Like comedy, politics is most often all about timing. No one knows this better than Will Weatherford, who at the age of 26 rocketed from obscure legislative aide to Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives because of unanticipated, but perfectly placed, events (more about which in a moment).
Now, arguably, this once-rising star of the Republican Party has fallen victim to his breathtaking start. In short, two years after he surrendered the gavel as America’s youngest state House speaker, Weatherford has nowhere to go.
The man said so himself Thursday afternoon:
“While I’m compelled at some point to re-engage in the political arena, I just think the timing right now is not right,” he told the Miami Herald.
At least, nowhere to go that strikes him as being worth the harrowing trade-offs. Thus, shall Weatherford, not so long ago included in everybody’s lists of top politicians under the age of 40, apparently skip the inviting 2018 races, ostensibly to concentrate on business opportunities with brothers Drew and Sam, leadership development within the Florida Republican Party, and — most important — join his wife, the redoubtable Courtney Bense Weatherford, parenting their four young children in their Southern-Living designed neighborhood in Wesley Chapel.
It’s not like Weatherford’s preferences for 2018 haven’t been an enticing target. As recently as Thursday morning, “The Fix,” a Washington Post politics blog, listed him prominently among probable candidates for Florida’s open gubernatorial seat.
Now, despite having jammed his chin into the mix last summer — “Don’t count me out,” he said on the podcast hosted by fellow SaintPetersblog contributor Joe Henderson and me — Weatherford has audibled out, perhaps sensing the defense was stacked against him.
He would, of course, be right. By training — he was a Jacksonville University linebacker — and instinct, Weatherford knows when a play won’t go.
Polk County’s Adam Putnam, the Agriculture Commissioner and presumed GOP frontrunner, opens with better name recognition, a wider base of contributors and the advantage of having twice won — handily — statewide races.
Moreover, if he has flaws, they are less obvious than those of Bill McCollum, the last Central Florida GOP frontrunner in a race for an open governor’s seat. And Weatherford lacks Rick Scott’s self-funding prowess.
Ah, yes. Rick Scott. And his enormous pile of campaign cash left over from 2014.
If he didn’t seek the Governor’s Mansion, conventional wisdom went, Weatherford surely would chase the Republican nomination to sideline Democrat Bill Nelson, Florida’s senior U.S. senator. Republicans had to like the prospects of a Weatherford-Nelson tussle, which would have contrasted the challenger’s youth and conservative bona fides against the septuagenarian representative of an increasingly hard-left partly
But there’s Scott, the two-time governor and early ally of President-elect Donald Trump — whom Weatherford prominently opposed — who’s widely rumored to be angling for a shot at Nelson. And did I mention his enormous pile of leftover campaign cash?
So here is Weatherford, still just 37, deciding to bide his time. Yes, his announcement Thursday cited specifically only the contest for governor, but there was a blanket nature to it as well:
“My focus right now is on raising my family, living out my faith, and growing my family’s business. I look forward to supporting Republican candidates that share my conservative convictions and can keep Florida headed in the right direction.”
Show of hands. Who else detects the careful phrasing of someone who has spent the last two years learning about how to invest?
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just that the arc of Weatherford’s political career has, to now, suggested, if not impatience, then at least alacrity.
After all, things fell just so to get him launched: Then-Gov. Charlie Crist nominated state Rep. Ken Littlefield to the Public Service Commission after the ballots were printed in 2006, leaving the Pasco County Republican Party to identify Littlefield’s stand-in and successor.
Several prominent east Pasco volunteers were passed over in favor of Weatherford, who grew up the oldest of nine children in Land O’ Lakes but, with college and assorted jobs in the Legislature, hadn’t lived in the district in years.
On the other hand, he had the benefit of being Speaker Allan Bense’s top lieutenant and son-in-law. One thing led to another and — badda-bing — there was Weatherford, winning election under Littlefield’s name one day and rounding up the commitments from fellow House freshmen to become speaker-designate-designate-designate the next.
So fast. So very, very fast.
Still, the Sunshine State politician to whom Weatherford has most often been compared — Marco Rubio, Florida’s once-and-still junior U.S. senator — learned a tough lesson about being a young man in a hurry earlier this year. Sitting out 2018 might well mean Weatherford spent the autumn channeling Yogi Berra, who famously noted “You can observe a lot just by watching.”
So, 2018 isn’t Weatherford’s time. That doesn’t mean his time won’t come.