Make us your home page
Daniel Ruth

Tortured Republican air-kisses

This isn't a fence that needs to be mended. It's the Great Wall of Thrasher.

To be sure, Rick Scott, the Cash McCall of Florida politics, has to be feeling pretty swell. For 50 million very, very large he bought himself a Republican gubernatorial nomination and what a spiffy vehicle it is — new and shiny and glittering.

But should he prevail in November over the Democratic nominee, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, Scott may find himself pulling up to the Governor's Mansion in a rather battered jalopy.

Running for office is fun. You can flit, hither and yon, decrying the sorry state of affairs in Tallahassee, accusing your opponent of being a worthless sea slug and promising to rid the capital of all the evil money changers.

Scott, who is more scruples-challenged than J.R. Ewing meets a Somali pirate, managed to convince a majority of Republican primary voters he was just their white knight to turn Florida into Brigadoon. Money may not buy happiness, but apparently it can cover the cost of renting a reputation.

Being at the helm of Columbia/HCA, which ultimately paid the largest Medicare fraud fine in American history, didn't matter to at least 47 percent of Republican voters. Paying nearly $2 billion in fines apparently didn't matter to these folks, who otherwise love to whine over wasteful spending.

What did this prove? Maybe with tens of millions in slick commercials and fancy mailbox stuffers, you really can fool some of the people all the time. And yes, maybe it also means Scott's opponent, Attorney General Bill McCollum, was the Gomer Pyle of candidates.

But Scott may also find himself learning another, more sobering hustings lesson. There is a vast difference between running for office and actually governing.

And while all those anti-government/anti-incumbent/anti-what-ya-got tea party-type hand-wringers may fawn over the carefully crafted image of Rick Scott as an "outsider," should he get elected the body politic would have a man running the state who is about as welcome in Republican circles as Roman Polanski showing up as a judge for Miss Teen USA.

In case no one has noticed, Tallahassee is not only crawling with incumbents, but Republican incumbents. And Scott didn't just run against McCollum. He ran against the Republican establishment, which pushed back with $14 million in negative advertising casting Scott as a corporate charlatan with all the integrity of Snidely Whiplash tossing Nancy Reagan into the streets.

It is always one of the oldest axioms that politics makes for strange bedfellows. The forced detente between Scott and state GOP chairman John Thrasher looks a bit like Paris Hilton canoodling with Dick Cheney.

On Sunday, after a rash of Scott commercials attempting to link McCollum with disgraced and indicted former state party chair Jim Greer, Thrasher had accused the Naples oligarch of engaging in "a multifaceted campaign of misinformation in an effort to mislead and confuse Florida voters." Or in other words, Thrasher called Scott a big fat liar and a duplicitous one at that.

By Wednesday, after the primary, Thrasher was suddenly all warm and fuzzy with Scott, wishing him well in the campaign ahead. Translation: Scott may still be a big fat, duplicitous prevaricator, but we're stuck with him.

Political wounds are often long in healing. And what Rick Scott managed to accomplish in his assault on the mandarins running the Republican Party was the political equivalent of Al Pacino shooting Sterling Hayden, with a mouthful of linguini, in the forehead in The Godfather.

Scott will campaign about jobs, improving Florida's economy and ferreting out illegal immigrants lurking behind every tomato plant. But a Gov. Scott cannot merely sit in Tallahassee ruling by fiat.

Unlike running a corporation, where the chief executive can hire and fire and order minions to do his bidding — overcharging Medicare comes somehow to mind — governors need legislative bodies to approve their initiatives.

And if a Republican candidate has just spent the past several months accusing the Republican hierarchy, including Thrasher, who is also a state senator, along with Senate President Mike Haridopolos and House Speaker Dean Cannon of being sleazy, dreaded career politicians who are little more than tools of deep-pocketed special interests (which is not entirely inaccurate, by the way), just how likely do you think these backslappers and their fellow travelers in the Florida Legislature are going to warm up to even an Arbor Day Proclamation coming from the governor's office?

Thrasher issued his tortured air-kiss to Scott because he didn't have much choice. If Scott goes down in flames against Alex Sink, Thrasher hardly wants to the labeled as the guy who didn't support — at least publicly — the party nominee. This had to feel like Gen. George Patton having to apologize for slapping the shell-shocked buck private.

Still, in the weeks ahead, would it surprise anyone if Thrasher secretly wore a "Sink For Governor" campaign button behind his lapel?

Tortured Republican air-kisses 08/26/10 [Last modified: Thursday, August 26, 2010 7:31pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours