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Richard Corcoran really, really loves Donald Trump

By Adam C. Smith | Political Editor
Published: December 2, 2017 Updated: December 9, 2017 at 06:58 PM
Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine speaks at a Tampa Tiger Bay Club meeting at the Ferguson Law Center in Tampa on Friday. (LOREN ELLIOTT | Times)

Even in the home state of former presidential aspirants Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, few Republican leaders in 2016 were more vocal in their criticism of Donald Trump than Richard Corcoran, the Florida House speaker.

"What birthed the phenomenon of a candidate who in all definition of the word is running a quasi-repugnant campaign that is baseless? You have a candidate who has flip-flopped on every issue,’’ the Land O’Lakes Republican told a Florida Chamber of Commerce gathering in January 2016.

"I ask people, ‘Why are you supporting Donald Trump?’ You tell me whatever issue it is and I’ll send you an issue of Donald Trump on the complete other side of that issue," said Corcoran, who supported Bush, then Rubio, and finally Ted Cruz before Trump won the nomination. "You have a guy who has offended every other possible group known to mankind. He’s insulted and offended women, Mexicans, Jewish people, disabled people, people in middle America. I don’t know who he hasn’t offended and somehow that’s okay?"

And today? The likely candidate for governor adores President Trump. Trump and Steve Bannon are his kind of Republicans, Corcoran told The Buzz this month.

"He’s doing fantastic," he gushed.

Corcoran said he had been skeptical of Trump’s conservatism because the New York developer had been on all sides of so many important issues from taxes to health care. But he said Trump, starting with his selection of Vice President Mike Pence, has proven himself to be an excellent, conservative leader.

"Then he gets elected. He chooses what I think is one of the best Cabinets ever chosen by any president — conservative president. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a better one," he said. "When you put in transformational game-changing principled conservatives in education, environmental protection. .?.?. I think that foreign policy-wise, I think he’s the first person to put Kim Jong Un in place. I don’t think it’s destabilized the world. I think it’s stabilizing the world in the long term. Yeah, there’s always going to be short-term difficulties in order to achieve long-term stability in situations like that. I think this tax reform plan was excellent. I think moving forward in repealing and replacing Obamacare was excellent. I think his Supreme Court justice is the best pick I’ve seen since Antonin Scalia. You could go on and on. The question I would say to people is, ‘What so far are you disappointed on?’?"

And Trump’s defense of the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville?

"He spoke well on Charlottesville," Corcoran said, noting that leaders in Trump’s administration, particularly Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, did condemn the marchers.

"The Trump administration spoke out vociferously, plainly, about the ugliness, the reprehensible behavior and actions that took place in Charlottesville, and he doesn’t get the credit for it."

Sheldon’s Florida ties

George Sheldon, a former Florida deputy attorney general who lost his bid to unseat Pam Bondi in the 2014 election, has been in the news this year.

In 2015, Sheldon took the job as head of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, an agency that had been rocked by reports of botched investigations into child deaths and overworked investigators.

But Sheldon resigned in June amid what the Chicago Tribune said was a "series of recent child deaths and scandalous headlines," as well as an ethics probe.

The Tribune reported that after arriving in February 2015, one of Sheldon’s first official acts was to hire "a Florida technology company that subcontracted with Christopher Pantaleon, who co-owns a Tallahassee rental home with Sheldon."

Under Sheldon, according to the Tribune: "DCFS gave Florida firm Five Points Technology Group $811,000 worth of consulting contracts that paid Sheldon’s former campaign worker and aide Christopher Pantaleon at least $30,000 as a subcontractor. .?.?. Sheldon and Pantaleon had owned two Florida homes together, land records show, and Pantaleon had worked for Sheldon’s political campaign and served as his Florida Department of Children and Families spokesman, among other connections, records show."

Rubio’s talk vs. vote

He drew widespread attention over objections to Rex Tillerson but then cast a key vote that allowed the Exxon Mobil CEO to become secretary of state.

He made a highly-publicized push to make the tax bill better for working-class families but supported the overall legislation.

Now Sen. Marco Rubio is laying down another marker.

As the tax package goes to conference, he’s called on colleagues to improve the child tax credit, again positioning himself as a champion of the little guy.

"I remain surprised that there is not more consensus to support the reality that we do need to do more to help working people in the this country and the child tax credit is one of the best tools to do it," the Florida Republican said Wednesday on the Senate floor. "And I sure hope that what comes back from that conference committee is as good or better than what we’ve put out from the Senate because if it’s worse, there’s going to be problems, I imagine."

Does that mean he would oppose the final version of the bill?

Rubio isn’t saying. It’s likely he will side with the party. His words Wednesday make clear that he would accept what the Senate already passed.

Alex Leary and Michael Van Sickler contributed to this week’s Buzz.