSC. He is not up for reelection until 2024 and has said he is not running for president.
“He is doing it in a state where there is an incumbent senator who is in-cycle, sucking up donor money when he really doesn’t need it,” said one strategist upset with Scott’s approach. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is facing reelection in Florida.
When it comes to small dollar donors, Scott has sometimes blurred lines, as well. In a separate online effort, called Team Rick Scott, he raised money last year with appeals like, “I am asking you to help me and President Trump take back the Senate.” The money collected, however, was split between his campaign and his personal leadership PAC, with none going directly to the NRSC. (His leadership PAC, Lets Get to Work, did give $100,000 to the NRSC in 2021.)
A change to how the NRSC fundraises with incumbents has become another friction point. Under Scott’s predecessor, senators who signed fundraising emails with the committee or allowed their images to be used in NRSC digital ads were given 50 percent of the revenue and the names of the donors.
Under Scott, the committee has offered candidates 10 percent of the haul and the donor names, with the rest going to the NRSC. Scott advisers say the change prevents the committee from losing money on appeals that raise little money, thus strengthening the NRSC overall. But the change comes as other Republican efforts are trying to funnel more money directly to candidates, since they are able to get better pricing on television advertising than the party committees.
Scott is unapologetic about his methods, which he says ultimately serve the party’s interests. Regarding the donations directed first to his leadership PAC from Florida events, he said, “Those donors were my donors first.” The NRSC received $12 million from that state’s donors alone so far this cycle, compared with $9 million in the last two cycles combined, according to Scott advisers who credit his efforts for the shift.
...McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, upbraided Scott publicly days after the plan was released, calling out the parts of it that would raise taxes and impose the five-year sunset on all federal laws. “That will not be part of the Republican senate majority agenda,” he said.
The plan has 128 ideas, including requiring students to say the Pledge of Allegiance and ending imports from China and government policies “based on race or ethnicity.” It also supports a two-term limit on service in the Senate, a policy that if made law would ban senators such as Rubio, Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Charles E. Grassley (R-IA) from seeking another term this year.
In another universe, Adam Kinzinger, still a rising GOP star, would be working with the head of the NRSC to put together a campaign against weak Democratic incumbent Tammy Duckworth. Instead, in our own universe, Duckworth doesn't have a plausible challenger and Kinzinger-- as bitter as a tea made from gentian root, mugwort and wormwood-- has given up his Senate ambitions and is retiring from Congress. "The Republican Party I joined decades ago is unrecognizable today," he wrote in a Wall Street Journal OpEd yesterday. "It has favored conspiracy theories over truth, anger over hope, and division over problem solving. As I serve my final months in Congress, I find I am left carrying the torch for the values and principles of a party that’s been overtaken by partisan politicos looking for the limelight and clinging to their sense of power instead of upholding their oaths of office. I’m holding out hope for what I know the Republican Party has been and can be, but every day that passes, I’m feeling more politically homeless. And I’m not alone." No doubt he had hucksters like Rick Scott in mind and went on to not that "Bad actors are getting rich by peddling disinformation and fear, and the American people are paying the price. From wild conspiracy theories to carefully crafted misinformation, the public is more susceptible than ever to falling for these untruths... It makes me sick to see people stoking this cultural anger and division for the sole purpose of ratings and money. Saying it’s a disservice to the people who trust them would be a severe understatement. It’s dereliction of duty."
The Republican Party is led by a former president who admitted asking the vice president to overturn the 2020 election for him, and who seems to believe the delusion that he can be reinstated. In Congress, we have members who stand with white nationalists and value money over principles. In the right-wing media, we have commentators who echo Vladimir Putin’s propaganda and blatantly lie to their viewers and readers.
These aren’t the leaders we need, but the leaders we need are too afraid to stand up and speak out-- for the most part. They worry that voters won’t have their backs. So we the people need to prove that we do. Washington isn’t going to fix itself.
...Now more than ever, we need to turn things around and put in the work to break free from toxic tribalism and extreme partisanship. My time in Congress may be coming to an end, but my fight for this country continues-- politically homeless or otherwise.