Five states, including Arizona, have announced plans to cancel their Republican presidential primaries, supposedly as a favor to President Donald Trump.
This deprives Republican voters in five states of a voice in the 2020 nominating process and complicates efforts by Trump’s long-shot opponents to gain traction as the most controversial president in U.S. history faces the growing prospect of impeachment. Besides Arizona, the other states are South Carolina, Alaska, Kansas and Nevada.
Stifling competition is un-American. It makes Trump look weaker, not stronger. It’s a form of voter suppression.
Fortunately for Florida, the show will go on, and that’s a good thing.
Trump’s adopted state will hold its Republican presidential preference primary as scheduled on March 17, 2020. That’s St. Patrick’s Day, which makes it easy to remember — and the deadline to register to vote or change your party is Feb. 18.
The Republican-dominated Florida Legislature chose the date, later than other states as it was in 2016 when Trump captured 46% of the vote in a 13-candidate race and ended the White House dreams of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
To boost his chances this time, Trump has personally chosen a new state GOP executive director, and he will likely benefit from Gov. Ron DeSantis, who’s riding a wave of popularity with Florida voters. Out of the picture after an ugly falling out with DeSantis is Susie Wiles, the strategist who guided both Trump and DeSantis to Florida victories.
In the view of Florida Republican Party Chairman Joe Gruters, Trump would get 95% of the state’s primary vote if the election were held today.
“People love the guy,” Gruters told the Sun Sentinel. “Trump will overwhelmingly exceed expectations.”
Let’s hope he’s wrong, but we all need to find out the answer. It’s more important than ever with the news of a CBS News poll showing that 23% of Republicans support an impeachment inquiry of Trump based on his request that Ukraine investigate the son of a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.
Gruters, a state senator from Sarasota, was one of Trump’s earliest Florida supporters and co-chaired his 2016 Florida campaign, and not everyone agrees with his decision.
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Alan Levy, a Republican state committeeman and long-time party activist from Lafayette County, circulated an email to party activists criticizing Gruters for holding Florida’s Republican primary.
“Why not give our state’s citizens the best, most unified appearance?” Levy wrote.
Cancelling party primaries to help a sitting president is hardly unprecedented. But that doesn’t make it right.
Despite its importance as an early primary state, South Carolina scrapped Republican primaries twice in years when two presidents sought reelection: Ronald Reagan in 1984 and George W. Bush in 2004. Democrats in that state did the same for incumbents Bill Clinton in 1996 and Barack Obama in 2012.
Trump’s potential Republican challengers are Joe Walsh, a former Illinois congressman; William Weld, a former governor of Massachusetts; and Mark Sanford, a former South Carolina governor and congressman. The trio wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post in which they said the cancellations prove that the Republican Party stands for nothing.
“Cowards run from fights,” they wrote.
Under Republican Party of Florida bylaws, candidates who challenge Trump can get on the ballot by collecting signatures from 3,375 Republican voters, including at least 125 from each of the state’s congressional districts. They can also pay a $25,000 party fee. So there’s a profit at stake here for the state GOP as well as political relevance, which has been sorely lacking as more and more politicians build fundraising machines outside the traditional party structure.
A third qualifying option, taking part in a debate known as the Sunshine State Summit, is moot now because party leaders have scrapped the debate in another concession to Trump.
This president has a deplorable record. He is the single most divisive force in America. He has not earned a second term. He should have to face the voters as often as possible in this key battleground state.
Besides, with Florida’s history of extremely close elections and voting controversies, we can use the practice.