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Florida GOP leaders strive to make silenced President Trump feel right at home

John Kennedy
Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Gov. Ron DeSantis is looking to strictly regulate social media companies that have banned former President Trump.

TALLAHASSEE – From talk of naming a highway after President Donald Trump to pushing that he regain access to social media platforms banning him, Florida Republicans have been rolling out the red carpet for the returned, not-so-native son impeached twice by Congress.

With his latest impeachment trial poised to begin in the U.S. Senate, Trump is back at Mar-a-Lago, the Palm Beach club he claimed as his adopted, permanent residence a year before his failed reelection bid.

The White House and both chambers of Congress are now commanded by Democrats.

Donald J. Trump Week?:Frostproof proclamation draws fire from Polk County minority groups

But with Republicans controlling Florida government and U.S. Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio prominent voices in Washington, the state has emerged as a safe and welcoming political redoubt for the ex-president and his party.

‘No question this
is still Trump’s home’

While Trump is silenced by a social media ban after being accused of inciting a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol, hardly a week has passed since the November election without Florida Republicans paying him some homage.

“There’s no question this is still Trump’s home state, and the people of Florida rewarded him by increasing his victory margin by threefold,” said Sen. Joe Gruters of Sarasota, the Republican Party of Florida chair. “He’s come back home and we’re happy he’s here.”

In the past week, Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida GOP leaders threw their support behind legislation aimed at punishing social media companies that de-platformed Trump and others accused of fueling the deadly, Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol that sought to overturn the November presidential election result.

'Suppress a message'?:DeSantis wants to set penalties and allow state, public to sue tech giants such as Facebook, Twitter

City leaders in Polk County’s Frostproof proclaimed the first week of February “Donald J. Trump Week” in the community where he gained 76% of the vote in November. On hand for the event was Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Howey-in-the-Hills, who is trying to get the state Legislature to memorialize the 481 miles of U.S. Route 27 in Florida as the President Donald J. Trump Highway.

Former president helped
propel many campaigns

“Donald Trump is still very popular with the grassroots of this party,” said Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, a former state GOP chair. “There are plenty of elected officials up and down the ballot who owe their political careers to Donald Trump, because he helped them get elected with heavy Republican turnout.”

DeSantis, one of Trump’s closest allies, fits that profile.

A little-known Palm Coast congressman, DeSantis was powered to victory in the 2018 Republican primary for governor by Tweet endorsements from Trump.

The U.S. House fell into Democratic control that year in a midterm pushback by voters rebelling against Trump and his policies. But the president’s influence helped DeSantis narrowly win the governor’s race.

DeSantis is up for reelection next year, and he quickly began sparring with the Biden White House in its opening days over access to COVID-19 vaccines.

2022 election:Trump and Rep. Kevin McCarthy discussed 2022 election during Florida meeting as Trump allies target pro-impeachment Republicans

On Tuesday, the governor also sidestepped a question about whether he actually believes Trump’s unsubstantiated claims about the election, a subject DeSantis has never addressed.

DeSantis also has listed as another priority for the legislative session beginning March 2 a so-called anti-riot bill, which would impose broad penalties on “disorderly” protests.

The governor first talked of such action following last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, but the legislation was unveiled the night of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, which critics see as a sleight of hand intended to redirect the measure’s focus away from minorities and young protesters, who opponents call the real target.

Florida Democrat Nikki Fried calls out top officials
for not working with Biden administration

Florida’s lone statewide elected Democrat, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, said the governor’s top legislative issues seem to downplay the continuing health, social and economic impact of the state averaging almost 10,000 new COVID-19 cases each day over the past two weeks, along with challenges involving the vaccine rollout.

Trumpr app:Florida developer designs app after former President Trump banned from social media

Fried said the governor and GOP leaders don’t seem willing to work with the new administration in Washington, although a big injection of federal funds approved during Trump’s presidency has allowed DeSantis to craft a relatively robust, $96.6 billion state budget proposal for next year, $4.3 billion more than current year spending.

A $1.9 trillion relief package crafted by Biden – large portions of which are opposed by congressional Republicans – includes $350 billion for state and local governments, potentially further reducing the likelihood of steep cuts in public services in Florida.

“These leaders are elected to serve the entire state, and they’ve got to remember that – they serve the people of our state, not Donald Trump,” said Fried. “But our governor and our legislative leaders are prioritizing this battle with social media companies, faking outrage and taking action they say is to prevent violence, rather than acting on issues that affect Floridians every day.”

The same day DeSantis rolled out his call for state regulation of big tech companies, Fried was unveiling plans for her department to work with the White House and federal agencies on farm issues, climate change, cannabis policy, nutrition and strengthening rural communities.

Social media bans:Twitter ban on Donald Trump's account was only the beginning of Big Tech's crackdown

“Where’s the outrage over our unemployment system, evictions during the pandemic? The fact is they seem to be more concerned about pleasing Donald Trump,” she said.

Trump expected to remain
popular with Florida voters

By their actions, state Republicans seem to acknowledge they expect Trump’s strength to endure among Florida voters. Despite losing the White House, Trump carried Florida by 374,852 votes in November, more than three times his victory margin in the state four years earlier.

Florida Democrats lost seats in Congress and the Legislature even as Biden defeated Trump by more than 7 million votes nationally and carried the Electoral College by 306-232 votes.

Florida Republicans aren’t letting go of the former president.

Trump Impeachment:Matt Gaetz among the 197 Republicans to vote against impeachment

“What the base sees is four years of a president standing up for them,” Ingoglia said. “And pushing back against the norms. That’s why, in my opinion, he was rewarded for it so resoundingly in the state of Florida.”

Attorney General Ashley Moody who, like fellow Republican DeSantis, is up for reelection next year, added Florida to the states supporting a Texas lawsuit in December rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court. The lawsuit sought to invalidate election results in four states and hand Trump the White House.

Scott as chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee is in the highly political post of steering GOP Senate campaigns next year. Since Biden took office, Scott has ratcheted up his rhetoric against the new administration.

He called Biden a “puppet for the radical left,” in a Fox News interview Wednesday, saying “he has gone off the deep end” for a climate change plan Scott says will cost jobs.

Rubio, Florida’s other Republican senator, also attempted to lay down a line with Biden in an inauguration day speech on the Senate floor.

“Demanding that the other side agree to all of your demands isn’t unity, it’s the arrogance of believing only those who agree with us are good and anyone who disagrees is not just wrong – but actually are evil,” Rubio said.

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