Unless you’ve been boycotting cable news, former Pinellas County GOP Congressman David Jolly has been a ubiquitous presence, thanks to his unflinching takedowns on Donald Trump, the titular head of the Republican Party.
“Donald Trump is done,” Jolly opined on “11th Hour with Brian Williams” last month after the Justice Department named Robert Mueller as the special counsel to oversee the investigation into ties between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials.
While that independence from GOP orthodoxy makes the former lawmaker a desired quantity on MSNBC and CNN, the feelings among some rock-ribbed Republicans toward him aren’t nearly so warm and fuzzy.
That independence has led some observers to believe that Jolly is done for the time being for politics, but the former aide to longtime Congressman Bill Young said this week that the idea of running again in Florida’s 13th Congressional District is something that is “actively under consideration.”
Any decision won’t come until next January, however, when he says he’ll have a better idea on when can take the temperature of the “macro political environment.”
“But I’m also not convinced that Charlie (Crist) runs for re-election,” he says. “I think there’s a lot that can change between now and ’18 and so it’s still something under active consideration.”
Kevin Cate, a spokesperson for the Crist campaign, declined to comment.
Susan McGrath, the chair of the Pinellas County Democratic Executive Committee, often takes to her Facebook page to disparage Jolly after he appears on the cable networks criticizing the president.
“David Jolly is the consummate example of a politician that wants to portray himself as something he’s not in order to fool the voters of CD 13 so that he can try to win back his old seat,” she told FloridaPolitics.com in an email.
McGrath continued: “He had no issues with the Republican Party when he ran in a district that had a Republican advantage. He may try to run from the Republican Party and Donald Trump, but the fact is he lobbied for the privatization of Social Security, lobbied in support of offshore drilling, dismissed his vote to deny additional VA funding as ‘a procedural vote’ and for ‘bricks and mortar’ and sponsored legislation to defund Planned Parenthood and on and on. To present himself as moderate is simply not honest. His record speaks for itself.”
Jolly counters by pointing out he was for same-sex marriage and radical campaign finance reform well before CD 13 was reconfigured from a swing seat to a what is now a very Democratic-leaning district.
While the Pinellas Democratic chair is commenting on Jolly, her GOP counterpart is not.
Republican Executive Committee Chair Nick DiCeglie initially told FloridaPolitics.com he would answer the question of what Pinellas Republicans think of Jolly, but ultimately chose not to respond to further inquiries on the matter.
Another prominent Republican official in Pinellas would also not comment publicly on Jolly, but when promised anonymity, said he didn’t see a path for Jolly in the district.
“If your intention is to rally around the base, that’s not the way to do it,” the official said. “He must be trying to rally the independents, but I don’t know if there’s enough runway there for him to take off.”
“I appreciate his honesty and candor if he wants to have a career as a pundit or something,” he added. “But as far as trying to get people to rally behind you, that’s certainly not the way to go.”
Adding to the issue is while some Republicans feel personally ambivalent about Trump, they will still rally around the president when attacked by Democrats and (they say) the liberal media.
“In my observations, he alienated Trump Supporters and Second Amendment supporters before his failed election,” says Dan Tucker, a Pinellas County Republican State Committeeman.
“However, I like David as a person but what I understand from Republican Club members who are typically an older ‘die-hard conservative’ crowd, is that they feel he has lost it while some are openly hostile toward him and feel betrayed,” Tucker says. “I consider him a ‘Never Trumper’ and vying for Joe Scarborough’s job as a Progressive Republican.”
For George Hudak, a GOP political consultant from Palm Harbor who often works with Republicans in New York, the bigger question is will Democrats support a moderate Republican like Jolly over Crist.
“I think David is a truth speaker, he stands up for what he feels is right,” he says, referring to his fight against the National Republican Campaign Committee which resulted in that group opting not to help fund him in such a competitive election in 2016. “David has a lot of integrity; he and Laura are still loved by many Pinellas Republicans.”
Anthony Pedicini believes it doesn’t really matter who is the GOP candidate in CD 13.
“I do not think a Republican can beat Charlie Crist in the district as it is currently configured,” says the GOP political consultant.
Jolly lost to Crist in 2016 by 3.4 percentage points. That was without any financial help from the National Republican Campaign Committee, who essentially wrote him off after a dispute regarding the commitments made.
Paraphrasing John Kasich, Jolly says he also gets the right to define Republicanism in the 21st-century: “In many ways, I’m fighting for the future of the GOP and fighting for our brand, if you will.”
“The clearest strategy for 2018, if my only interest was running for re-election, would be to keep my mouth shut,” Jolly says. “I mean every consultant on the left and right would tell you — keep your mouth shut, raise money, keep your head down, and then we’ll figure out how to deploy campaign resources three months out — so that is the strategy.”
“If I was just worried about strategy, but I’m not. I’m calling balls and strike, and see what the field looks like next year, but there’s a good chance I’ll be on the ballot, and I will not have the full support of Republicans, nor will I bring over progressive Democrats who disagree with me on policy, but I do think we can put together a majority of Republicans, independents and Democrats and hopefully do what I was trying to do last cycle, which was to truly change politics. “
With all that, Jolly still says he is a “long way” from making a decision.