In late 2014, GOP leaders in Florida were pretty certain of a couple of things: Marco Rubio would never run for president if his mentor, Jeb Bush, did; and if either ran, he would be a lock to win Florida's Republican presidential primary.
That's why, after Bush signaled he was likely to run, Republican legislative leaders set the 2016 Florida primary for March 15 — and made the primary winner-take-all, rather than a primary in which several candidates could divide the state's 100 or so delegates proportionally. It was a gift to Bush, to ensure he could count on winning a big pile of delegates in case he did not dominate earlier contests.
"Can we get that gift back?" Republican political consultant Ana Navarro, a zealous Bush advocate and ubiquitous TV pundit, quipped Thursday night while speaking at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg.
Contrary to the old conventional wisdom, Rubio did get into the race and another giant force emerged to threaten everybody's plans. His name is Donald Trump, and Navarro acknowledged her fear that Trump could win Florida's primary.
Rubio and Bush may well cannibalize one another's votes, she said, leaving Trump to scoop up a winning plurality of antiestablishment votes.
"Nobody that's voting for Trump is voting for Jeb or voting for Marco. I don't think they eat from each other's votes," Navarro said. "I do think Jeb and Marco eat from each other's votes."
Navarro, who appears regularly on CNN, ABC News and, as of Friday, The View, weighed in on a host of topics:
Is she ready to accept that Trump might be the Republican nominee? "No. If I was, I would be curled up in a ball sucking my thumb after I dunked it in whiskey."
Who is she watching as a potential candidate to replace Bush as the chief anti-Trump contender? Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former CEO Carly Fiorina and Rubio.
Who would be the stronger Democratic nominee? "Hillary is easier to beat, but I'd rather go up against (Joe) Biden because I like him better. … If I'm going to get stuck with a Democrat for the next four or eight years, I'd rather get stuck with one I actually like, who I think is authentic, who has no problem showing his heart and spontaneity."
How even as Trump is hurting Bush with his constant attacks, he is also helping him: "I think it's good for Jeb because there's 17 people running, and we're only talking about two of them. At some point this field is going to whittle down and if it whittles down to Trump and Jeb as the anti-Trump, we're in good shape."
Her dream ticket? Bush and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval. "He looks like a telenovela star. Have you seen this man? I want him to ride into the convention on a white horse."
Bush's support strong
Let there be no doubt that Florida's Republican establishment wants Bush for president.
The former governor has nabbed endorsements from all but two recent GOP speakers of the Florida House of Representatives, several of whom have been raising money for the candidate.
The list includes current Speaker Steve Crisafulli and his predecessor, Will Weatherford, as well as Dean Cannon, Larry Cretul, Allan Bense, Tom Feeney, John Thrasher and Daniel Webster.
The only speakers missing from the list? Bush's home state presidential rival, Rubio, and Johnnie Byrd, who prefers Rubio. Bush didn't seek the support of former Speaker Ray Sansom.
The Bush campaign publicized the endorsements two days before cutting the ribbon on its Miami field office — all signs that Bush is preparing for a long primary.
Catch the next debate
The next GOP presidential debate is at 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Ronald Reagan presidential library in Simi Valley, Calif. CNN is the host, with Jake Tapper as moderator and Dana Bash and Hugh Hewitt as panelists.
Here is the lineup: Trump, Bush, Scott Walker, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Rubio, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Kasich, Chris Christie and Fiorina.
If you're looking for a debate watch party, there are a number of events in the bay area:
CruzCrew: Havana Blues, 5319 Ehrlich Road, Tampa. For more information, email Luis Raul Laracuente at [email protected]
Greater Brandon Republican Club: The Landing Bar and Grill, 4351 Lynx Paw Trail, Valrico. For more information, contact Steve Emerson at [email protected]
Tampa Bay Young Republicans: Mojito Restaurant and Lounge, Crowne Plaza Tampa Westshore, 5303 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. For more information, contact Janine Kiray at [email protected]
North Hillsborough Republican Club: Ballyhoo Grill, 7604 Ehrlich Road, Tampa. RSVP to Rebecca DeBoer at [email protected]
Win Ben Win: Vine Restaurant and Wine Bar, 17667 N Dale Mabry Highway, Lutz. RSVP to Ann Shane at [email protected] Also, one at Bardmoor Club, 8001 Cumberland Road, Seminole.
Patricia Mazzei contributed to this week's Buzz.