1. Florida Politics
  2. /
  3. The Buzz

When Trump visited Florida, why wasn’t the state GOP chairman there?

Republican Party of Florida chairman Joe Gruters dismissed talk of a rift between him and Gov. Ron DeSantis as a false narrative.
President Donald Trump arrives shakes hands with his supporters at the Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center in The Villages, Florida on Thursday, October 3, 2019.  [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
President Donald Trump arrives shakes hands with his supporters at the Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center in The Villages, Florida on Thursday, October 3, 2019. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published Oct. 4
Updated Oct. 4

TALLAHASSEE — When President Donald Trump made a visit to The Villages retirement community in central Florida on Thursday, he called out, by name, each state Republican leader and member of Florida's Congressional delegation who was there in the audience.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and the first lady, Casey, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez, Attorney General Ashley Moody and a handful of congressmen were all there, either seated onstage behind the president or in the audience, where he could point them out to the crowd.

RELATED STORY: In Florida, Trump scorns impeachment talk, bashes ‘socialist’ Medicare for All

But there was also a notable absence: Joe Gruters, the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida and state senator from Sarasota.

Gruters has been a regular attendee of Trump events, and photos posted on social media have shown Trump and Gruters mingling backstage of at least one rally in May at Panama City Beach.

The GOP chairman said he had a prior commitment to tour two state prisons, Desoto and Charlotte Correctional Institutions, with Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, as part of their work on the Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee. Gruters said he asked Brandes "a while back" to accompany him on a prison tour, because Gruters wanted to see in person some of the pressing issues facing Florida's prisons, including critical under-staffing and a dramatic lack of educational programs.

"It was an eye-opening experience," Gruters said. "The panic button should be pressed ... we're ultimately responsible for the funding they need and we need to do a better job."

RELATED STORY: Florida Corrections secretary seeks help from lawmakers to curb prison violence

But Gruters’ absence has fueled speculation that his relationship with DeSantis may be on shaky ground. DeSantis recently endorsed cutting Gruters’ salary as the chair of the state GOP in half in order to boost the pay of the party’s new executive director, Peter O’Rourke, according to Politico.

The former executive director, Jennifer Locetta, was fired as part of a massive shakeup in the Florida Republican world, which included the ouster of DeSantis’ former campaign manager, Susie Wiles, from her political job with DeSantis as well as with Trump’s Florida campaign team.

Although U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, who was independently wealthy from his years as a hospital executive, didn’t use the state Republican Party apparatus for political fundraising, DeSantis has changed that practice as governor. The state GOP has thus become all the more important as it works as DeSantis’ political machine in addition to its role supporting other Republican candidates, including Trump himself, all over the state.

Gruters on Friday pushed back on what he called a false narrative, saying the problems that spurred the past personnel changes are in the past.

“Were there some issues at the beginning? Maybe, yes,” he told the Times/Herald. “But we’ve dealt with those issues and we’re moving on as a team.”

Gruters also contended that the notion of a rift within party leaders was being pushed by people with ulterior motives.

“Listen, people want to be chairman. This is a game of politics, and there’s some people that may benefit from trying to put a wedge between the governor and I, and the president and I," he said. "But there’s no wedge. We’re together.”


  1. Kerry Kriseman, right, beside husband Mayor Rick Kriseman. Kerry Kriseman announced Friday she has cancer. [SCOTT KEELER  |  Times]
    Kerry Kriseman announced the news Friday on Facebook. She said the prognosis is good.
  2. The walkable waterfront hamlet of Apalachicola, founded in 1831 on Apalachicola Bay, is shrouded in overcast on Tuesday. The town is home to oyster boats and shrimp boats which make their daily pilgrimages into the seafood-rich bay. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Times]
    Florida filed the lawsuit against Georgia in 2013, though battles about water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system date to the 1990s.
  3. At the request of a state lawmaker, Citizens Property Insurance Co.’s board is again bringing in an outside evaluator to help the insurer decide if and how to cull its policyholder base. Pictured is  Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) (left) and Barry Gilway, CEO of Citizens. [Courtesy of Sen. Jeff Brandes and Citizens Property Insurance Co.]
    At the request of St. Petersburg Sen. Jeff Brandes, the insurer will look for ways to shrink.
  4. Blackwater River Correctional Facility. [Florida Department of Corrections]
    An audit spells out how short-term savings, realized between 2011 and 2014, are now costing taxpayers millions and leading to settlements from successful class-action lawsuits on behalf of inmates.
  5. Yuma, the Florida panther cub, explores his new enclosure at the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park in 2014. The young panther will live out his days at the park after being rescued in January 2014 from the wild near Naples at about one-week of age. He had been abandoned. Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park had a ceremony Thursday morning with a couple speeches explaining Yuma's circumstances which were followed by a brief countdown for the opening of a gate allowing Yuma to enter his new enclosure. [DAMASKE, JIM   |  Tampa Bay Times]
    It would “basically be a disaster for the panther,” a federal biologist wrote in assessment.
  6. A trial court ruling barring two women from entering an Orlando strip club without a man has caused a constitutional chain reaction. Miami Beach argues that local human rights ordinances are under attack, and the city is leading an effort to overturn the ruling. [STEVEN JOHNSON | Miami Herald]
    On Thursday, Miami Beach led a coalition of 21 municipalities, including Tampa, Pinellas County and Dunedin, in filing a brief urging the overturn of a May decision voiding local protections of civil...
  7. This Feb. 19 photo shows a makeshift memorial outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 students and faculty were killed in a mass shooting in Parkland. [AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File]
    The grand jury said districts are creating “unnecessary chaos” and have become “experts at data manipulation.”
  8. Council member Ed Montanari, left, was elected St. Petersburg City Council chair for 2020. Council member Gina Driscoll was voted vice-chair. [Times (2019)]
    The chairman guides the council through meetings and generally speak last on issues.
  9. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., speaks during a House Judiciary Committee markup of the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) [ALEX BRANDON  |  AP]
    Gaetz declined a breathalyzer test, but the charges were dropped anyway.
  10. Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg, presents his bill on civics education to the House PreK-12 Innovation subcommittee on Dec. 11, 2019. The legislation received unanimous bipartisan support. [The Florida Channel]
    ‘Democracy is not a spectator sport,’ sponsor Rep. Ben Diamond reminds colleagues.