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Diane Roberts: Florida GOP voters don’t want to think, they just want to believe

So the other jackboot has dropped: Rick Scott endorsed his Soul Brother but only after that big Florida Primary win.

Scott signaled his man-crush back in January, writing breathlessly for USA TODAY that Herr Drumpf reminds him of, well, him: rich, an “outsider,” a business hombre incensed over “endless and tedious regulation and taxation.”

You know, crap like the Clean Water Act. And the Voting Rights Act.

Still, Scott couldn’t quite bring himself to come out all the way for the eccentrically coiffed braggart until he saw which way Florida Republicans would blow. After all, they’re the people he needs to propel him to the United States Senate in 2018.

He’s betting (and the evidence is pretty compelling, see 2010 and 2014) that a large hunk of Florida voters no longer care about qualifications or competence. They just want to elect somebody who will throw epic tantrums on their behalf. Somebody who’ll show those uppity feminists and gays and Black Lives Matter kids who’s boss. Somebody who’ll make America white male again.

They don’t want problem-solvers. They want a megaphone.

Meanwhile, the denizens of Punditland are trying to get their heads around what happened to Florida’s once-golden homeboys.

Jeb was the Bush to beat, the Smart One, the guy who’d raised so much money nobody could touch him. Marco Rubio was young, Latino, telegenic and energetic: the new Face of the 21st century GOP.

Ted Cruz? Everybody hates him, especially his fellow senators. You can’t run a serious presidential campaign with no friends. John Kasich? One of those moderate Republicans. He accepted Obamacare in Ohio. He’ll be gone by Iowa.

And as for Trump: are you kidding? The guy’s an idiot. He’s going nowhere.

Yeah.

Got it wrong, didn’t we?

Perhaps not entirely: Cruz is despised by most rational people. Trump is indeed an idiot — the way Mussolini was an idiot. Mean, cunning and narcissistic.

But Rubio wasn’t such a fresh face, after all. His political “philosophy” was opportunism with a spritz of Reagan-lite: path to citizenship for undocumented aliens? Sure — until it upsets the base.

And Bush, well, even Republicans persisting in a perverse fondness for George W. didn’t warm to his “little brother” Jeb. Where George W. won people over by being just as ignorant and incurious — but friendly — as they were, Jeb spouted passionless policy, specifics and other egghead-ish stuff.

The truth is that Bush and Rubio were both lackluster candidates, products of Florida’s intellectually bankrupt GOP, a party which was, 35 years ago, strangely progressive on the environment and on social issues, but which now exists — much like the old Pork Chop Democrats — merely to perpetuate their own power.

Bush beat two weak Democrats for governor in 1998 and 2002, kept his nerve in the 2000 presidential vote recount, and tried to dismantle public education in Florida. Somehow that made him look like presidential material — at least to old-line party faithful.

Rubio got himself a couple of fat jobs out of law school, including a teaching gig at FIU funded by private donors, before he hit the Florida House and became Speaker at age 35.

He was elected to the US Senate in 2010, beating former Gov. Charlie Crist. That seemed like a mighty coup. But remember that 2010 was the year the Tea Party grabbed their pitchforks and tricorn hats: that guy in the White House was a Kenyan Muslim socialist atheist revolutionary who was going to get his dusky government hands on their doctors!

And 2010 was also the year Florida elected as governor a guy whose company drew the largest fine in history for defrauding Medicare and Medicaid.

Rick Scott still isn’t in jail.

The signs were there. Bush and Rubio should have noticed that the re-election of Scott indicated that the people of Florida were not inclined to critical thinking. And those two establishment Republicans had nothing to offer an electorate angrier than ever over things they barely understand: the Iran nuclear deal (no, the US is not “giving” Iran $150 billion); detente with Cuba; marriage equality; the Paris climate change agreement. Rubio tried the optimistic “New American Century” thing. Bush didn’t do “shining city on the hill.” He just touted his mixed record as governor of Florida — and his famous name.

They tried and failed to counter Trump’s bombast, his bread and circuses, his witless sloganeering about “winning” and “deals,” his boasting about bringing back torture and suing newspapers he doesn’t like and making everybody say, “Merry Christmas.”

But you don’t beat rage with policy. And you don’t vanquish a pig by getting down in the mud with him. You can’t win against the promise of “greatness.”

Republican voters in Florida no longer want to think. They just want to believe.

***

Diane Roberts is the author of “Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America.” She teaches at Florida State University.

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Diane Roberts teaches at Florida State University. Her latest book, “Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America,” will be out in paperback in the fall.

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