Elected to lead the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) this past weekend, state Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, has some big challenges even as the state GOP continues to ride high.
Gruters says one of his big tasks will be healing the fissures in the Republican ranks. He will have a big challenge ahead of him after a spat between new U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., and new Gov. Ron DeSantis came to the surface. Incensed over more than 70 last minute appointments by Scott during his final days in Tallahassee, DeSantis asked for the resignation of the entire South Florida Water Management District Board and vowed to reverse several of those late appointments.
Talking to Florida Daily, Gruters said he is aware of the challenge ahead.
“It is not going to be easy to bringing everybody back into the fold, but my job as chairman is to make that happen,” he said.
The rift between the RPOF and Scott has been years in the making. He yanked his money from the party very early in his tenure as governor after a spat over who would be the chairman of the party. Rank and file Republicans across the state pushed by at the idea of the governor being able to name the RPOF Chairman. The disastrous tenure of Jim Greer–who was a close ally to then Republican Gov. Charlie Crist— was fresh in their minds when they spurned Scott’s preferred candidate to lead the RPOF. Since then, Scott’s been luke warm, at best, to the RPOF.
Gruters said his chief task is to ensure all Republicans in Florida are on the same page.
“That’s my number one goal right now, unification of the party, bring the people together,” he said.
Despite the infighting, the party keeps scoring election wins. Despite Scott and DeSantis winning in November, Gruters insists the 2020 election–namely keeping President Donald Trump in the White House–has already begun.
“This is not a six month battle,” Gruters said. “The race is now, and we can’t waste a single day. We are going to do all we can to make sure we are ready and prepared for whoever the Democrats nominate.”
Gruters takes the helm of a party vastly different than it was a decade ago. The RPOF is no longer the primary arm to elect Republicans since most senators and representatives have PACs doing most of that work which deprives the RPOF of massive amounts of fundraising money it could use to rebuild. Gruters does not expect Scott–or any politician sitting on millions–to give that money to the RPOF, insisting that model of politics no longer exists.
“What these PCs offer all the candidates is a unique ability to build their own defensive walls as candidates,” Gruters told Florida Daily. “Where before candidates would all fundraise for the party, and the party would build the defensive wall around you, and allocate the resources and move things around to make it more successful. With PCs, candidates have so much more freedom and flexibility in what they can do and the party is not as attractive.”
With the effort turning to 2020 and the RPOF unable to raise the massive amounts it did before political committees, it’s crunch time for Gruters. The RPOF simply has to do more with less and Scott won’t be on the ballot again until 2024.
“One of the things that Rick Scott did for us over the last two cycles was spend a lot of money,” Gruters said. “$50 million in the last cycle, before that maybe as much as $70 million. We won’t have that amount of spending by an outside group.”
Trump will need to spend tens of millions of dollars to win Florida again, the new chairman said.
Gruters says the new function of the RPOF is twofold. First, it will need to be the infrastructure for Trump’s reelection bid. The RPOF also intends to be the political arm for DeSantis.
Looking ahead to 2020, Gruters, a longtime ally of Trump, said DeSantis would do well to remain close to the White House.
“I think it is important for Governor DeSantis to stay active and do all he can for the president in his reelection efforts. Together they are going to make a great team,” Gruters told Florida Daily.
Gruters gave the new governor high marks after his first week in office. Florida Daily asked Gruters if DeSantis has been catering to the left by allocating $2.5 billion for waterway pollution cleanup, appointing an African American to replace Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel and pardoning the Groveland Four.
“I don’t know if that is catering to the left. I think it is catering to common sense and what is right. In his inauguration speech he said he was going to do what is right,” Gruters answered.
As for catering to the right, Gruters insists that is second nature for DeSantis and praised the governor’s two picks to the Florida Supreme Court.
“At the end of the day, the Supreme Court justices are, by far, the most important thing with the base,” Gruters said, noting conservatives have applauded the choices.
Reach Mike Synan at Mike.Synan@floridadaily.com.