For Some Florida GOPers, Donald Trump Presents A Dilemma: Party Or Principle?

May 6, 2016

Donald Trump is the likely Republican Presidential nominee. That, despite an effort by some Republicans to block his path to the White House. Governor Rick Scott recently penned a letter urging party unity for Trump. But now another Florida Republican has penned an open letter laying out a choice: party or principle.

The people have spoken, and their choice to represent the Republican Party as the likely GOP presidential candidate: Donald Trump.

Credit Donald Trump Campaign / https://www.donaldjtrump.com/gallery/

“As long as he upholds the foundation and the conservative principles that have shaped the Republican Party for years and years, we will definitely be better off as a nation than we will be with four to eight more years…with Hilary Clinton or Bernie Saunders," said Valdosta resident Jared Bailey.

"He’s a leader," said Scott Trull a South Georgia business owner, of Trump. "This county needs a leader right now."

Both men attended a rally hosted by Trump back in February at Valdosta State University that drew thousands. Trump’s candidacy has surprised pundits and disrupted what some call establishment party officers. But Mac Stipanovich, a longtime Florida Republican who has been advisor, lobbyist and operative, says Trump has become successful because he has spoken and is speaking directly to worries about a changing America in the wake of a recession, slow recovery and growing racial diversity.

It's not a matter of logic, it's not a matter of policy. It's a matter of spite.
Credit Sachs Media Group

“Every day there’s a story about the increase of Hispanics in the population or black office holders. Every day you see in the media or elsewhere some snarky remark about how white, middle-aged men are the cause of all the ills in the world. And they’re tired of it," said Stipanovich.  "They [Trump voters] think Donald Trump is going to—and he is—stick his thumb in the eyes of the so-called establishment. And it makes them gleeful. It’s not a matter of logic, it’s not a matter of policy. It’s a matter of spite.”

Stipanovich is firmly in what’s being called the “Never Trump” category. And he recently wrote an open letter to his party urging others to reject the de facto GOP presidential nominee.

“Florida always hangs on a nice edge, one-to-two percentage points. It’s a purple state, it’s a toss-up state. Five percent of Republicans sit on their hands, don’t vote for Donald Trump and he’s toast in Florida.”

Leon County Republican Party Chairman, Evan Power
Credit Evan Power / LinkedIn

“We just got a presumptive Presidential nominee, we’re just a couple days away from that. So it’s normal for people to have their emotions still high and not ready to coalesce around the candidate yet," said Leon County Republican party chairman Evan Power.

The Stipanovich letter comes as Governor Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Florida Congressional District 1 Candidate and outgoing state Representative Matt Gaetz, say they’ll back Donald Trump’s presidential bid. Several other Republican congressional and U.S. Senate candidates are also throwing support Trump's way. And Power expects more to fall in line:

“We go through this every process to different effect. Mitt Romney wasn’t everyone’s favorite candidate. But at the end of the day Republicans gathered around to support Mitt. Romney. I think the same thing will happen here. Once we have a nominee people are going to come back home and they’ll vote for the Republican candidate.” 

But that “fall in line” situation is what Stipanovich is pushing against. He argues most party officers, and candidates are backing Mr. Trump, because they think they have to.

University of Florida political scientist, Dan Smith
Credit Dan Smith

“Let’s take party officials for example. They have to do that or resign. They have tried very hard to get to those offices and they don’t want to resign.  The office is more important than the principle, so they fall in line. Republican elected officials, they think ‘my gosh look how Trump swept these primaries, look how he did in my district. I better take a dive here, I better take a knee. It’s not safe to be against Donald Trump’. Again, preferring office to principle.”

But University of Florida Political Scientist Dan Smith isn’t sure Stipanovich’s proposal will work.  And he has another one: break the system.

“The one alternative that is somewhat conceivable, is denying either the Republican or Democratic candidate the majority of the 538 electors needed, which would throw the election into the House of Representatives," said Smith.

To do that, he’s talking about what’s been floating around in some circles—another, more traditional candidate entering the race to run, and win in a high delegate state. Still, the choices of party and personality or principle, is what all voters will have to decide November second.