Not surprisingly, Donald Trump is turning to a Sarasota Republican with a long history of angering establishment Republicans and breaking with Jeb Bush to lead his campaign in Florida. And he is picking up the former campaign manager for Gov. Rick Scott's first campaign to be the co-chair of the campaign.
Trump will name Sarasota Republican Party Chairman Joe Gruters as his state chairman today, hours before Gruters is expected to introduce the real estate mogul at a rally in Miami. Trump will name Susan Wiles, Scott's 2010 campaign manager, as the co-chair.
"My message is clearly resonating in Florida," Trump said. We have tremendous support from so many great people in the state. I am proud to watch that support grow, to see our team expand and to be leading in the polls here."
In Gruters, Trump has a rare Republican in the GOP establishment who has never been afraid of splitting with state and national Republicans.
- In 2012 when the Mitt Romney presidential campaign left Trump out of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Gruters created a national stir when he invited him into nearby Sarasota on the eve of the convention. Gruters rallied an audience of more than 1,000 people and gave Trump the local party’s "Statesman of the Year" award.
- In 2010, two months after Bush and much of the GOP establishment endorsed then-attorney general Bill McCollum for governor, Gruters hosted eventually winner Gov. Rick Scott at what was then the biggest campaign rally Scott has received in his campaign. The event made Gruters one of Scott’s most trusted allies early in his political career.
- In 2005, when much of the Sarasota Republican rallied around Bush ally Tramm Hudson for Congress in Sarasota and Manatee, Gruters signed on with Vern Buchanan, the Republican who positioned himself as the outsider candidate and eventually won the primary and has been in Congress since.
But Gruters, a 38-year-old accountant, also represents a small piece of the establishment given that he is the Republican Party of Florida’s vice chairman and is also a member of the Florida State University Board of Trustees. Twice Gruters has been in the running to be the state Republican Party of Florida chairman.
Gruters said he doesn’t go out trying to make waves in the GOP, he just happens to be "a disrupter by nature" he said.
Trump has been enamoured with Gruters since the 2012 event in Sarasota. He said back then that Gruters was just relentless in trying to get him to speak in Sarasota.
"This Joe is some piece of work," Trump said then.
Since then, Trump has sent Gruters at least $10,000 to help the Sarasota Republican Party and returned to Sarasota earlier this year to hold another rally, this time one with 1,600 people