Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of 10.8.23

Cory Mills gets props for stepping up to save Americans trapped in Israel. But will Trump's recent remarks spark the GOP base to turn away from supporting Israel?

The Ringling Bros. Circus made headlines this fall as it returned with a new animal-free version after a six-year hiatus. And we have to say, their new routine where a bunch of clowns struggle to select a new House Speaker is a sight to behold.

Oh, sorry, that’s the House GOP conference doing their best impression of a circus act. Could’ve fooled us.

Though Matt Gaetz sparked this whole drama by successfully defenestrating former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Gaetz hasn’t been as much of a thorn in Republicans’ side this week. He supported Jim Jordan as Speaker, but quickly coalesced around Steve Scalise after Scalise won an internal conference vote.

Scalise, of course, is now out after realizing he couldn’t get to 217 votes despite more than half of Republicans putting him forward as the nominee. But while Gaetz may not be out in front causing trouble, that doesn’t mean Florida’s delegation has receded from the spotlight.

U.S. Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, who also originally supported Jordan, also went along originally to back Scalise for at least one ballot. But as Scalise failed to gain enough traction, Luna was one of the first Representatives to publicly back off Scalise and call for a new nominee.

As Jordan now tries to rally enough support, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan is saying he’s opposed to Jordan’s bid, expressing frustration with the way McCarthy was forced out. Notably, Jordan voted to keep McCarthy in power during the recent motion to vacate. But many Republicans’ anger with the insurgent wing of the party still appears to be transferring to Jordan, a longtime Freedom Caucus member.

And then there’s the possibility McCarthy tries a comeback bid. U.S. Rep. Carlos Giménez is a leader in the House in pushing that option, saying he’s refusing to vote for anyone other than McCarthy. U.S. Rep. John Rutherford came out Friday and said the same.

All of this chaos means the party in power is still frantically trying to figure out a path forward, with answers no clearer than they were nearly two weeks ago when McCarthy was removed.

The Ringling Bros. Circus opted to return without animals after many expressed concerns that they were abusing their show elephants. That same animal is the GOP’s mascot, but this time Washington’s elephants are inflicting this abuse all on themselves.

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


Honorable mention: Ron DeSantis. DeSantis gets a nod here for his strong response regarding the attacks on Israel, emphasizing a policy silo he’s focused on as Governor and differentiating himself from the Republican front-runner for President (more on that later).

After Hamas brutally attacked and targeted Israeli civilians, DeSantis released a policy proposal in response to the attacks. He also ceremonially lit up the Capitol and ordered flags to be flown at half-staff.

DeSantis also supported any move by Israel to “wipe Hamas off the face of the earth.” We hope such calls don’t lead to additional mass casualties among civilians in Gaza, and DeSantis didn’t lay out a detailed plan here. Rather, he made the remarks in the context of supporting Israel going after Hamas in response to the attacks, which they clearly have the right to do given the barbaric nature of Hamas’ attacks.

The Governor’s focus on the conflict led to an appearance on Morning Joe being far more friendly to DeSantis than it might have been otherwise. During that hit, DeSantis again stressed his support for Israel and was able to emphasize his own military background in explaining the geopolitical effects of this new war.

He also promised to charter flights to help Floridians trapped in Israel get home, declared a state of emergency in Florida to protect the state’s Jewish population from any potential threats, and clearly denounced Donald Trump’s baffling comments regarding the conflict.

And given his status as a Harvard alum, DeSantis was also positioned to come down hard on an incredibly insensitive missive put out by numerous Harvard student groups essentially blaming Israel for the attacks which left more than 1,000 dead.

DeSantis’ all-or-nothing tough talk act can be grating when used for his “war on woke” and other culture war fights he consistently tries to gin up. But when he applies that tone to talk about more serious matters, such as the war in Israel, it can connect with people looking for moral clarity and strength from their leaders. That reality shined through this week.

Almost (but not quite) the biggest winner: Carlos Guillermo Smith. It wasn’t all wins for Team DeSantis, however. The DeSantis administration settled a lawsuit filed by former state Rep. Smith arguing state officials were not properly reporting data on COVID-19 cases, vaccinations and other information related to the pandemic.

Per the agreement, the state will post data for the next 36 months related to “vaccination counts, case counts, and deaths, aggregated weekly, by county, age group, gender, and race,” according to reporting from the Orlando Sentinel. The state is also on the hook for more than $150,000 of Smith’s legal fees.

Smith, now running for a state Senate seat, has argued the state’s public records laws require this information to be published as it was during the height of the pandemic. “The DeSantis administration has repeatedly tried to weaken the state’s public records law, hide information from the public and they have finally been held accountable,” Smith said.

State officials tried to argue the data was available in different forms. But Smith wanted the state to return to more frequent reporting.

The DeSantis administration has pushed back on framing this as a loss for them. But the settlement is getting them to change their reporting methods and they’re on the hook for paying Smith. Call it what you want for Team DeSantis, but we’re definitely calling it a win for Smith.

The biggest winner: Cory Mills. This is quite possibly one of the easiest calls we’ve ever had to make. When you personally fly over to help Americans stranded in Israel and help shuttle 77 out of the country to safety, as U.S. Rep. Mills did, you are guaranteed a spot at the top of the winner’s list.

And as of Saturday evening, his office had aided another 19 Americans, with help available to even more.

Mills said he was prompted to help by hearing reports of Americans stranded as part of a church group taking a tour of the Holy Land.

Mills’ move follows efforts to help evacuate Americans trapped in Afghanistan after the Joe Biden administration’s botched execution of the U.S. withdrawal there. This time around, he helped move Americans out of Israel through Jordan, working with his contacts to secure hotels and allowing those Americans to find flights home.

“I literally tried to do this from start to stop to make sure that they know, one, that they’re going to be taken care of and that they’re not left behind and not forgotten by their own government,” Mills said, according to the New York Post.

“I couldn’t care less what district they’re from, whether they can vote for me, whether they’re Democrat or Republican. … These are Americans who wanted to get home.”

The nature of this column requires hitting members of both parties on certain policy positions or comments. It’s a near certainty we won’t agree with everything Mills says or does.

But as the old adage goes, actions speak louder than words. And Mills’ actions this week, personally jetting across the world to help Americans in harm’s way, are what service is all about. Elected officials of all stripes can talk a big game about helping those in need. But Mills, an Army veteran, proved his resolve to do so this week, and we cannot thank him enough for his continued service to his countrymen.


Dishonorable mention: Broward Sheriff’s deputies. There have been many stories of fraud since the government began paying out massive amounts of cash to help keep businesses afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic. But the latest bust, involving charges filed against 17 Broward Sheriff’s deputies, is all the more appalling given these are individuals who swear to protect the community.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that the deputies were accused of falsifying documents to obtain relief under the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan programs.

Eight are members of law enforcement, while the remaining nine work in detention. The 17 are all facing separate cases, but are accused of falsely obtaining nearly $500,000 combined.

It’s unclear how the news will affect Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony, who is running for re-election. Tony said an internal investigation uncovered some of the fraud. While widening the net to look at other deputies who may have fraudulently applied for those loans, the Sheriff’s Office realized the problem was more widespread. The fact his agency took this seriously is a positive note.

Then again, the allegations cover a timeline under his leadership. What kind of culture exists in the Sheriff’s Office for this type of thing to happen in the first place?

This is the biggest single bust of a single South Florida law enforcement agency in decades. While the individual deputies are responsible for their own actions, Tony and the rest of leadership need to weed out deputies like this. They have all been suspended without pay, and that’s a good start.

Almost (but not quite) the biggest loser: Florida homeowners. The depressing news regarding the state’s fledgling home insurance market just keeps on coming.

As Lawrence Mower of the Tampa Bay Times reported, analysts have been poring over the numerous changes lawmakers have made in recent years to help boost insurance companies in an effort to court them to move to, or stay in, Florida.

The result? “Unfortunately, in our opinion, we don’t see a path to lower rates right now,” said Mark Friedlander, who serves as a spokesperson for the insurance company-backed Insurance Information Institute.

That’s brutal news for homeowners, who have dealt with skyrocketing rates for years. Lawmakers have promised changes to help improve the market, but even they admit the changes might take years to make an impact.

But alright, this new dire analysis may trigger legislators to make further changes in this upcoming Session. After all, we’re less than three months away from the start of the 2024 Session.

Well, maybe not. Sen. Jim Boyd, who chairs the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, has not pledged to push any major new legislation just yet, and seemed pleased in comments this week with the “fixes” lawmakers have already approved.

On the bright side, incoming House Speaker Danny Perez has said property insurance issues will be a priority when he takes over. That’s not until the 2025 Session, however. And if those as-yet-unnamed fixes also don’t provide relief for years, just how long are homeowners expected to wait?

The biggest loser: Donald Trump. Much has been said about Trump’s insensitive and vindictive comments this week criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just days after more than 1,000 Israelis were killed in a horrific terror attack.

But if Republicans are not careful, Trump could very well turn GOP voters away from being staunch supporters of Israel.

Trump, still sore over the fact Netanyahu lives in the real world and was the first world leader to congratulate Biden, then rightful winner of the 2020 election, on his victory. That call came as Trump was fabricating claims that the election was stolen from him, a fantasy he still lives in to this day.

The former President made the remarks bashing Netanyahu for poorly preparing for the attacks by Hamas, blaming it on an intelligence failure by Netanyahu’s government.

Even assuming that’s true — and it very much is not clear that it is! — is less than a week after the attack the proper time for a former President to start undermining the effectiveness of the Israeli government?

Trump also made comments during that same speech stating that Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based terror group, was “very smart” and would react to warnings that Israel may be vulnerable to an attack from the north.

His aim was to undercut the Biden administration for voicing concerns about such an attack, arguing Hezbollah was listening. Again, even assuming that complaint is legitimate, is calling a terror group “smart” really the best way to make that point?

DeSantis and many others have roasted Trump for those comments. But what stuck out to us was state Rep. Randy Fine, a vocal defender of Israel and someone who has endorsed DeSantis for President, jumping to Trump’s defense and calling out DeSantis for daring to criticize Trump’s remarks.

“When Donald Trump was President, the embassy was moved to Jerusalem and the Golan Heights were annexed and none of this happened,” Fine said, according to Gary Fineout of POLITICO. “Maybe the Governor should focus his attention on whose fault this is. And that’s Joe Biden.”

In other words, Fine is content with letting Trump’s comments slide in favor of making a partisan political argument, because Trump is the likely GOP front-runner and Republicans are afraid of getting on his bad side.

But Republicans should take a few moments and really grapple with all of the ways the Trump era has completely warped GOP policy priorities:

— The law-and-order party is now openly hostile to federal law enforcement over concerns the FBI and Department of Justice are “out to get Trump.”

— The party of Ronald Reagan has spent years pushing back against claims Russia is seeking to interfere in U.S. elections because that argument was once used to undermine Trump’s candidacy.

— The party of George Bush, promoting freedom overseas and viciously labeling any war skeptics as anti-American has now become increasingly isolationist and less willing to get involved in foreign conflicts.

— After years of Republicans thriving on early voting, they spent the entire 2020 election cycle and beyond trashing early voting as rife with fraud, simply because Trump started spinning that conspiracy theory. Only after realizing they’re hurting their own election chances have Republicans sought to change course ahead of the 2024 cycle.

— Many in the GOP previously pushed for free trade. But not anymore, thanks to Trump’s embrace of tariffs and skepticism of such trade deals.

Some of these are obviously harmful shifts. Others may very well be good! We don’t bring them up to criticize them all, but to emphasize that there is such a blind devotion to Trump among many GOP Primary voters — and, just as importantly, GOP media figures — that it has resulted in multiple incredibly rapid policy shifts in just a few short years.

Do Republicans really think it can’t happen with Israel?

Pulling back support for Israel already fits neatly within Trump’s push to stop U.S. involvement in foreign conflicts. Vivek Ramaswamy, a Trump devotee who has widely embraced talking points popular among the base, has already floated lessening Israel’s reliance on the U.S.

Just this week, following the attacks, Ramaswamy and former Fox News host Tucker Carlson — who also very much has his pulse on the base — argued American officials are devoting too much energy to the recent attacks in Israel.

This narrative is already building, and we’re just days out from this attack. America hasn’t even begun really spending money on the war in Israel — or sending troops.

Republicans’ refusal to challenge Trump in the public sphere has led to a repeated whittling away or outright reversal of previously widely held beliefs. Yes, Trump defended Israel as President. But that was before Netanyahu’s unforgivable sin of doing something Trump didn’t like.

Trump tried a meek walk back this week after his staff got to him and tried to put out the fire. We’ve seen this dance before though. Trump says what he really means and sets off a firestorm. His team tries to to damage control. Then Trump continues repeating what he said the first time around.

If Trump’s remarks continue to go unchallenged, Republicans are going to wake up in a few years (or maybe months) and find their voters and biggest media boosters are no longer interested in coming to Israel’s aid. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

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].


  • Big Daddy Warbucks

    October 15, 2023 at 8:15 am

    Your comments about Trump merely show that your understanding of Republican politics is both narrow and shallow. Traditionally, conservative Republicans have been content to let the world’s warmakers make their wars without involving American lives, fortune or honor. Kindly recall that the Democratic Party got us into World War One, World War 2, Korea , Vietnam and Ukraine. It was a Democratic “total war” philosophy, tinged with an horrendous revenge, that led a Democratic president to wholly unnecessary and genocidal action against Japan. (Everybody knows that Japan was seeking peace before August 1945). As far as Iraq and Afghanistan, all Republicans now that the Bush family was and is populated by committed neoconservatives. And you wonder why the American establishment (Lincoln Project, for example) will stop at nothing to keep Trump out of power?

    • TJC

      October 15, 2023 at 1:03 pm

      You name yourself for a comic strip character, and your lecture on the origins of WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and Ukraine definitely sounds like you got your education from comic strips and comic books. Total bullshit fantasy.

  • TJC

    October 15, 2023 at 1:12 pm

    ‘DeSantis’s all-or-nothing tough talk act can be grating when used for his “war on woke” and other culture war fights he consistently tries to gin up. But when he applies that tone to talk about more serious matters, such as the war in Israel, it can connect with people looking for moral clarity and strength from their leaders. That reality shined through this week.’

    No, that reality isn’t what shined through from DeSantis, what shined through was that he cannot differentiate between his nonsensical and mean-spirited culture wars and a real war. It’s all the same to him, a chance to talk tough. It has nothing to do with “moral clarity and strength,” both of which he lacks.
    The “tough talk act” is just that, an act. In reality it’s all about him, not others.

  • ScienceBLVR

    October 15, 2023 at 2:32 pm

    Credit the West Wing, 2004 President Bartlett..
    Ellie had a teacher named Mr. Pordy, who had no interest in nuance. He asked the class why there’s always been conflict in the Middle East and Ellie raised her hand and said “It’s a centuries old religious conflict involving land and suspicions and culture and…” “Wrong.” Mr. Pordy said, “It’s because it’s incredibly hot and there’s no water.”
    Believe Science!

Comments are closed.


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704