Friday, April 20, 2018
Politics

Romano: Who knew? Rick Scott could have been an inspiration to Trump

The polls say he has never been beloved in Florida.

His critics suggest he has had an uninspiring run as governor.

And yet Gov. Rick Scott might have held the key to an outsider's successful bid to the White House, if only Donald Trump had been paying closer attention.

You see, they began with similar themes, this governor of Florida and this presidential candidate. They both were wildly successful businessmen. They both pitched themselves as anti-establishment candidates. They both shocked the Republican party with upset victories in the primary.

And yet, from there, their paths diverged. Scott ended up in the Governor's Mansion, and Trump appears destined to be a historical footnote.

The difference?

Instead of recognizing and studying the message-driven campaign that worked for Scott in 2010, Trump has turned the election into a referendum on himself.

And, in a strange way, Trump's flaming carcass of a campaign should make us better appreciate exactly what Scott accomplished when he took down Bill McCollum in the primary and slipped past Alex Sink in the general election six years ago.

"Rick Scott did not sit down with a single newspaper editorial board, which had never been done in the history of gubernatorial races,'' Sink said. "People thought that, alone, would disqualify him. He didn't do interviews, he didn't get endorsements.

"And he got away with it all by controlling his message so well and doing lots of TV.''

Scott's come-out-of-nowhere win is often attributed to the $70 million he invested in his campaign, and he certainly couldn't have won without it. But that narrative doesn't give Scott enough credit.

Because, along with the cash, he recognized that the message was more important than the messenger. Scott built the campaign around what he was going to do, and not so much on who he was.

"He deserves credit for staying on message as well as anybody I have ever seen in a major election,'' said Darryl Paulson, professor emeritus of government at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. "His message was jobs, and no matter what the question was, he stuck to that message. Ask him about the environment, law enforcement, whatever topic you wanted, and somehow it all came back to jobs.''

Now, clearly, this was Scott playing to his strength. He's neither a polished speaker nor particularly engaging in person, so staying on message was a smart move for him.

Trump, on the other hand, lives for adoration and has an ability to whip large crowds into a frenzy. It looks good on TV and feeds his voracious ego, but that carnival-style campaign strategy has drawbacks.

Paula Dockery, who spent 16 years in the Florida Legislature and briefly ran against Scott in the 2010 Republican primary, suggested Scott's strategy might have been more necessity than inspiration because of his awkward personality.

Even so, she pointed out that Trump hired pollster Tony Fabrizio, considered by many as the mastermind behind Scott's campaign. Trump just didn't listen enough.

"The big difference between them is Rick Scott is not comfortable in crowds, and Trump lives for being the center of attention,'' Dockery said. "I don't know if it is in Trump's DNA to stay on message the way Scott did. To your point, when Trump was listening to (advisers) he did start moving up the polls, but I think he got tired of people telling him what to do.''

Revelations about his past have done considerable damage to Trump's campaign, but the way he's handled those stories has made matters far worse. He cannot let insults or slights, either real or imagined, pass without drawing more attention to them.

Contrast that to Scott, who has perfected the art of ignoring questions, ducking reporters and disappearing until another news cycle has passed.

That may not make him a great governor, or even an attentive public servant, but Rick Scott has won the only two elections he's ever entered.

In a couple more weeks, Donald Trump may wish he had paid more attention to Florida's governor.

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