As far as political hatchet jobs go, the one we witnessed yesterday is certainly noteworthy, if only for its ineptitude.
Florida Politics on Tuesday was the first to report on a sexual harassment complaint filed against Republican Party of Florida Chairman Joe Gruters. Almost immediately, Gruters critics (and there are a lot of them) were writing his political obituary. However, as the day unfolded and more information came to light, two issues became increasingly clear.
First, the veracity of the complaint filed against Gruters unraveled faster than Sha’Carri Richardson in the 100-meters.
Second, this was one of the more poorly executed political smear campaigns in recent memory.
Let’s start with the former.
While the Tallahassee rumor mill was abuzz Tuesday morning about a supposed complaint against the Chairman, there were conflicting reports on whether the investigation was active and who filed it.
POLITICO labeled it an “ongoing internal party investigation” but Gruters’ camp immediately torpedoed that characterization and all but confirmed that RPOF’s legal counsel informed Gruters that an independent investigation had already cleared him.
Even more bizarre (and amateurish), reports started to surface that it was a known Florida political consultant who actually filed the complaint — secondhand — on behalf of the alleged accuser.
Because that doesn’t sound political or anything.
Which leads me to the second issue.
Why did it take RPOF Executive Director Helen Aguirre Ferré 12 hours to confirm that Gruters had been cleared of any wrongdoing, essentially allowing the chairman they serve to dangle in the wind?
Why was RPOF Vice Chair Christian Ziegler proactively issuing statements that implied the investigation was still active when he knew it wasn’t?
Why was former state Rep. Matt Caldwell so quick to insert his voice into the fray?
Well, it’s the worst kept secret in Tallahassee that Ferré takes her marching orders from someone (hint: her previous employer) other than the Chairman she directly serves. But, after yesterday’s fiasco, it is safe to wonder whether that individual will soon be her “previous-previous employer.”
As for Ziegler and Caldwell, they’ve been angling for Gruters’ chairmanship since he was first elected in 2019.
As the dust settled last night and the party reluctantly confirmed that Gruters was cleared, a close political ally of the chairman channeled the infamous words of The Wire’s Omar Little.
“You come at the king, you best not miss.”