The Corner

Politics & Policy

Rick Scott Is the Type of Politician Voters Say They Want

Florida Governor Rick Scott (Joe Skipper/Reuters)

The Democratic party likes to portray itself as the party of the young, and young people do lean Democratic. (They are, as Jonah Goldberg once put it, at the bottom of the learning curve.) But damned if the Democrats are not the party of dinosaurs. I wonder how many Dead Kennedys fans listening to “California Über Alles” — released in the summer of 1979 — thought we’d still be talking about Governor Jerry Brown in the second decade of the 21st century.

Governor Rick Scott of Florida is running for a U.S. Senate seat against another Democrat dinosaur, Bill Nelson, who first came into elected office before I was born. (He won a seat in the Florida state house just as Richard Nixon was handing George McGovern his ass.) He is, at the moment, the only Democrat holding a statewide office in Florida. That’s a testament to the sensibility and effectiveness of Florida’s Republican establishment — Florida is pretty close to being a 50/50 state, but Republicans have been extraordinarily successful at winning elections there.

Rick Scott is, I think, a pretty good example of why that is. He’s a conservative, but he isn’t much of an ideologue or a flame-throwing culture-war politician. He spent his governorship mainly concentrating on economic development, administrative reform, and basic good government — “governor stuff,” as I call it. It’s also mayor stuff, and another Floridian, former St. Petersburg mayor Rick Baker, is a good example of that, too. He spent his first term working on schools, crime, municipal finance — “I studied our 1930s refinancing plan, because I’m a fun guy,” he said — and was reelected with 70 percent of the vote, winning every precinct in the city, including the African-American precincts that Republicans historically haven’t done very well in. (After leaving office with a fine record, he made another run at the mayoralty in 2017, and lost that election.) Compare that with the agenda of, say, Mayor Beth Van Duyne of Irving, Texas, who made a name for herself getting worked up about the existence of Muslim tribunals in . . . the suburbs of Dallas. (Wait until somebody tells them that there are Catholic tribunals coast to coast, and that the religious laws in consideration there differ in important ways from civil law.) One of those models of municipal politics seems to me more useful and fruitful than the other.

Rick Scott, as I wrote in 2015, is either the worst good politician in America or the best bad politician in America. By that I mean that his popularity has never kept up with his record. He’s a hands-on, deep-in-the-weeds, talk-your-ear-off-about-port-dredging executive. He’s also prickly and less than charismatic, things that shouldn’t matter as much as they do. As I wrote in 2015:

Think of it this way: Rick Scott is the politician everybody says he wants. He is, at heart, a Singapore-style technocrat, a successful businessman — he’s worth some $100 million personally — who may check the requisite Republican boxes but is mainly non-ideological, even anti-ideological. He doesn’t talk Road to Serfdom like Ted Cruz, and he doesn’t make a show out of it every time he appoints a gay man to a high office, either. Everything he does is oriented toward return on investment. Do Florida’s deal-sweeteners and tax incentives scandalize free-market purists? Absolutely, as do similar arrangements in 49 other states. He rolls his eyes a little when questioned about all that corporate welfare: “If I can get a return for Florida taxpayers, I do it,” he says. End of subject.

He has little apparent taste for culture wars and traditional hot-button conservative issues: A reporter in Philadelphia questioned him about the mini-scandal of his administration’s deciding not to appeal a ruling against the state in the matter of trying to clean up Florida’s voter rolls (a “purge,” the critics called it), a gubernatorial shrug and sigh that had the talk-radio callers baying for blood. Scott looks irritated by the question and explains that Florida has a secretary of state and that the secretary of state is confident that Florida can clean up its voter rolls without having to make a federal case out of it.

About that secretary of state: He’s a Republican. Lots of Republicans down there among the orange groves. Florida may be a 50–50 proposition in presidential elections, but it has a Republican governor who replaced a governor elected as a Republican (oh, Charlie Crist!) who replaced a Republican governor named Bush. It has a Republican lieutenant governor. It recently sent Marco Rubio to the Senate and has elected Republican after Republican to statewide offices: the attorney general, the chief financial officer, and the agriculture commissioner. Republicans outnumber Democrats in the state house two to one. The state senate is 25-to-14 Republican. Democrats have lost 17 of the last 18 statewide races.

And what does Rick Scott get for being all business? A measly plurality, 48.1 percent of the vote to 47.1 for Charlie Crist, the most odious and loathsome thing to slither out of the GOP since Arlen Specter. That’s worse than he did back in 2010, when he squeaked past with another non-majority: 48.9 percent.

Scott is running closer in the polls with Nelson than he had been, and the conventional wisdom is that this has almost little to do with the Senate race: Instead, it is fallout from the gubernatorial election, in which left-wing loon Andrew “Not a Subject of the FBI Investigation” Gillum is running against Republican Ron DeSantis, a Jacksonville-area congressman who, after taking a BA at Yale and a law degree from Harvard, later won a Bronze Star in the Iraq campaign, where he had the very modern job of serving as legal adviser to the SEAL commander. He is a hate totem for Democrats because of his closeness to President Trump and because he is a vociferous critic of the Mueller investigation. That’s made the upcoming Florida elections a front in national Kulturkampf politics. One gets the feeling that Rick Scott would much rather be talking about port dredging than be dragged into all that.

More to the point, port dredging is exactly the sort of thing that candidates for public office should be talking about. (Even Senate candidates, I suppose.) The hyperpartisan, bloodsport model of politics is dysfunctional for many reasons, one of the most important of which is the fact that it penalizes the kind of responsible, consensus-seeking politics that people say they want.

As usual, stated preferences and revealed preferences do not quite match up.

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