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Florida Republicans are staying pretty quiet on Biden. Is it a strategy?

Kirby Wilson, Tampa Bay Times on

Published in Political News

In January 2023, a member of the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission said regulators could one day move to ban gas stoves.

Florida Republicans quickly responded, telling voters that President Joe Biden was coming for their appliances.

“How about, NO,” Sen. Rick Scott wrote on the social media platform X. Gov. Ron DeSantis launched a gas stove-themed line of aprons in his online merchandise store.

The Biden administration said it never intended such a ban, and nothing came of the episode, stove-wise. But there was a lesson: If Florida Republicans have a chance to criticize Biden, they will.

Some 18 months later, Biden finds himself in the middle of arguably the biggest political crisis of his presidency. Elected members of his own party are calling for him to end his run for reelection. But state Republicans — including his opponent, former President Donald Trump — aren’t going that far.

“Republicans are just shutting up, which is smart,” said Brad Coker, the managing director of the Florida-based Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy firm.

If Biden is as weak a candidate as recent swing state polling suggests, Republicans should want him in the race, Coker said. The less Trump makes news, the more Biden stays mired in his negative post-debate news cycle.

Rather than calling for him to leave the race, Florida GOPers have largely stuck to warning voters about what another four years of Biden would mean.

In the wake of the debate, Gov. Ron DeSantis said a second term would mean a “Weekend at Bernie’s presidency” — referring to a movie in which the protagonists pretend a corpse is still living.

At a rally in Doral on Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio accused Biden of being propped up by a “shadow government.” Rubio is widely speculated to be on Trump’s shortlist for vice president.

The Trump campaign referred the Tampa Bay Times to a Monday appearance on the Fox News program "Hannity," in which Trump was asked whether he wanted to see Biden step down.

“We prepared for him, but I don’t think it’s going to matter,” Trump said, referring to Biden. Trump then pivoted to a long tangent comparing his presidency with Biden’s.

More candid moments from Trump offer a different assessment of the race. Leaked video published by the Daily Beast the week after the debate showed Trump sitting in a golf cart and bragging about how his debate victory would force Biden from the race.

“That means we have Kamala,” Trump said, referring to Vice President Kamala Harris. “I think she’s going to be better. She’s so bad. She’s so pathetic.”

 

At the Doral rally, Trump said Biden didn’t have the mental capacity to be president. But he added that Biden’s brain was “shot 25 years ago.”

Others working to elect Trump deny that Republicans are staying quiet to keep Biden’s struggles in the news.

State Sen. Joe Gruters, a former Republican Party of Florida chairperson who’s close to Trump, said the former president will win in 2024 regardless of the Democratic nominee.

“It doesn’t matter who they pick,” Gruters said. “I think the race is over. I think America clearly wants to see Donald Trump again.”

And U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, an outspoken Trump surrogate, argued last week that Democrats’ political problems would worsen if Harris replaced Biden at the top of the ticket.

A few days after the debate, at a news conference in Pensacola, DeSantis gave as harsh an assessment of Biden’s debate showing as anyone. He said it pained him to watch Biden deliver such a poor performance and that the idea that Biden could do the job for another four years is a “joke.”

But instead of calling for the president to leave the race, DeSantis criticized the news media for covering up Biden’s cognitive decline.

Scott, Florida’s other U.S. senator, is a prominent exception. He has said Biden should leave his post. After Biden gave an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on July 5, Scott called on Biden’s Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The 25th Amendment allows the Cabinet to vote to make a president step aside if top appointees feel he can’t do the job.

“The Stephanopoulos interview has made one thing clear: Joe Biden is completely unfit to serve as president for the next 6 months, much less the next 4 years,” Scott posted to X.

Rep. Anna Paulina Luna also called for Biden to step down in the wake of the debate, making a similar argument.

Two of Trump’s department secretaries discussed using this method to remove Trump from office in the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.

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©2024 Tampa Bay Times. Visit tampabay.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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