As I mentioned in part one of this series of blog posts, when I first learned that Rick Scott was entering the Florida gubernatorial primary against Bill McCollum, I thought it was odd. Since I knew Scott was also an outspoken opponent of Obamacare, I couldn’t understand how Scott could feel he could do any better on the health care issue than McCollum.
But eventually I got it. And once I did, I realized that Rick Scott “gets it.” He gets it more than I could have imagined. In fact, I’m a bit embarrassed that he got it a lot earlier than I did.
And this proves once again why Rick Scott is a tea party patriot. Some have called him out as a fraud. Let me tell you that he is the real thing. Like most tea party patriots, he has been willing to invest his own time, his own money, and his own reputation to do what he feels is best for his country.
There is nothing for Rick Scott to profit by winning the Governor's mansion. In fact, he has said he won't even draw a salary as Governor. He has spent tens of millions of dollars of his own money to obtain a position he won't even take money for. If this isn't one of the highest forms of charity towards his fellow Floridians, I don't know what is. As a tea party patriot, he is restoring the true idea of public service.
And he got in the race against McCollum primarily because of a core principle of the tea party movement. Since its inception almost two years ago, the tea party movement has not only been about lower taxes and less government spending, it has primarily been about changing the culture of politics. It has been about returning the power from the establishment career politicians, like Bill McCollum, to we the people. It has been about getting reckless government spending under control and restoring confidence and trust in the very idea of self-government.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of Bill McCollum. I had planned to vote for him. He was even once on my board of directors at The James Madison Institute. I believe McCollum would have had the conservative answer on almost every piece of legislation that came to his desk.
But let’s face it. McCollum has been in office for the better part of his life. In 1980, at the age of 36, McCollum was first elected to Congress, where he served for 20 years. In 2000, he launched an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate. He tried again in 2004 and lost a close primary to Mel Martinez, who went on to win the seat. In 2006, he was elected to be Florida’s Attorney General. Over the last 30 years, McCollum has spent 24 of those years in elected office. Like him or not, he certainly fits the mold of a career politician.
And this is exactly the strategy Scott took to defeat McCollum: Scott got behind the tea party crowd and rallied against the incumbent. 2010 has certainly not been a year that has looked favorably upon incumbents - even (and perhaps especially) incumbents in the Republican Party.
It’s not that McCollum wasn’t conservative enough or that he was a corrupt politician. As I mentioned, I think his record demonstrates the opposite. It’s about the fact that the average voter is “mad as hell” that our elected officials have “lost touch” with reality. When you serve most of your life in political office, there are just many things you can’t relate to as well in regards to how most of us live our lives. In a tough economy with high unemployment and out-of-control government spending, the anger against incumbents mounts even higher - especially when most in government are immune to unemployment (well, until they get thrown out of office).
And all across the country, the incumbents in the Republican Party have fought back - sometimes in nasty ways. McCollum’s strategy should have been to stick with the fact that Scott is a “rookie” (he’s never held political office). Or that he, McCollum, would be the more viable candidate against liberal Alex Sink. Instead, his campaign strategy tried to smear Scott’s personal reputation. When voters saw this, they marched even harder for Scott. And with his own reputation on the line, Scott fought back with his own attack ads against McCollum and ultimately won.
Another trend has since emerged - the incumbent Republicans who are defeated by a Republican outsider - have become “sore losers.” So far, almost a month after the primary, McCollum has not endorsed Scott. This is pretty rare. If Scott (or any “tea party” candidate) loses to an establishment candidate, and doesn’t endorse them, they are called out on it. Yet the entire Republican establishment has let McCollum get away with being a sore loser.
Speaking of the Republican establishment - not one single Republican member of the Florida Legislature endorsed Scott publicly during the primary. I know that as Scott was taking a lead in the polls, a few were privately supporting him. But not publicly. Both the outgoing and incoming Speaker of the House and the outgoing and incoming Senate President (all Republicans) endorsed McCollum in the primary. A few of them even raised millions of dollars for McCollum.
While Scott outspent McCollum, it wasn’t by as much as some have claimed. McCollum not only had the backing of the Republican establishment, but also of all the special interest groups in Tallahassee. Through my job at JMI, I meet many representatives of many of these special interest groups, and all were in the tank for McCollum. In fact, there were a few moments that I saw a paranoid establishment seeking to make sure everyone was on board. That’s the moment I made my final decision to vote for Rick Scott in the Republican primary. A self-financed millionaire: this is what it takes to beat the establishment - and barely.
The tea party has primarily been against reckless and irresponsible spending, but it has also been against elected officials - and the entire establishment apparatus - who arrogantly believe they know what is best for the rest of us.
Rick Scott took on the establishment in his own party and won. The best historical figures in the Republican Party’s past had to do the same thing. That actor from Hollywood never held political office before he became Governor of the largest state in the Union. He would eventually become known to all of us as President Ronald Reagan.
Scott still has a way to go before he gets christened as the next Ronald Reagan. But the tea party isn’t interested in that. What we are interested in doing is what’s right. We like success stories when we see them. We like to see people who have earned their way in pursuing the American Dream. And we like to reward them. And we hope once they get in office, they'll put together solutions that seem like common sense to us.
We don’t think that a political office is for the person who’s next in line. Rick Scott certainly wasn’t on anyone’s radar as the next in line to be Florida’s Governor. That actor from Hollywood could never be Governor, much less President. But history has a way of proving all of us wrong.