WASHINGTON — Rick Scott was the only member of Senate Republican leadership to vote in favor of overturning 2020 election results to favor former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud, and now the Florida Republican will be the first member of Senate GOP leadership to meet face-to-face with the former president at his Palm Beach club.
Scott occupies an interesting position in the post-Trump GOP.
He was an early, enthusiastic and consistent Trump backer since 2015 who now leads the establishment-friendly and Mitch McConnell-aligned National Republican Senatorial Committee for the 2022 election cycle. Trump has openly mocked McConnell since the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol that led to five deaths and urged supporters to donate to his political action committee instead of GOP-aligned groups like the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
In an interview, Scott said he’ll tell Trump that their interests are aligned when he visits this week.
“I want to be an additive, I want us all to row the boats in the same direction,” Scott said to the Miami Herald. “My goal is to tell the [former] president what I’m doing. I’ve talked to him, and he tells me he wants to be helpful to me. He’s committed to Republicans taking back a majority in the U.S. Senate.”
But Trump’s own messaging undercuts Scott’s position that requires him to defend incumbent GOP senators. In a tweet-style statement, Trump vowed to travel to Alaska to defeat Sen. Lisa Murkowski, one of seven Republican senators who voted to convict Trump during his second impeachment trial but the only one who is on the ballot in 2022.
“I will not be endorsing, under any circumstances, the failed candidate from the great State of Alaska, Lisa Murkowski,” Trump said in a statement. “She represents her state badly and her country even worse. I do not know where other people will be next year, but I know where I will be — in Alaska campaigning against a disloyal and very bad Senator.”
Republicans currently control 50 U.S. Senate seats but do not control the chamber after President Joe Biden’s victory and two runoff elections in Georgia won by Democrats ensured that Vice President Kamala Harris can cast tie-breaking votes. The opposing party of the president typically performs well in midterm elections, though Republicans don’t have an incumbent running in 6 of the 10 most competitive races.
Scott reiterated that he will defend all GOP incumbents from his National Republican Senatorial Committee perch, which largely relies on raising millions to fund TV ads and campaign infrastructure in competitive races.
But Scott did say the National Republican Senatorial Committee under his watch will be different in one respect: it won’t get involved in Republican Senate primaries, noting that “every Republican endorsed my opponent” during his first gubernatorial race that he won in 2010.
“I don’t have a plan on getting involved in primaries in open seats,” Scott said. “I’m going to support all incumbent senators. I’m very comfortable that voters will choose good candidates.”
Mar-a-Lago meetings have become commonplace for GOP officials seeking to stay in Trump’s good graces. The top two House Republicans, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Whip Steve Scalise, have also ventured to Mar-a-Lago, along with South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham. Scott’s Mar-a-Lago meeting was first reported by the Washington Post.
Yet others who aren’t seen as Trumpy enough are told to stay away, notably former U.N. ambassador and potential 2024 presidential candidate Nikki Haley.
So far, Trump has mostly focused his attention on Washington and hasn’t weighed in on Florida races like Sen. Marco Rubio’s and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ 2022 reelection bids.
But he did tell donors to steer their money to his Save America PAC.
“No more money for RINOs [Republicans in name only],” Trump said in a March 8 statement. “They do nothing but hurt the Republican Party and our voting base, they will never lead us to greatness.”
A day later, his message softened somewhat to clarify that he “fully supports” groups like the National Republican Senatorial Committee, though it doesn’t have the right to use his likeness to raise money. But the back-and-forth, much like his presidency, keeps supporters like Scott on their toes.
“I fully support the Republican Party and important GOP committees, but I do not support RINOs and fools, and it is not their right to use my likeness or image to raise funds,” Trump said in one of his statements. “So much money is being raised and completely wasted by people that do not have the GOP’s best interests in mind.”