MIAMI — Florida Republican Rick Scott is as close as any governor with Donald Trump.
Yet it’s former President George W. Bush, no friend to Trump, who will join Scott at two fundraisers for a super PAC backing Scott’s Senate campaign Friday. It’s the latest instance of the Florida governor visibly tying his political fortunes to a prominent Republican other than the current president.
Scott — who was frequently by Trump’s side at the White House and at his resorts in Palm Beach and Bedminster, New Jersey, in 2017 — began putting more distance between himself and the unpopular president this year as he geared up for a Senate run that Trump himself had repeatedly urged him to make. Scott also chaired the super PAC backing Trump’s 2016 presidential bid.
Now Scott seldom mentions the president and won’t commit to having an event with him specifically.
“I want everybody that believes in what I’m going to do to come help me win,” Scott told a Tampa Bay Times reporter last week when asked if he would like having Trump campaign for him.
Scott made the remarks in advance of a fundraiser headlined for him by Vice President Mike Pence. Scott skipped a July 31 Trump rally for GOP Rep. Ron DeSantis’ campaign for governor. In April, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Cory Gardner, the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, also fundraised for Scott.
Scott isn’t completely snubbing the president. He flew down from Washington on Air Force One to Tampa with Trump in July and then accompanied Trump to an official presidential visit to Tampa Technical High School — an event where their exposure to TV cameras was limited.
In contrast to his closeness to Trump in 2017, Scott’s distance from the president this year as the midterm election comes into focus provides a glimpse into Trump’s standing in the nation’s largest swing state, which he won by just 1.2 percentage points.
Compared to his underwater national polling average, Trump is more popular in Florida — but that’s not saying much. His net favorability rating is still a negative 4 points in Florida (and negative 16 points nationally) according to Quinnipiac University’s polling.
Quinnipiac’s poll showed Scott is tied with Sen. Bill Nelson at 49 percent each.
DeSantis, meanwhile, has no choice but to stick by Trump, whose endorsement and full-throated support for the congressman helped him beat a once better-known and better-funded GOP rival, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
“Rick is doing what a sensible Republican should do — if he’s in a position to be able to do it, and Ron DeSantis isn’t in that position,” said a top Florida Republican who received the invite for the New Republican PAC events headlined by Bush. “This isn’t an F-you to Trump. But the president might see it as such.”
Another Republican familiar with the political operations of both Trump and Scott said it’s a “keep-away-from-Trump strategy. But Scott doesn’t want to be in-you-face about it. And you never know: He could announce a fundraiser tomorrow.”
The Friday fundraiser is separated into two parts: a 11:00 am private meeting at $25,000 a pop in Tampa and a reception in Palm Beach at 3:30 on the same day at $50,000 a pop.
With an eye on the November elections, Scott has also put modest distance between himself and the president in terms of criticizing Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policies that led to family separations at the border. Scott also moved more to the center by signing the first-ever gun control legislation passed in Tallahassee under Republican rule.
The Florida governor has long ties to Bush. Scott was once a minority partner with Bush in owning the Texas Rangers baseball team, which was sold to billionaire Tom Hicks, whose son and namesake is the chair of the New Republican PAC for which the president is fundraising.
Few presidents know what it’s like to manage Florida Republicans during a midterm like Bush.
In 2002, Bush had no trouble at all attracting Republican support here and was sought-after as a surrogate as the country was united behind him after 9/11. His brother, Jeb, ran successfully that year for reelection to the second of his two terms.
But 2006 was another story. With the burden of the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina response weighing on the Bush presidency, Republican candidate for governor Charlie Crist skipped a Pensacola event with the president on the way to resounding win. Jeb Bush went in Crist’s place and wasn’t happy with Crist’s snub.
At the time, then-Senate candidate Katherine Harris was clamoring for help from Bush but the president, whose White House had expressed displeasure with Harris’s chaotic campaign and longshot chances, declined as she lost big to Sen. Nelson during his first reelection.
Now Nelson, who has had relatively weak opponents, faces his toughest challenge ever from Scott.
Daniel Strauss contributed to this report.
Read more here: Rick Scott plays ‘keep away from Trump’