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How Florida’s top Republicans are navigating Trump’s assault on election results

DeSantis has joined Republicans questioning the outcome. Rubio and Scott have called for transparency.

In a Thursday night appearance on Laura Ingraham’s Fox News show, Gov. Ron DeSantis joined the chorus of Republicans questioning the outcome of a presidential election that increasingly looks bad for their candidate.

But DeSantis went further than other Republicans have been willing to venture. He urged Ingraham’s viewers to call on their state lawmakers to take matters into their own hands, into a direction that could lead the United States toward a constitutional crisis.

“Under Article II of the Constitution, presidential electors are done by legislatures and the schemes they create in the framework,” DeSantis said. “If there’s departure from that and they’re not following the law, if they’re ignoring law, then they can provide remedies as well, so I would exhaust every option to make sure we have a fair count.”

As the light dims on Trump’s reelection hopes, his family and closest allies have demanded unquestioned loyalty from Republicans in what may be the last battle for this administration. They have wielded Trump’s unwavering popularity with the GOP base like a cudgel, threatening the political futures of those who don’t join their conspiratorial conquest to dismiss democratically cast ballots in multiple states they deem illegal.

DeSantis didn’t need to be prodded. In the days since the election, DeSantis questioned Fox News for calling the race in Arizona for former Vice President Joe Biden, suggesting the network had a motive, though he didn’t elaborate on what it might be. He has ripped Wisconsin and Pennsylvania for counting votes after Election Day, without mentioning that it was Republican legislatures in those states that barred the early counting of mail-in ballots. His state, Florida, allows early counting.

DeSantis' fealty has not gone unnoticed by the president’s inner circle. Ingraham, a commentator friendly to Trump, started her segment by praising DeSantis for challenging the results “while many other Republican leaders have remained pretty silent.”

When the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., called out the “total lack of action from virtually all of the ’2024 GOP hopefuls' " and accused Republicans of retreating from the fight, he added an exception: DeSantis.

“He has been active and vocal,” Trump Jr. tweeted.

Those “2024 GOP hopefuls” includes two from Florida: U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott. Steadfastly aligned with Trump for much of the past four years, they have responded to the continued counting of ballots in a handful of states in more reserved terms than DeSantis.

Rubio, a one-time Trump rival who nevertheless became a defender of the administration especially on foreign policy, has echoed many Republicans in calling for transparency and counting of “every legally cast vote.” But he has stopped short of raising doubts about the validity of the results as Arizona, Nevada, Georgia and Pennsylvania continue to process the backlog of ballots according to their state laws.

“If a candidate believes a state is violating election laws they have a right to challenge it in court & produce evidence in support of their claims,” Rubio tweeted Thursday.

Scott similarly said on Twitter, “we need to make sure every legal ballot is counted fairly and transparently" and encouraged followers to report irregularities. He has also tweeted this week about Tropical Storm Eta, Friday’s encouraging jobs report and police officers who have died due to coronavirus.

As his 2018 race for Senate headed toward a recount, Scott sounded more critical of the South Florida counties still tallying ballots days after the election. From the steps of the governor’s mansion, Scott accused election officials in Palm Beach and Broward counties of “rampant fraud," without citing evidence. He sued those counties and ordered state law enforcement officials to investigate (the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s 18-month probe ended without charges).

The events of this week could foreshadow how Florida’s top Republicans navigate a post-Trump presidency as they weigh their own political futures. DeSantis, Rubio and Scott are all considered potential candidates for the GOP presidential nomination in four years.

DeSantis has insisted that is not on his mind, though shortly after his successful 2018 election his political team maneuvered to turn the 42-year-old Republican governor into a national name. Rubio told CNN last week that another run for the White House wasn’t out of the question.

“I ran for president once before, so clearly I’m not going to tell someone I’m not interested in running for president,” he told the network.

Just before the election, Scott aired a campaign commercial in Florida widely seen as a lane marker toward his eventual run for the presidency. He’s not up for re-election for another four years. He also aired ads in Iowa ahead of the Democratic caucus and traveled with Trump to New Hampshire on the eve of the state’s primary, moves that produced buzz about his presidential aspirations.

One past presidential contender from Florida, former Gov. Jeb Bush, has remained largely mum as Trump attempts an unprecedented assault on America’s elections. Bush, who warned of a “chaos” Trump presidency during the 2016 primary and later accused him of “tyranny," publicly weighed in only to promote Florida’s election laws.

“How is it Florida can count its vote so efficiently, but other states, including Georgia, cannot?” conservative commentator Erick Erickson tweeted.

To which Bush responded: “Because we learned our lesson after 2000 and changed our laws.”

Other Republicans in Florida have joined DeSantis in the effort to undermine public confidence in the election results. Former Attorney General Pam Bondi, joining Trump’s legal challenge of election results, declared Thursday from Philadelphia that “We’ve won Pennsylvania.” Within 24 hours, Biden surpassed Trump in the state’s tally. As of Friday evening, Biden led Trump by nearly 15,000 votes as results continued to trickle in.

One of Trump’s most vocal backers remains U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, who on Twitter has amplified conspiracies about voting irregularities, none of which appear to validate the president’s assertion of widespread, coordinated voter fraud across multiple states and jurisdictions. Like DeSantis, Gaetz has called on Fox News to retract Arizona from Biden’s win column and criticized less committed Republicans to his large Twitter audience.

“If Republicans don’t dig in and fight this fraud now,” Gaetz tweeted, “we will never win another election again.”

Tampa Bay Times elections coverage

ELECTION RESULTS — FLORIDA AND TAMPA BAY: See all races, statewide and in Hillsborough, Pinellas and other Tampa Bay counties.

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