Donald Trump Archives - Page 4 of 289 - Florida Politics

As Confederate monuments fall, group calls for restoration

After Confederate monument was taken down in Bradenton, a group that wants to preserve such monuments called Tuesday for it to be repaired and restored to its former place on the courthouse lawn.

Save Southern Heritage and other groups held a news conference in front of the Manatee County Courthouse to demand that the local government put the 93-year-old monument back on its pedestal in downtown Bradenton.

The county commission removed the monument Aug. 24, at a cost of $12,500, following an Aug. 21 protest that drew several hundred people who demanded its removal. The obelisk engraved with the names of Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee is in storage until county leaders can figure out where to put it; some have recommended a local cemetery where Confederate soldiers are buried. The monument was damaged during the removal.

This is the latest skirmish over Confederate monuments in Florida.

Orlando removed a monument and St. Petersburg removed a marker. In Jacksonville recently, people packed City Hall to discuss Confederate monuments during a public comment portion of a meeting. In Hollywood, a city in South Florida, leaders will vote Wednesday on whether to rename streets named after Confederate generals, including one named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was also the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

Critics have called such monuments symbols of white supremacy and racism. Supporters of such monuments say they are reminders of Southern heritage.

“History can’t be broken, divided or reversed to accommodate anyone’s political agenda,” said Bradenton resident Barbara Hemingway. She’s with the group America First – Team Manatee, a pro-President Donald Trump group that has come out against moving such monuments, as has Trump himself.

Hemingway spoke during Tuesday’s news conference and said that the opposition groups – Black Lives Matter, Antifa, and “anarchists” – are out-of-towners trying to “bully” the community.

The group called for the resignation of county leaders who voted to remove the monument, and said all such monuments in Florida should be protected.

Southern Heritage has also been involved in fighting the removal of a statue in downtown Tampa. Commissioners there ruled that the Confederate monument in front of that county’s courthouse would be moved if the community raised $140,000 to help defray the cost. Within 24 hours and aided by the city’s three professional sports teams, the community did, and the monument is set to be relocated in coming weeks to a private cemetery.

Save Southern Heritage drew criticism recently for sending out a “report” and spreadsheet that included the personal information, photos and “affiliation” of more than 100 people who spoke in favor of moving the monument at the July 19 County Commission meeting.

The Tampa Bay Times reports the listed affiliations include specific groups or movements, such as “Democrat” and “Black Lives Matter,” and more general descriptions such as “anti-Trump,” ”LGBT,” ”Muslim” and “resentful black man.” One man was described as being “anti-law enforcement.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Betsy DeVos says Florida education approach a `role model’

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a supporter of voucher programs and charter schools, visited two Tallahassee schools, one a private religious school, the other a charter, for what she called a “learning” experience on Tuesday.

Democrats called the visit, which didn’t include traditional public schools, a “photo op” and “publicity stunt.”

After a tour of Holy Comforter Episcopal School, DeVos highlighted innovations she saw at the school while defending the educational approach of President Donald Trump.

“I think they’re examples of what a lot of schools should aspire to be and look for, opportunities to become more innovative,” DeVos told reporters. “I think that we need to recognize the fact that far too many schools have been stuck in a mode that is basically approaching things that have been done very similarly to 100 years ago. And the world today is much different. And we need to be acknowledging that and moving toward ways that really engage students and take their curiosity and really fire it up and stoke the curiosity to continue to learn.”

DeVos also toured Florida State University Schools, a charter school affiliated with the university’s College of Education.

She said she didn’t know how the schools were selected, but innovative programs, which include concentrations in science, technology, engineering and math, were probably a factor.

Peter Klekamp, the head of Holy Comforter, said he had been contacted by DeVos’ office about the trip.

“If we can offer what we do to someone at this level, we’re proud to do it,” Klekamp said.

DeVos read a Dr. Seuss book to kindergarteners and held a closed-door meeting with a small group of parents and school leaders at Holy Comforter.

She was greeted by about a dozen protesters outside the private school.

“Seeing that she’s coming to a school that is so specialized for people who are financially able to come to a private school, and not a wider representation of our community at a public school, is definitely not a good representation,” said Colleen Towey, an elementary education major at Florida State University who was among those protesting DeVos’ visit.

DeVos, a wealthy Republican donor from Michigan, has long advocated for alternatives to traditional public schools.

DeVos was narrowly confirmed by the Senate, 51-50, with Vice President right, in his role as presiding officer of the Senate, casting the first tie-breaking vote ever on a Cabinet nominee.

Her selection was backed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a longtime friend who is a leading advocate of vouchers. The American Federation of Teachers opposed the nomination, calling DeVos “the most ideological anti-public education nominee.”

Her trip came as the administration has offered a proposed education budget 13 percent lower than in the current year, a $9.2 billion reduction, while setting aside $1 billion that could be spread to states and school districts that establish school-choice programs.

Echoing Trump, DeVos said parents should have more opportunities to select their children’s schools while shrinking the role of the federal government.

“We should be focused on what students need as individuals, not on systems, not on buildings, not continue to focus sort of onhe infrastructure,” DeVos said. “Let’s focus on what individual students need and require to be able to learn and become everything that they can be.”

Prior to her appearance in Tallahassee, the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, criticized DeVos because of her support for private school vouchers.

“It’s no surprise that Betsy DeVos will be visiting a private school among her stops in Tallahassee,” Florida Education Association President Joanne McCall said in a prepared statement. “She has long shown her opposition to public schools, her support for unfettered vouchers and for-profit charter school chains and her desire to privatize all education in this nation.”

DeVos’ critics, including Democratic gubernatorial candidates Gwen Graham and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, contend her priorities drain resources from public education.

In January, the Florida Supreme Court rejected an appeal challenging the constitutionality of the state’s voucher-like “tax credit scholarship” program. The decision let stand a lower-court ruling that found the Florida Education Association and others who challenged the program didn’t have legal standing to bring the suit.

DeVos called Florida’s approach to education a “role model” for the nation.

“I think Florida has continued to be an innovator in approaching education and meeting the needs of students,” DeVos said.

The program allows corporations to claim tax credits for donations to organizations that then cover private-school tuition for mostly low-income students.

The number of students benefiting from the tax-credit scholarships has grown from 24,871 in the 2008-09 school year to an anticipated 101,869 during the 2017-18 school year, according to Step Up for Students, an organization that covers most of the students.

The growth follows repeated moves by the Legislature to expand eligibility and enrollment in the program.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Nancy Soderberg pans Ron DeSantis’ attempt to kill investigation of Pres. Trump

While much of the smart money asserts that U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis won’t run for re-election in North Florida’s 6th Congressional District, Ambassador Nancy Soderberg is running regardless — and Tuesday saw her issue a strong statement regarding the incumbent’s attempt to kill Robert Mueller‘s investigation of President Donald Trump.

“In an outrageous move,” Soderberg asserts, “Congressman DeSantis has filed a motion to undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into connections between the Trump campaign and Russian actors.”

“While DeSantis’ willingness to play politics with the integrity of our elections is nothing new, this move could set a dangerous partisan precedent and seriously undermine the future credibility of American elections,” Soderberg adds.

The “decision to inject partisanship into this investigation hurts [DeSantis’] credibility and does a disservice to our community and the American people. We have a right to know the facts,” Soderberg adds.

“As a former Deputy National Security Advisor, I know firsthand how dangerous DeSantis’ attempt to shut down this investigation is. If there was collusion between Russia and anyone in our government, it must be brought into the light,” Soderberg concludes.

Soderberg’s statement follows after DeSantis filed an amendment to a spending bill that would cut off funds for the Mueller investigation 180 days after the bill became law.

While it is by no means certain that the amendment will clear the bill in its final, bicameral form, DeSantis’ amendment is widely seen as an attempt to curry favor with President Trump, whose backing will be key in any statewide primary.

Donald Trump’s turn to face tricky politics of natural disasters

George W. Bush never recovered from his flyover of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation. Barack Obama got a bipartisan boost late in his re-election campaign for his handling of Superstorm Sandy.

Now, President Donald Trump confronts the political risks and potential gains that come with leading the federal government’s response to a deadly and destructive natural disaster. Hurricane Harvey, the massive storm that has dumped torrents of rain across Texas — flooding Houston and other cities — is the first major natural disaster of Trump’s presidency, and the yet-to-be-determined scope of the damage appears likely to require a years-long federal project.

Trump, who is suffering through a long stretch of low approval ratings, has been particularly eager to seize the moment. He will visit Texas Tuesday — and may return to the region again on Saturday. The White House announced the first visit even before Harvey made landfall. On Monday, Trump promised Texans will “have what you need” and that federal funding would come “fast.”

“We will come out stronger and believe me, we will be bigger, better, stronger than ever before,” Trump said Monday during a White House news conference. Trump was scheduled to be briefed on relief efforts with local leaders and relief organizations during a stop in Corpus Christi, then touring the state emergency operations center in Austin and receiving a briefing on the storm before returning to Washington.

The president’s unconventional style has still oozed out. Trump sent about two dozen tweets about the storm since Friday, marveling at the size of the hurricane and cheering on emergency responders: “You are doing a great job — the world is watching!”

Indeed, he argued Monday he specifically timed his controversial pardon of former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio to capitalize on all the viewers tuned into storm coverage. The Friday night pardon wasn’t an attempt to hide the news, he said: “I assumed the ratings would be higher.”

Trump advisers are well-aware that the hurricane poses a significant test for the White House, which has largely been mired in crises of its own making during Trump’s first seven months in office, including the president’s widely criticized response to white supremacist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia. Trump, who ran a real estate business and starred in a reality show before taking office, has no experience in the kinds of recovery efforts that will be required in Texas and has struggled at times to show competency in governing.

Administrations often tread carefully in planning visits to disaster-ravaged areas. Mobilizing a president, his staff and his security is an enormous logistical undertaking and can pull local law enforcement resources away from the disaster recovery efforts. But Trump hasn’t been cowed.

Aides said it was Trump who pushed for the White House to make his desire to travel to Texas known early. He won’t be visiting Houston, where flooding has wreaked havoc on the nation’s fourth-largest city. Instead, he is meeting with local leadership and relief organizations in Corpus Christi, then visiting the state’s emergency operations center in Austin.

“Conditions haven’t cleared in Houston yet so probably not appropriate for him to go up there, probably not safe for him to go up there,” said Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas. “But I do think having your own eyes on the devastation that I have seen is important.”

The optics of a president’s initial response to a natural disaster can be long-lasting.

Bush was haunted by his now-infamous declaration that then-FEMA Director Michael Brown was doing “a heckuva job” — a statement that appeared wildly off base after the full scope of the devastation became clear. Images of Bush peering down at the flooding in New Orleans from Air Force One also furthered the impression that he was detached from the horrific conditions on the ground.

“He understands why that picture became a metaphor,” said Dana Perino, who was serving as deputy White House spokeswoman at the time.

Trump has played storm politics before. During his campaign, he rushed to Louisiana, in his signature “Make America Great Again” hat, to view damage from massive flooding. Trump made it to the battered neighborhoods before Democratic rival Hillary Clinton and while President Barack Obama was vacationing.

“We’re glad you’re not playing golf at Martha’s Vineyard,” one woman told him, a jab at Obama.

“Somebody is, somebody is that shouldn’t be,” Trump replied.

Over the weekend, Trump offered a sunny assessment of the response efforts while the rain was still pouring down on Houston and other Texas towns. He cited the “great coordination between agencies at all levels of government” and declared, “We have an all-out effort going, and going well!”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, has so far praised the federal response to Hurricane Harvey, which has been blamed for at least three confirmed deaths. But with nearly 2 more feet of rain expected, authorities worried whether the worst was yet to come.

On its own, a successful federal response to Hurricane Harvey is unlikely to reshape Trump’s presidency. But with his approval rating perilously low, it could help Trump convince some Americans that he has the capability to lead the nation through difficult moments.

Trump’s predecessors have also benefited from the political opportunities that can arise after natural disasters.

When Superstorm Sandy barreled across the East Coast days before the 2012 election, Obama paused his campaign to monitor the federal response from Washington. He traveled to hard-hit New Jersey, where Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a strong supporter of the president’s rival, lavished praise on Obama.

Obama advisers said then that while they didn’t believe the president’s Sandy efforts were a deciding factor in the election, the praise he received from Republicans was helpful in the midst of a highly partisan campaign.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Darryl Paulson: Why I left the Republican Party

I have been a Republican all my life. I remember watching the Republican National Convention in 1956, when I was 8 years old, and seeing President Dwight Eisenhower nominated for a second term.

When I turned 21, I registered as a Republican and have voted for all but two of the Republican presidential candidates since 1972.

Growing up in the 1960s, the era of civil rights, the Vietnam War, the emerging environmental movement and the sexual revolution, most of my youthful colleagues were Democrats or something to the left of Democrats.

Why did I become a Republican?

First, the Republican Party was the anti-slavery and pro-union political party. Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president, remains as the greatest Republican president.

I was attracted to the Republican Party because it supported a strong military, but opposed big government. Big government, like big business, is something to be feared and controlled.

Finally, I became a Republican because my parents were Republicans. Like church affiliation, most individuals adopt the party identification of their parents. Although my parents were Republican, they were never activist nor straight-ticket Republicans.

My father was a policeman for over 30 years, and that influenced my partisan choice. During the 1960s, the police were perceived as the enemy by many political activists. They were the pigs.

In some cases, the police deserved their negative reputation. There is no doubt that many law enforcement officials in the south used violence against peaceful civil rights protestors.

In spite of these shortcomings, the police were often subjected to unfair criticism. They were expected to be lawyers, psychologists and social workers, in addition to enforcing the laws. They were always criticized and seldom supported.

I not only considered myself a Republican, but I was also a conservative. Whittaker Chambers, Barry Goldwater, William F. Buckley and Ronald Reagan were my heroes. At this point, most readers are probably saying, “Whittaker who?” Chambers book, “Witness,” remains as the greatest but, most overlooked conservative book ever written.

I opposed the campaign of Donald Trump from the beginning. I believed he was neither a Republican nor a conservative. A look at his voter registration record shows he spent more time as a Democrat than a Republican. He was also registered as an independent and a member of the Reform Party. The last time he left the Republican Party, he called them “crazy right,” and he only rejoined the party about 18 months before seeking the Republican nomination.

His actions as president have reaffirmed my view that he is unfit to be president. As he did during the campaign, Trump frequently changes his positions or simply lies. Here is a short list of the lies and exaggerations of Donald Trump:

— Trump has not been able to pass one piece of significant legislation, but he argues that no president “has accomplished as much as the president in the first six or seven months.

— Trump has cozied up to Vladimir Putin and the Russians, although they remain one of the greatest threats to our nation. Trump continues to deny any Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election, although every intelligence agency disputes that notion.

— When asked by Bill O’Reilly how he could defend a “killer” like Putin, Trump responded: “There are a lot of killers … You think our country is so innocent?”

— Another example of Trump’s moral equivalency was when Trump defended the Nazi, KKK and white supremacist protesters in Charlottesville by saying “there is blame on both sides,” and “some very fine people” participated in the rally. I have yet to find a “nice” Nazi, Klansman or white supremacist.

— Instead of attempting to unite the nation in times of crisis, as previous presidents have done, Trump is the Great Divider, pitting one side against another.

— Trump’s ego is so big that it is impossible for him to admit a mistake. It is always the fault of others. Evan though he sold himself as the “great dealmaker,” he was unable to make a deal to repeal and replace Obamacare. Instead, he blames Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republican Senator John McCain.

— A major campaign promise of Trump was to build a wall on the United States-Mexican border and guaranteed Mexico would pay for the wall. Now Trump is demanding that Congress pay for the wall or else Trump will shut down the government.

— Trump told the American people he selected the best people to advise him as president. A Jan. 28, 2017 photo showed Trump sitting in the Oval Office while talking on the phone to Putin. Trump was surrounded by his handpicked advisers Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, Michael Flynn and Steve Brannon. All of Trump’s personally selected advisors have since been fired.

Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer called Trump’s statement on Charlottesville “a moral disgrace.” The conservative magazine, The Economist, said “Donald Trump is politically inept, morally barren and temperamentally unfit for office.”

Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, a strong Trump supporter, now says that Trump “has not been able to demonstrate the stability nor the competence” needed to be president.

The most damning statement about the Trump presidency comes from former Republican Senator John Danforth of Missouri. Danforth, an ordained Presbyterian minister, wrote in The New York Times that Trump “stands in opposition to the founding principles of our party — that of a United country.” The first resolution passed at the first Republican National Convention was that “the union of the states must and shall be preserved.”

The motto of America is “E Pluribus Unum,” meaning “out of many, one.” Under Trump, we have way too much Pluribus, and not enough Unum.

I will not rejoin the Republican Party until Donald Trump is no longer the leader of the party of Lincoln. That does not mean that I have joined the Democrats. They have their own problems which could be the subject of another editorial.

Where are the Republican leaders willing to stand up and denounce Trump for what he is? He is the bully in the room who gets away with his divisive tactics until enough people are willing to take him on and say, “enough is enough.”


Darryl Paulson is Emeritus of Government at USF St. Petersburg specializing in Florida politics and elections.

Ron DeSantis seeks to ice Robert Mueller investigation of President Trump

Rep. Ron DeSantis, ahead of what many are expecting to be entry into the 2018 Florida Governor’s race, is looking to help out President Donald Trump — by putting a time limit onto Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller‘s investigation into the Trump campaign.

The DeSantis amendment: “None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to fund activities pursuant to Department of Justice order 3915-2017, dated May 17, 2017 and relating to the appointment of a special counsel, later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, or for the investigation under that order of matters occurring before June 2015.”

POLITICO notes this is one of hundreds of amendments to an omnibus spending bill to be taken up after recess, and there is no guarantee this makes it through committees into the bill at large.

As well, there is no guarantee that such a measure survives the Senate, where relationships have been frayed between President Trump and Republicans of various ideological stripes.

DeSantis, a Republican in his second term whose district runs from St. Johns County south to Volusia, has yet to file for re-election.

NRA’s video message to ‘elites’: ‘We’re coming for you’

The election of President Donald Trump and Republican control of Congress meant the National Rifle Association could probably rest easy that gun laws wouldn’t change for at least four years. But the NRA has begun a campaign not against pending legislation but what it sees as liberal forces bent on undoing the progress it’s made — and the political powerhouse is resorting to language that some believe could incite violence.

Using the hashtags #counterresistance and #clenchedfistoftruth, the NRA has put out a series of videos that announce a “shot across the bow,” and say the gun-rights group is “coming for you” and that “elites … threaten our very survival,” terms that suggest opponents are enemy combatants.

“The times are burning and the media elites have been caught holding the match,” NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch says in one video aired on NRATV, the gun lobby’s web video site, as it shows footage of people fighting police, breaking storefront glass and burning the American flag.

Later, she specifically calls out The New York Times: “We’ve had it with your narratives, your propaganda, your fake news. We’ve had it with your constant protection of your Democrat overlords, your refusal to acknowledge any truth that upsets the fragile construct that you believe is real life. And we’ve had it with your tone-deaf assertion that you are in any way truth or fact-based journalism,” Loesch says. “Consider this the shot across your proverbial bow. … In short? We’re coming for you.”

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said the tone and language is “overwrought rhetoric” that, viewed by the wrong person, could lead to violence. The kicker on one of the videos — “We’re coming for you” — is straight out of the movies, she said, and “that phrase means that violence is imminent and we will perpetrate it.”

The NRA is taking a page from the Trump playbook.

The friction between the gun lobby and the media isn’t new. But critics of the NRA contend the organization is relying on the “fake news” mantra started by Trump to whip up its followers after a dip in gun sales that has taken place since Trump succeeded President Barack Obama, who favored stricter gun-control laws.

“They’re not inventing this hyperangry, nasty partisan tone but piggybacking on Trump’s approach. Of course, NRA voters, by and large, are Trump voters, so they would be sympathetic to that kind of message,” said Robert Spitzer, chairman of the political science department at State University of New York at Cortland, who has examined the firearms industry and Second Amendment issues extensively.

Spitzer, a member of the NRA as well as the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said it’s a pattern the NRA has exhibited as the group evolved from an almost exclusive focus on gun safety into a political beacon for conservatives who fear changes to the Second Amendment and the gun industry.

“It was Bill Clinton in the 1990s. In the early 2000s, it was John McCain. It was Hillary Clinton. It was the United Nations. They’ve held up the U.N. as ready to swoop in and take everybody’s guns,” Spitzer said. “The focus of their ire has changed, but the basic message has been the same.”

The NRA declined to comment on the videos to The Associated Press. But the NRA has produced videos saying the left and the media are out of control and feeding a false narrative that tea party conservatives are racists and Trump supporters are “toothless hillbillies.”

Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRA, said this month: “There is no longer any difference between our politicians and the elite media who report on them. … These elites threaten our very survival, and to them we say: We don’t trust you, we don’t fear you, and we don’t need you. Take your hands off our future.”

Erich Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, said it’s been a longtime frustration with journalists who, he contends, “ignore the violence and harsh rhetoric on the left while magnifying and twisting the words of those on the right.”

The NRA videos prompted Mike Nelson, a Democratic congressional candidate in Arkansas and self-described hunter and gun-rights supporter, to label them as “hate speech.” Nelson, whose website lists the NRA among more than two dozen organization he’s supported, said he can no longer back the NRA.

In a Facebook post, Nelson wrote: “If the NRA does not stop their hate campaign, I will call them out on sedition. Sedition is the willful undermining of the legal authority, the Incitement of Violence.”

Some gun owners have cheered the videos and said they give voice to conservatives weary of media attacks on Trump; others say the videos stray from the NRA’s original mission and that the NRA is inviting violence.

Joe Plenzler, a Marine veteran who served overseas and sometimes had reporters accompanying his unit, joined two other veterans in writing an opinion piece for The Daily Beast criticizing the videos.

“The NRA props up the Second Amendment by undermining and vilifying the protections afforded in the First, and paints everyone who may disagree with the current administration, our country’s justice system, or the NRA’s partisan political position with a very dark and unjust broad brush,” Plenzler wrote with Marine veterans Craig Tucker and Kyleanne Hunter.

Plenzler, who has since dropped his NRA membership, said he was disturbed by the videos.

“Lately, it seems like they’ve gone well out of the bounds of any sort of sane responsible behavior. If you want to advocate for the Second Amendment, which I unapologetically believe in, that’s fine,” he said. “But I think at the point where you are going to demonize half the American population in a recruitment effort to get more members, I’ve got a big problem with that.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

As Donald Trump struggles, some Republicans talking 2020 challenge

Mark Cuban isn’t ready to launch a formal campaign to challenge President Donald Trump.

Yet Cuban, an outspoken Texas billionaire who describes himself as “fiercely independent” politically, sees an opportunity for someone to take down the Republican president, who is increasingly viewed as divisive and incompetent even within his own party.

“His base won’t turn on him, but if there is someone they can connect to and feel confident in, they might turn away from him,” Cuban told The Associated Press. “The door is wide open. It’s just a question of who can pull it off.”

Indeed, just seven months into the Trump presidency, Republicans and right-leaning independents have begun to contemplate the possibility of an organized bid to take down the sitting president in 2020. It is a herculean task, some say a fantasy: No president in the modern era has been defeated by a member of his own party, and significant political and practical barriers stand in the way.

The Republican National Committee, now run by Trump loyalists, owns the rulebook for nominating the party’s standard-bearer and is working with the White House to ensure a process favorable to the president.

Yet Trump’s muddled response to a deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, this month has emboldened his critics to talk about the once unthinkable.

GOP officials from New Hampshire to Arizona have wondered aloud in recent days about the possibility of a 2020 primary challenge from a fellow Republican or right-leaning independent. No one has stepped forward yet, however, and the list of potential prospects remains small.

Ohio’s GOP Gov. John Kasich has not ruled out a second run in 2020. Another Republican and frequent Trump critic, Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, last month visited Iowa, which hosts the nation’s first presidential caucuses. And a handful of wealthy outsiders including Cuban and wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, are being encouraged to join the fray.

Trump’s comments about Charlottesville “frightened” many Republicans in New Hampshire, said Tom Rath, a veteran Republican strategist in the state that traditionally hosts the nation’s first presidential primary election.

“While he has support from his people, the party itself is not married to him,” Rath said of his party’s president.

Trump denounced bigotry after the Virginia protests, but he also said “very fine people” were on “both sides” of the demonstrations, which drew neo-Nazis, white nationalists and members of the Ku Klux Klan. One woman was killed when a man drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters.

Even before the divisive remarks, Trump’s public approval ratings were bad. Gallup found in mid-August that the president earned the approval of just 34 percent of all adults and 79 percent of Republicans. Both numbers marked personal lows. And as he lashes out at members of his own party with increasing frequency, frustrated Republican officials have raised questions about the first-term president’s political future.

On Monday, Maine Sen. Susan Collins said it’s “too early to tell” whether Trump would be the GOP presidential nominee in 2020. On Wednesday, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake said Trump’s divisive governing style was “inviting” a primary challenge. And on Thursday night, former Sen. John Danforth, of Missouri, called Trump “the most divisive president in our history” in a Washington Post op-ed.

“There hasn’t been a more divisive person in national politics since George Wallace,” Danforth wrote.

Trump has also disappointed “The Rock,” a former Republican-turned-independent, who told Vanity Fair in May that he’d “like to see a better leadership” from the Republican president.

Trump’s response to Charlottesville “felt like a turning point” among those thinking about 2020, said Kenton Tilford, a West Virginia political consultant who founded “Run The Rock 2020.” He said the group has already organized volunteers in Iowa and New Hampshire.

“He’s vulnerable,” Tilford said of the president.

Yet there is good reason why no sitting president since Franklin Pierce in 1852 has been defeated by a member of his own party. As is almost always the case, the most passionate voters in the president’s party remain loyal. And in Trump’s case, activists across the country are starting to come around.

The president has personally installed his own leadership team at the Republican National Committee and in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, where new GOP chairmen are more devout Trump supporters than their predecessors.

As RNC members from across the country gathered in Tennessee this week, leaders had already begun focusing on protecting Trump in 2020.

RNC co-chairman Bob Paduchik, who ran Trump’s winning campaign for Ohio last year, was named to lead an RNC effort to review the presidential nominating process in conjunction with White House political advisers.

One possibility, last invoked during President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election, would allow party officials in some states to decide primary contests in closed caucuses without voter input. Such a change could make it all but impossible for another Republican to run a successful nationwide primary challenge.

Two members of the RNC rules committee, Bill Palatucci of New Jersey and Henry Barbour of Mississippi, said they’ve heard nothing of such an effort.

RNC chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel suggested that the blowback for Trump’s Charlottesville comments only reminded his hardcore supporters what they like most about him.

“He’s not filtered. He’s not poll-testing everything. That’s part of the appeal he has,” McDaniel said. “He has a great understanding of the pulse of the grassroots Republicans right now.”

Other RNC members seemed more concerned about the president’s statement there were “very fine people” on both sides of the white supremacist rally.

Palatucci said Trump “got it wrong” in his initial comments, but he stands by the president’s agenda, especially business deregulation and his recent decision to send more troops to Afghanistan.

Barbour said the confusion following Trump’s response to Charlottesville was “a huge distraction.” The president’s future will brighten, he said, if the GOP-controlled Congress overhauls the tax code and approves sweeping public building projects.

“If he doesn’t get those done, we’re going to have trouble,” Barbour said.

Yet few predicted a significant primary challenge in the most important early voting states.

New Hampshire RNC member Steve Duprey said he’s heard no serious talk of one. Said Iowa RNC committeewoman Tamara Scott, “I firmly stand behind my president.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Andrew Gillum: ‘Nothing admirable or respectable’ about Donald Trump

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum bills himself as the Democrat who is not afraid to be a Democrat and Thursday night he showed a gathering of University of Central Florida students he’s not afraid to call out President Donald Trump.

Challenged by a student who identified himself as not a Democrat who wanted to hear Gillum say something nice about Republicans, particularly Trump, the Tallahassee mayor praised the dignity of both Presidents George H.W. and George W. Bush and even grudgingly complimented former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

But Gillum refused to compliment Trump, essentially saying there was nothing admirable about him, not even for a Republican, except to “unite us in opposition.”

“He has united reasonable-thinking people on the left and on the right to oppose his hatred, his vitriol, his division, his derision, and his inability to be adult,” Gillum said. “He’s already proven he’s uniquely unqualified for the position.”

Gillum insisted he himself is a political optimist, but added, “You can’t get there without also calling out where we are. It’s important to acknowledge where this state has slid to, and where it has slid away from.”

This was Gillum’s fourth stop in his “Back to School” tour of college campuses this week, the second on Thursday, after Stetson University in DeLand. He openly sought try to mobilize college students to join he called “The G Unit,” to try to engage early dialogue and outreach among a segment of voters notorious for not voting. His appearance before about 100 people at UCF, not all of whom were students, was organized by the UCF College Democrats.

Gillum ran through his biography and Democratic platform, strong support for public education and the  environment, confronting issues associated with climate change, restoration of voting rights for felons, promotion of solar energy industry, appreciation of immigrants and refugees, and a retooling of the economy to get away from reliance on low-wage jobs..

He also pitched an idea for a four-year college plan: students who commit to work four years after graduation in a field the state needs help in, such as teachers, forestry firefighters, etc., the state would pay for their public university tuition.

Gillum also tossed unnamed comparisons to his Democratic rivals former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham [“I may not have the right last name,” an apparent reference to Graham’s father former Gov. Bob Graham] and Winter Park developer Chris King [“I surely can’t write my own check to become governor,” an apparent reference to King’s wealth.]

But the distinction that might stick with the young, disenchanted, disheartened voters that experts say populate college may be his “Democrat not afraid to be a Democrat” theme.

He praised Republicans who “have the fidelity in what they believe,” and who, even though he disagrees with their policies, “are in it for the right reasons, so far as their ideologies and belief systems go.” He used Jeb Bush as an example. Gillum said he disagreed “whole-heatedly” with the former governor’s education agenda, and had even led marches against it, but allowed, “I don’t doubt for a minute that Jeb Bush believes whole-heatedly in the mission that he’s trying to pursue.

“But that’s different from what we’re experiencing in the body politic today,” Gillum continued, “when we have a president who is willing to make immigrants feel unwanted, who is willing to give cover to racists, who is willing to malign some of the most helpless in our society.

“There is nothing admirable or respectable. And everything is disagreeable about that posture,” he concluded. “And I don’t make apologies about it.”


Speaking at USF, Andrew Gillum takes aim at Gwen Graham’s voting record

The three Democrats running for Florida governor have focused their fire attacking Donald Trump, Rick Scott, and the Florida Legislature, while mostly refraining from criticizing each other. That was not the case Wednesday night when Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum took issue with a number of votes cast by Gwen Graham during her one term in Congress.

“I did not like her vote to weaken Obamacare. I did not like her vote to approve the Keystone Pipeline. I did not like her vote on Dodd-Frank, I did not like a host of her votes on various environmental issues, and I certainly did not like her vote on the Syrian refugee crisis where she joined with the overwhelming majority of Republicans where Democrats voted with the President to practically change the refugee system that would have brought to a halt the immigration of refugees into this country,” Gillum told a crowd of about 80 college Democrats gathered at the Marshall Center on the USF campus in Tampa.

Gillum was speaking as part of his “Back to School Tour” of college campuses.

Gillum spent the first 55 minutes of his hour-long visit talking about his own candidacy and record. He brought up Graham only after being asked by a student about his thoughts about his Democratic competition.

Gillum acknowledged Graham was “probably” the front-runner for the Democratic nomination. He reminded the audience that he worked to help Graham get elected to Congress in 2014.

“Where Gwen and I had a part of departure was on a lot of her votes,” he said.

Graham won her seat running what she called “The North Florida Way,” which included criticizing Barack Obama over his response to ISIS and saying the Affordable Care Act needed changes.

Her centrist voting record played well within her center-right district, but undoubtedly will be scrutinized closer as the battle for the nomination heats up. In addition to the votes that Gillum mentioned, Graham also voted with Republicans on keeping terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, curbing federal regulations, and was one of only two Democrats to support a GOP companion bill to prevent Obama from lifting sanctions on Iran.

She’s been more progressive on the stump this year, calling for a living wage of $15 an hour and a public healthcare option.

Gillum also said that he liked Graham “very much as a person,” adding, “I’m sure that there’s a lot that we agree with.”

Gillum said he didn’t know much about businessman Chris King, and said that “everybody believes” that Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine will ultimately join the race.

“We’ve worked together with the U.S. Conference of Mayors,” he said of Levine, adding, “I need to hear him talk more about what he wants to do. I heard him in the lead up to running and it’s interesting, you should check it out, what’s been said,” he said, generating laughter with the seemingly ambiguous remark.

Gillum concluded by saying that he was excited that there’s actually going to be a contested Democratic primary next year.

“We have spent a lot of time handpicking nominees in our state,” which he said has resulted in alienating some Democrats participating in midterm elections. “I’m running in this race unapologetically as a Democrat and as a progressive, and I think we can actually run that way in this state and I actually we can win, and I want y’all to help me make that case,” he concluded, calling for volunteers to assist his cause.

Paying attention is the Republican Governors Association, who issued a press release Wednesday referring to an FBI investigation of Tallahassee-backed land deals involving a handful of local officials and developers, including Gillum’s former campaign treasurer.

“With each passing day it becomes more apparent that Andrew Gillum has a huge problem on his hands and that contrary to his wishes, voters won’t be misled by his empty rhetoric,” read the statement.

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