By David Quiñones
One year out from the Florida Democratic primary, here are seven reasons Democrats should pull up stakes and pretend the Sunshine State doesn’t exist in 2020 (and maybe in 2022). I dare you to argue with them.
I’ve never referred to myself as an “award-winning political reporter,” mostly because while it is technically true, it’s also a descriptor employed by assholes in fedoras.
Nonetheless, as the managing editor of a now-defunct magazine during the years 2011-2014, my coverage of the 2012 presidential race and the shifting political tides among Florida’s Hispanic voters earned a first place José Marti Award in the category of Best Political Writing, bestowed by the National Association of Hispanic Publications.
I should give that award back. I don’t deserve it.
Not because my reporting was factually inaccurate—it wasn’t. And not because my prose wasn’t as inspired as it was ethereal—it totally was, guys.
Rather, my analysis, and specifically the article “Little Havana Has Turned Blue—Will It Ever Turn Back?” today reads as a naïve piece of detritus that could only have been written in the high-flying days following Barack Obama’s reelection, hopelessly shortsighted in its assumptions that Miami and more broadly Florida had become a liberal stronghold and, with favorable demographics, would remain so forever, ensuring a Democrat in the White House until the end of human history.
I was wrong.
What I didn’t predict was the massive influx—already in full swing—of Baby Boomers into hellish retirement enclaves with dystopian names like The Villages, On Top Of The World and Sun City Center. Like literally every other journalist, I also failed to foresee the influence of a transformative figure like Donald Trump, whose reactionary nationalistic rhetoric would coalesce and calcify these voters’ already retrograde views.
The LHS of my dumbass prediction equation was the classic Nuyorican mistake of assuming that my cousins from the island, who even then were moving to Central Florida at a fast clip, would immediately extricate themselves from Puerto Rico’s complex political system, plug themselves into our national red-blue dynamic and, in doing so, seamlessly vote Democrat. Even post-Hurricane Maria, this prediction has not proven true.
Some context: In 2016, presidential candidate and local-boy-made-good Trump defeated Hillary Clinton to earn the state’s 29 electoral votes. At the same time, a musty, flavorless waffle named Marco Rubio cruised to reelection in the U.S. Senate after a doomed Republican presidential primary bid. While only about half of Florida’s voters pulled levers for Republicans, the state’s hopelessly gerrymandered districts resulted in almost two-thirds of state and federal seats being filled by the GOP.
November 2016 was but a prelude to the disaster of 2018. All around the state, government projects and initiatives continued to be stymied by corruption and incompetence. Shoddy state-maintained infrastructure crushed people to death with alarming regularity. Toxic red tide lapped on Florida’s famed shores and algae blooms infected Lake Okeechobee and its various distributaries, making life especially repugnant. This was the legacy of years of Republican stewardship.
But the stink wasn’t stinky enough. Florida voters, in their wisdom, chose to take the man most singularly responsible for the sorry state of the state—Governor Rick Scott, who in 2018 was facing term limits—and make him a senator, supplanting Democrat and mostly harmless cadaver Bill Nelson, whose staff might have forgotten to tell him he was running for reelection.
In Scott’s place, voters had the chance to elect the most compelling gubernatorial candidate most had ever seen in the form of Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum, a former-Hillary proxy whose tack to the left in a crowded primary had garnered support from some of the most progressive groups in the state.
Instead, we chose red meat Republican congressman Ron DeSantis, a Trump supporter who thinks the solutions to Florida’s problems lie in steering the state even further to the right.
Milquetoast centrist Democrats picked up some seats in key districts where Democrats never should have been out of power anyway, but the 2018 Blue Wave mostly missed Florida.
It’s been a tough go of it for Dems in Florida. So, exactly one year from the Florida primary, let’s talk solutions. In 2020, the party is facing an election against an incumbent president who is almost universally loved within his own party despite his myriad moral, mental and managerial deficiencies. There are no big statewide contests on the docket, as Rubio won’t be up for reelection again until 2022.
Zooming out of Florida, what are the Democrats’ national goals in 2020? Easy:
- Win back the White House.
- Win a net three seats to control the Senate.
Both, frankly, seem like long shots, but let’s consider them in good faith. What can Democrats possibly do to achieve these two ends that involve them spending a moment or cent of resources in our state?
Nothing. Not one thing. The party, nationally and on a local level, should abandon the Sunshine State in 2020, and maybe even in 2022. A tactical retreat here makes the most sense, for hundreds of reasons. Here are seven.
1. You’re Not Going To Win Here
Can you name the last time Florida voted against an incumbent president? No? Me neither, because I looked it up on Wikipedia and went all the way back to 1924 before I got bored and stopped. (Later, I took some Adderall and continued my research; Florida has never voted against an incumbent.)
A recent poll, conducted by a Democratic polling firm, shows a purportedly soft 40 percent of support for Trump in Florida. Soft? You think that’s soft for Trump? Don’t believe it.
Forty percent, even if it were an accurate measure (and like most, this firm has a track record of not being not entirely accurate on the topic of Trump) is basically a lock for this president, considering all the pro-Republican apparatus in this state. Florida is a magical time/space vortex that rewards the worst people for doing awful things. Trump has it in the bag.
Oh, you need more reasons to cut and run? All right, how about…
2. You’re Going to Go Broke Here
Along with being the largest swing state, Florida is also the most expensive media market for political advertising. Ad time costs more here than anywhere else. In 2018, the Scott-Nelson senate contest drew more spending than any other race across the country, and the DeSantis-Gillum gubernatorial race was second only to Illinois.
Florida is also a complex state to place ads. Campaigns must thread the needle of specific messaging in various metropolitan, urban and rural areas—all with wildly different interests. There is literally no ad that can be run statewide, adding costly complexity to the ad buy. And that’s not even considering the markets and outlets where languages like Spanish and Creole are dominant, and the tweaks to messaging that those demographics require. To reach our diverse populations effectively, parties need strong state-level operations with nuanced understanding of on-the-ground logistics. Which brings us to…
3. The Florida Democratic Party Sucks
No, I know, the DNC sucks too. Yes, most Democrats are awful; they regularly betray their constituents and they’re hopelessly compromised and the Tom Perez/Debbie Wasserman-Schultz functionaries are comically out-of-touch and incapable of mounting a substantive national challenge to the profoundly evil Republican Party, and liberalism as a Democratic ideology is a facile response to the kind of arch-capitalistic conservatism that has become the norm in America. For real, I agree, I’m with you!
But, even within that context of incompetence and weakness, the Florida Democratic Party is uniquely trash. Led by Chair Terrie Rizzo, the party has fielded criticism for failing to recognize the energy on its left and reach out to key demographics (Nelson went months without a Spanish language website!).
In the wake of getting their ass handed to them in November, the party focused more on forcing members to sign loyalty (“unity”) pledges than interrogating their own shortcomings.
For years, the true function of the state party has been to perpetuate funding of lavish galas and leverage celebrities for photo ops. It has become a true country club klatch for the wealthy liberal elite of the state. And while that’s not much different than a lot of other state Democrat parties, the Florida Dems are a truly pernicious bunch who consistently find ways to do the wrong thing in every circumstance.
Like bedbugs, the Florida Democratic Party leadership is deeply embedded and unlikely to leave unless they are starved of sustenance or conflagrated. Let’s see how many galas they can throw for the next four years with no cash.
4. Local Politics is a Conservative Sewer
Here’s the political structure in some of the more populous states: Liberal urban mayors and city commissioners, recognizing the leanings of their constituents, put forth mildly progressive policies on local levels, while their counterparts in rural towns and counties tack right.
But Florida is different. From Lenny Curry in Jacksonville, to Miami’s Francis Suarez and Miami-Dade County’s Carlos Gimenez, many of our metropolitan mayors are Republicans who play down their conservative bona fides to garner votes in mostly Democratic urban centers.
Even Democrat mayors in larger cities like Orlando and Tampa are feckless and often acquiesce to capital and business interests. Likewise, many of our commissioners’ political stances are inscrutable and sway in the direction of whatever special interest is cutting a check that month.
Municipal level politics can often serve as a check on the worst conservative tendencies. Not so in Florida.
5. You Can Turn Out the Vote, But They’re the Ones Counting the Votes
Joseph Stalin might have famously said, “It’s not the people who vote that count, it’s the people who count the votes.” He would have made a hell of a Supervisor of Elections in Florida.
We famously suck at voting. Registering to vote, allowing people to register to vote, scrubbing voters from the rolls, passing laws to restrict voting (until recently, that is), and then showing up to vote: we are uniquely terrible at the whole process.
And none of that even addresses our biggest weakness: counting the votes. Not to re-litigate the debacle that was 2018—most of the country is still re-litigating 2000—but for those who stopped paying attention, you can be assured that the problems in Broward County that likely cost Nelson his seat will probably skew even more dysfunctional in the future, as the Republicans who run the state work to sabotage the machinery in Broward, a Democratic bulwark county.
You think that’s conspiracy minded? Well, don your tinfoil and join me on a trip north to the panhandle, where Republican state officials in 2018 allowed voters in heavily Republican Bay County to vote by goddam email. This is far from an isolated incident; whispers about election fraud and padding of vote counts in places where the GOP has full operational oversight (that is, most of the state) have abounded for years.
Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in Florida by more than 150,000. Still, somehow, Dems lose every close election. Weird.
6. We Are Bad People
Groucho Marx famously said “I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member,” and that’s something the Democratic Party should consider in context with Florida. While many people here are compassionate, charitable souls filled with nothing but love for their fellow man, far more are reprehensible hobgoblins that care only about furthering their immediate material interests at any cost to society.
A famously “pro-business” and “pro-gun” environment, what Florida really is amounts to little more than an atavistic playground for the privileged and wealthy to live out the darkest corners of their id, for millionaires who own Kawasaki dealerships to hunt human beings, for the ethically bankrupt to amass capital while legally screwing over those in less advantaged positions, for the semiliterate to bray at the impoverished, mentally ill and addicted masses who commit tragically comic crimes. This state—and its people, specifically—are obsessed with their rights and their rights to exercise those rights, and fuck anyone who would try to rein them in.
I’ve been here a while. Most of the people in the world who I love live in Florida. Still, if we’re being honest, in the aggregate, we are bad people with bad values. You shouldn’t want to be in our club. If we’re voting for you, you’re doing something wrong.
7. We’ll All Be Gone Soon Anyway
Blah blah blah scientists project 4-6 feet of sea level rise by 2100 blah blah blah huge percentages of coastal population displaced blah blah blah massive devastation blah blah blah.
This is an enormous white flag to wave, for sure. But try not to think of it that way. Rather, consider what the party stands to gain by ditching Florida. Every cycle, the Democratic Party spends hundreds of millions of dollars here. Imagine what that money could do in Texas, supporting Beto O’Rourke against John Cornyn, or funding opponents for Colorado’s Corey Gardner, North Carolina’s Thom Tillis, or Susan Collins in Maine.
Or, if you’re really in love with lost Southern causes, how about spending some of that cash to defend Doug Jones’ Alabama seat that he’s almost assured of losing (unless the GOP runs another racist pedophile)? Maybe some of the leftover funds could pay for the eventual Democratic candidate to make a few more visits to Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania this time around.
All would be better uses of resources than spending one penny in Florida. Of course, this genius national political strategy is just a dream. Florida is the third largest state in the union, a huge electoral prize, and therefore a point of focus for both parties. There’s virtually no way to abandon it, and apparently there’s no way to improve upon the above conditions sufficiently to make real gains in the coming cycles.
So, for better or worse, the Florida vote will be a frustrating and ultimately disappointing process to watch.
Or who knows, maybe I’ll be proven wrong again. Maybe we will betray every instinct that makes us Florida Men and Florida Women, and against all odds, give our 29 electoral votes to someone not named Donald Trump.
Maybe. But I really doubt it.