Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of 9.24.23

After the second debate, Trump's position in the Primary is seemingly stronger even as his rhetoric gets more unhinged and he sees another major court ruling against him. How do we make sense of it?

Just hours ahead of yet another government shutdown, lawmakers in Washington finally agreed to a deal to keep the government open, at least for the next 45 days.

We’ve focused for weeks on U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz’s go at making House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s life miserable. With this deal, Gaetz seems to have failed to secure many of his goals over the last few weeks.

Lawmakers cut out funding for Ukraine from the final package, something Republican holdouts consistently asked for. But spending will otherwise mostly continue at current levels. With GOP hard-line holdouts rejecting a bill Friday that would have cut government spending by up to 30%, it’s hard to spin this as a win.

Now, McCarthy was only able to pass Saturday’s measure with help from Democrats. So while he may have succeeded in keeping the government open, Gaetz may get the last laugh if he decides to push a motion to vacate McCarthy as Speaker.

It’s unclear, however, whether that move would be successful. If not McCarthy, who can get a majority vote to serve as Speaker with Republicans holding such a slim majority vote?

Much like these last two weeks of torture, Gaetz may put McCarthy on the hot seat — just like he did at the start of this Congress — only to see McCarthy win out yet again.

But maybe the humiliation is the point. After all, Gaetz has said a shutdown was not his ultimate goal here.

“I don’t want a shutdown. I’m not a cheerleader for a shutdown,” Gaetz said, urging the House to “pass single-subject spending bills that are able to be reviewed at a programmatic level” in order to ” rescue ourselves from financial ruin.”

That didn’t happen, but Gaetz did make McCarthy look hapless and out of control of his own conference, and maybe that was the only point all along. Gaetz can certainly say he fought hard, and maybe politically, this is the best outcome for him ahead of a possible run for Governor. He doesn’t get any blame for the harm a shutdown may have caused, but can still say he stood up to leaders in Washington, even pushing McCarthy to make a deal with Democrats.

Leaving the political machinations aside, it’s a good thing that government workers won’t be forced to bear the brunt of another shutdown. There are legitimate concerns about government spending, and we’re open to good-faith proposals to change how these spending bills are passed. But a shutdown also could have caused harm to the nation’s credit rating, costing government dollars that Republicans have professed to be so concerned about.

All in all, the U.S. dodged a bullet here. But the fact that a deal took this long is yet another bullet point in a long list of examples that our government is dysfunctional, and needs some change.

Now, it’s on to our weekly game of winners and losers.


Honorable mention: Republican Party of Florida. The RPOF made a big announcement this week, revealing that both Gov. Ron DeSantis and former President Donald Trump will appear at the group’s Florida Freedom Summit on Nov. 4.

The two presidential candidates are both Florida men, so it’s natural for them to appear at a major party event ahead of 2024 Primary season.

But candidates already have jam-packed schedules, so securing the two top dogs in the presidential race isn’t always a sure thing. Neither candidate attended the RPOF’s annual Statesman’s Dinner. But now that they are both confirmed for the Freedom Summit, expect attendance there to surge.

With DeSantis and Trump locked in, it’s likely that other presidential contenders will look to show up as well. RPOF Chair Christian Ziegler alluded to as much in an announcement this week.

“All Republican presidential candidates have been invited to attend and their attendance will be announced shortly,” Ziegler said in a message to party members. “The Freedom Summit will also feature other top Republican and Conservative leaders.”

The event will also come just a few days before the third GOP presidential debate on Nov. 8 in Miami. Trump thus far has refused to debate his opponents, but he hasn’t said whether he’ll be on hand for the next debate, which is in his home state.

Almost (but not quite) the biggest winner: Getting smashed. The St. Augustine City Commission backed off a real buzzkill of a proposal, which would have required permits for businesses to sell alcohol after midnight.

That proposal bombed with businesses, according to Steven Ponson of Jax Today. Business owners hammered the new rules, leading to the measure’s downfall.

The ordinance had some sobering changes, per Ponson. “It would have required businesses to get a permit to sell alcohol between midnight and 2 a.m., to maintain adequate security, to train at least one employee in responsible beverage serving practices, to provide a crowd manager when there were 50 or more guests, and to ensure no employees were drinking during their shifts,” Ponson wrote.

No one welcomes overly rowdy and unruly crowds. But businesses worried the proposal would have gone too far in tanking the area’s nightlife.

Not to be outdone, the Sarasota Planning Board also made an amendment to zoning rules that could make it easier for new bars to be approved, according to Heather Bushman of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Florida has long had a vibrant nightlife scene. It’s an important part of the state’s draw for tourists. Cheers to St. Augustine and Sarasota for recognizing one of the state’s strengths shouldn’t be wasted.

The biggest winner: Trump. We spent ample time in our column following the first presidential debate identifying how each candidate performed and how the debate may affect the race going forward.

We’re doing no such thing this week following the second debate because pretty much everyone agrees: Trump won.

Yes, despite not being onstage and shirking past Presidential Primary precedent by avoiding any debates with his competition, Trump is winning anyway. A post-debate Morning Consult survey showed Trump’s lead over the field only grew following Wednesday’s debate.

That’s not surprising. The first debate gave the candidates a chance to introduce themselves and shed some light on what potential rivalries might emerge as the remaining candidates grapple to fill the non-Trump role in the field. Yes, Trump wasn’t there. But there was still hope he’d show up to the next debate, with maybe a more defined main alternative ready to take him on.

The second time around … well, what was the point? Some candidates performed well in August, but the field is still far too crowded for all of the Republicans looking to move on from Trump to coalesce around a clear alternative. DeSantis still hasn’t righted the ship. Nikki Haley has shined at times but still hasn’t seen a giant bump in the polls. Vivek Ramaswamy is still grating to many.

So what are we really doing here? We’re still not firmly in the “cancel all the debates” camp, but that argument will gain more and more weight the more Trump sits out.

And it’s a shame. DeSantis and Chris Christie argued Trump owes it to the voters to show up and debate. We agree with that.

But if voters keep telling pollsters they prefer Trump, then maybe the voters are making clear that they don’t prioritize candidates subjecting themselves to challenges and questioning.

Maybe the polls are wrong and things will be different once actual voting starts. But thus far, Trump has only strengthened his lead in surveys despite sitting out. His strategy may be cynical, but it’s working with voters, despite some increasingly unhinged comments from the former President (which we’ll get to in a bit).


Dishonorable mention: DeSantis. Speaking of that post-debate poll, DeSantis dropped 3 points, down to 12% from 15% before the debate. He still held a 5-point lead over Ramaswamy, who sits in third. But this is a bad finding for DeSantis.

And here’s the thing: DeSantis didn’t do particularly poorly during his responses. Polls did show DeSantis performing best Wednesday night among those who watched. The problem is, many didn’t watch, so this may not have been a win among the overall electorate. Again, these candidates are being hurt by Trump sitting out.

DeSantis was also quiet for far too long and missed chances to go for the throat, such as when Mike Pence strangely seemed to criticize the Governor for the Parkland shooter only receiving a life sentence rather than the death penalty, a decision the Governor has nothing to do with.

But rather than interrupt and push back, which candidates did constantly throughout Wednesday’s debate, DeSantis sat silent.

He was also the last candidate to speak at the start of the debate. Again, when he got camera time, he did fine — save for his weird smile making a cameo. But that post-debate Morning Consult poll shows he may not get the bump he’s hoping for.

Add to that renewed rumblings of Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin possibly jumping in as a last-minute candidate to try and challenge Trump. Donors are reportedly encouraging Youngkin to make the move, especially if Republicans perform well in the upcoming Virginia election.

Obviously, if Youngkin gets in, that’s another person splitting up the non-Trump pie. But even if Youngkin ultimately declines to get in, the fact these stories are still circulating is already bad news for DeSantis. It’s yet another example that donors don’t have faith in the Florida Governor, and that they’re looking to throw a Hail Mary to try and find a Trump slayer.

Almost (but not quite) the biggest loser: Florida agriculture. The state released estimates this week that Hurricane Idalia may have caused nearly $450 million in losses for the state’s agriculture industry.

Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson has provided consistent updates on the storm’s impact. That includes estimates of $64 million in losses for Florida’s timber industry and $34 million wiped out in aquaculture.

These early estimates can still change as more data comes in during the weeks and months ahead. But the state’s estimates are already landing higher than similar work from the University of Florida, which released findings that Idalia caused between $78 million and $371 million in agriculture damage.

That’s disheartening news for an industry that’s been slammed by storms in recent years.

Hurricane Irma in 2017 and Hurricane Michael in 2018 also caused significant damage to sectors of the agriculture industry.

The state estimates for Idalia aren’t quite as dire, but they’re another gut punch for farmers trying to keep their heads above water.

The biggest loser: Trump. No, we didn’t make an editing mistake here. Trump is indeed both the winner and the loser of the week this week, because it’s our only way of making sense of how a guy who pined for an era where his former Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff would be executed, explicitly threated to use government authority to shut down a news network that is critical of him, and saw a judge rule he committed fraud in building his business brand nevertheless continues soaring in the polls.

Sure, plenty has been written about how Trump can get away with anything. But no former President makes these types of comments about the people who worked under him.

“This guy turned out to be a Woke train wreck who, if the Fake News reporting is correct, was actually dealing with China to give them a heads up on the thinking of the President of the United States,” Trump said of Milley. This is an act so egregious that, in times gone by, the punishment would have been DEATH!”

Let’s put aside the fake news about Milley conspiring with the Chinese. Trump’s former Defense Secretary did a good job of summarizing why that’s a load of BS.

But can you imagine Barack Obama or George Bush or Ronald Reagan or anyone else in the history of this nation bashing a former high-ranking military official on his way out and dangling the death penalty over their head?

We are so numb to this man’s chaos — how many times has Trump erroneously shouted “treason” from the rooftops? — that we don’t stop and think just how abnormal and frightening this stuff is.

It’s also damaging to Trump himself given his many legal troubles. His newest comments prompted Special Counsel Jack Smith to request a gag order in the Washington-based election case.

Trump is masterful at saying wildly offensive and horrifying things, but camouflaging it in just the right language to give him plausible deniability. “I didn’t say Milley should be executed, just that there was a time where he would be,” you can imagine Trump saying in his defense.

But he knows exactly what he’s doing here. He’s riling up a base and building anger and resentment in this country, with no concern about whether some lunatic will actually take up the cause to carry out that sentence.

Conservatives have also been up in arms over censorship in recent years, particularly surrounding Big Tech, arguing tech companies are in bed with the government. Trump this week had this to say about Comcast, parent company of NBC and MSNBC:

“I say up front, openly, and proudly, that when I WIN the Presidency of the United States, they and others of the LameStream Media will be thoroughly scrutinized for their knowingly dishonest and corrupt coverage of people, things, and events,” Trump said.

“Why should NBC, or any other of the corrupt & dishonest media companies, be entitled to use the very valuable Airwaves of the USA, FREE? They are a true threat to Democracy and are, in fact, THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE! The Fake News Media should pay a big price for what they have done to our once great Country!”

A news company will “pay a big price”? They’ll be “thoroughly scrutinized”? That is a man running to be President promising to use the power of the government to punish a network he doesn’t like. The decision by Big Tech to censor the Hunter Biden laptop story was a terrible one. But the connections to the government there are far less direct than what Trump just said, and he’s targeting an entire network, not just one story.

Yes, the polls are telling one particular story. Yes, having Trump absent from the debates is making it harder for other candidates to bring the fight to him.

But voters still have time to make a different decision. Trump’s chances of winning the nomination may have grown stronger this week. But with his own remarks, he continues demonstrating why that is such a tragedy.

Ryan Nicol

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to [email protected].


  • Ocean Joe

    October 1, 2023 at 6:41 am

    The American people are the biggest losers.

    “We are so numb to this man’s chaos — how many times has Trump erroneously shouted “treason” from the rooftops? — that we don’t stop and think just how abnormal and frightening this stuff is.”

    Until the porcine shadow of the greatest liar and con of all time and his suck ups in congress depart the political scene we will remain locked in division.

    • Ocean Joe

      October 1, 2023 at 6:44 am

      And if sending a mob to disrupt the certification of the electoral college votes to try to change the results isn’t treasonous, what is?

  • Moe Mentary

    October 1, 2023 at 8:26 am

    “There are legitimate concerns about government spending, and we’re open to good-faith proposals to change how these spending bills. . . .”
    Who the h-ll elected you to anything except perhaps “MBH”: momentary blowhard”? You don’t get a vote in Congress. You just sit on the sidelines and scribble. Your like school kid who couldn’t even make waterboy.

Comments are closed.


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