Before we dive into the post-election edition of Winners and Losers, I have some personal news to share.
This is my final regular commentary for Florida Politics. After 6 ½ great years here and 51 years in journalism, I’m going to retire. Before I go, though, I wanted to share some observations and the gratitude I feel for the work this staff does every day.
I particularly want to thank FP founder and publisher Peter Schorsch for giving me the freedom to say what I wanted. Peter reached out to me in the auditorium at the Tampa Tribune while, along with my colleagues, I was learning the Tampa Bay Times had bought us and shut us down.
Peter ran SaintPetersBlog then — it later morphed into Florida Politics — and he turned me loose. That’s all a columnist can ask for. And in Florida, there is no shortage of topics on which to opine.
Along the way, as the FP newsroom grew, I had an inside look at how hard this staff works. The reporters are well-sourced, dedicated and professional. You can believe what they tell you.
That’s a big reason why this is the site where political figures go first.
Although I grew up in Ohio, I’ve lived most of my life here and saw Tampa grow from a small southern city into the metropolis it is today. I spent most of my years at the Tribune in sports — first as a reporter, then with a little fling as an editor and finally as a columnist.
I watched Wade Boggs in high school and told a skinny kid named Dwight Gooden that the New York Mets had drafted him. My courtside seat for the Magic Johnson and Larry Bird NCAA championship basketball game was sweet.
I was at the World Series when an earthquake struck San Francisco. The 2004 Summer Olympic Games took me to Greece. So much fun.
As a kid, I remember being fascinated by sports and politics. And after the Tribune moved me into a news columnist role, I got to scratch that political itch. When you love a profession as much as I love this one, it doesn’t seem right to call it work.
But it’s time to step aside and savor the role that has brought me unbelievable joy, that of being a grandfather. A second grandchild will join us next spring, and that takes priority.
So, this is my stop. Thank you for reading and responding; yes, even you trolls. Peter said I could drop in occasionally if I get the itch, and I might take him up that sometime.
For now, though, take care of yourselves and maybe light a candle for the Democrats. They’ve had a tough week.
Now, for the last time as keeper of this space, it’s on to our weekly game.
Honorable mention: Maxwell Alejandro Frost. In an otherwise dismal election, he was one of the few bright spots for Democrats. Frost defeated Republican Calvin Wimbish in Florida’s 10th Congressional District race. Frost becomes the first person from Generation Z to win a seat in Congress.
It wasn’t close. Frost received 59% of the vote.
Frost, an Uber driver, is 25, the minimum age required to run for the U.S. House.
“The perspective I bring as a young person, as a young Black person, as a young Black Latino person from the South, is important,” Frost told the New York Times.
He follows Val Demings as the representative for CD 10.
Almost (but not quite) biggest winners: Kathleen Passidomo and Paul Renner. They are the leaders of the Senate and House, respectively, and they might have the easiest job in the state.
With Republicans holding supermajorities in both chambers, they can achieve anything they want and cement GOP power for the foreseeable future.
And there’s nothing Democrats can do about that. They can’t even use administrative rules to slow down the process.
“Given the choice, hard-working families chose Florida values over the radical, socialist agenda that ridicules work, defames law enforcement, indoctrinates children, and cancels anyone who dares to challenge this backward vision for humanity,” Passidomo tweeted.
The biggest winner: Ron DeSantis. This might be the easiest call ever. He won re-election in a breeze, which everyone expected. He heads into his second term with a compliant supermajority in the House and Senate, so he doesn’t have to worry about having any sweat in passing his agenda.
And the national coverage of DeSantis’ landslide win focused on his chances against Donald Trump in the 2024 race for the GOP presidential nomination.
Rupert Murdoch, the founder of Fox News, left no doubt about who he wants as the Republican standard bearer in 2024. Fox and the Murdoch-owned New York Post had fawning coverage of DeSantis while dissing Trump. In a banner headline, the Post declared DeSantis is “DeFUTURE.”
Fox columnist Liz Peek declared, “The biggest winner of the Midterm Elections was without a doubt Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose landslide victory in the state of Florida was breathtaking.”
And she added, “The biggest loser? Donald Trump, whose handpicked loyalist candidates in a number of races, struggled to beat vulnerable Democrats. Once again, the former President may have cost Republicans control of the Senate in a year when it was theirs to lose.
“Many will conclude, on the basis of the Midterm 2022 results, that the Republican Party is ready to move on, without Donald Trump as its leader.”
Trump is widely expected to announce a third campaign for the White House. And he had a warning for DeSantis.
“I would tell you things about him that won’t be very flattering — I know more about him than anybody — other than, perhaps, his wife,” Trump said.
DeSantis, of course, has not declared he will run for President. He’s smartly letting others do that for him while simultaneously building support and raising tons of cash.
For now, that’s a winning strategy.
Dishonorable mention: Rick Scott. As head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Scott was tasked with developing strong candidates and helping guide them to victory.
But the predicted red tsunami turned into a red ripple.
And while it’s possible that Republicans can regain control of the Senate, much of the blame for the GOP’s shaky showing in those races falls squarely on Scott.
Put it this way: Scott really needs Herschel Walker to win a runoff election in Georgia. Otherwise, Scott’s status with his party will plummet, and his thoughts about challenging Mitch McConnell’s leadership should disintegrate.
Scott received criticism for the committee’s money problems, and McConnell blamed “candidate quality” for the subpar GOP showing.
Almost (but not quite) biggest losers: Democratic state lawmakers. It’s not easy being blue. They can look forward to, well … nothing in the next Legislative Session.
Oh, sure, Democrats can file all the bills they want. But those bills won’t even get out of committees unless Republicans feel especially generous (which they won’t). That’s because of the supermajority in the House and Senate we referenced above.
When current Republicans maneuver for the right to succeed DeSantis, Democrats can only fuss and fume. They’re powerless to stop, or even slow down the Republican agenda. They will be spectators while DeSantis positions himself for a presidential run.
Well, they could do one thing. Democrats could concede they’re mostly responsible for their mess and devise a cohesive plan to rebuild their image. They let Republicans label them as the “radical left” and “socialists,” and it stuck.
They hitched their hopes to abortion rights and largely ignored the economic issues Floridians faced.
That’s a surefire way to become irrelevant, which is what Democrats now face.
The biggest loser: Donald Trump. He may have created DeSantis with the endorsement that led to his gubernatorial victory in 2018. But with DeSantis now riding high and more Republicans looking to him in 2024, Trump must be talking to the walls at Mar-a-Lago.
That’s not just me saying that. The venerable Wall Street Journal editorial board dubbed Trump the election’s “biggest loser.”
“What will Democrats do when Donald Trump isn’t around to lose elections? We have to wonder because, on Tuesday, Democrats succeeded again in making the former President a central campaign issue, and Mr. Trump helped them do it,” the board said.
While Trump bristles and threatens DeSantis, the Governor ignores him and goes about becoming the GOP’s new face.
“If he did run, I will tell you things about him that won’t be very flattering. I know more about him than anybody other than perhaps his wife, who is really running his campaign,” Trump told The Wall Street Journal.
Whatever Trump comes up with can’t be any worse than the deeds of this bumbling ex-President. Besides, they don’t call DeSantis “Teflon Ron” for nothing.
Several Trump-backed candidates lost, including Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania. Trump blamed that endorsement on others, including his wife Melania, for urging him to back Oz.
Of course, Trump won’t go down without a fight, and he has plenty of MAGA true believers. But for the first time since he took control of the Republican party, more GOP members appear willing to openly challenge him.
He’s toast but doesn’t know it yet.
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