Disheartened politicians backing Marco Rubio not ready to move on to Donald Trump

Many aren't ready to line up behind Trump and hope for a contested convention.
Published March 17 2016
Updated March 18 2016

TALLAHASSEE — They are too wounded to know what to do next.

While Gov. Rick Scott has thrown his support behind Donald Trump and called on Florida Republicans to unite behind the brash real estate tycoon, Marco Rubio loyalists just aren't there yet.

"It is very difficult for me to see Rubio move on," said state Rep. Julio Gonzalez, R-Venice, a member of Rubio's Florida leadership team. "I feel Marco had the best qualities of any of the other 17 candidates that had put themselves out there. All of the rest of the candidates are seriously flawed."

He's hardly alone. More than a half-dozen members of Rubio's leadership team in Florida said over the past 48 hours that they are not ready to unite behind Trump, with many leaving open the possibility of never getting behind him and holding out a glimmer of hope that a contested Republican National Convention could revive Rubio's chances.

For those running for re-election and facing Republican primaries in the fall, supporting Trump or not has consequences that could affect their own races.

Rather than committing, many are just staying out of the discussion altogether.

Instead of endorsing any of the three remaining candidates, U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, Rubio's co-chairman for Florida, said he's simply "taking a break" for a while and focusing on his own campaign for re-election in a newly redrawn congressional district where he has a Republican primary opponent. Charlotte County Republican John Sawyer III has filed to challenge Rooney in a district that includes Central Florida citrus areas from Polk County south to Lake Okeechobee.

State Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, an early Rubio supporter, said as of Wednesday he had no plans to endorse another presidential candidate.

"For the moment, I'm staying on the sidelines. … I'm focused on my campaign and my race in 2016," said Diaz de la Portilla, who's seeking re-election in what's expected to be a very competitive general election campaign against State Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami.

"I supported Marco, because I know him; I thought he was the best guy. You can only imagine if Marco would have continued in the process and been elected what it would have meant to our area," such as money for infrastructure and local projects and a national spotlight on Miami-Dade, Diaz de la Portilla said.

Although Scott has urged the GOP to rally around Trump, Diaz de la Portilla said he thinks it's best to let the process play out.

On Wednesday, the day after Trump easily carried Florida, Scott said through a Facebook post: "I believe it is now time for Republicans to accept and respect the will of the voters and coalesce behind Donald Trump."

Despite that plea from his boss, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, a Miami Republican, isn't joining the Trump bandwagon. Lopez-Cantera, a member of Rubio's Florida team, said through a spokeswoman that he is focused on his own campaign for U.S. Senate and not the presidential contest.

Sarasota state Rep. Ray Pilon, another member of Rubio's leadership team, said some of the cautiousness about endorsing revolves around the potential of a contested convention in which Rubio or other candidates could become viable again. He said he simply needs more time to know if a contested convention is likely and what it would mean for Rubio.

"I'm going to wait to see how this is all going to play out," said Pilon, who is one of four Republicans in a primary battle for a state Senate seat in Sarasota and Charlotte counties.

Pilon said his hope is that if Trump secures the nomination, it will force him to become less volatile to have any chance of beating Hillary Clinton, who has a commanding lead in the delegate race on the Democratic side.

If he does tone it down, Pilon said, there is no doubt he'd back Trump over Clinton.

Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau reporters Kristen M. Clark and Michael Auslen contributed to this report.