An Alternative Establishment

Under The Hood


As a rock kid growing up in the 1990s, I loved this thing called “alternative rock” but always cringed at the genre’s name. How could the Smashing Pumpkins or Nirvana be labeled alternative when they and cohorts were topping mainstream charts? But then that’s the goal of any underground movement, to overthrow the hair bands and remake Billboard with the sounds of a new era.

I thought of this Thursday as I watched Republican Party of Sarasota chairman Joe Gruters take the stage to emcee a Donald Trump rally in Central Florida. Trump, of course, is famously anti-establishment, enough so that it seemed difficult for him to endorse some incumbent Republican senators with whom he has quibbled before. Gruters, though, seems a man determined to bring Trump into widespread acceptance. Perhaps he can see victory requires more than defeating the establishment; you have to make a new establishment.

In Florida, that effort may be further along than many other states. Gruters himself, after all, holds a lot of clout in the state party as vice chair of the Republican Party of Florida. Gov. Rick Scott opted against endorsing Sen. Marco Rubio in the Republican primary this year, then threw in with The Donald as soon as voters expressed a liking for the eventual Republican nominee. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, still the most likely successor to the governor’s mansion once Scott is term-limited in 2014, also jumped on the Trump Train, albeit her motivations have been criticized in the wake of a decision not to pursue an investigation of Trump University.

Is that enough to win Florida this November? Anything can happen, but Trump hasn’t been the best at becoming more radio-friendly, repeating controversial statements and complaining about media, who regularly get booed at rallies. But his message has fared better in the South than other states. A aggregate shows Trump trailing Hillary Clinton 42.2 percent to 44.3 percent, within most error margins, even the aggregate shows him lagging nationally with 36.2 percent to Clinton’s 44 percent.

The strength of the Democratic establishment in Florida, of course, has been inconsistent for many years, but seems to be having a good year in the discipline department. Bernie Sanders could never scale up his exuberant primary campaign enough to compete with the established Clinton in a state as populous as Florida, and in the Senate race here, the Obama Administration-backed Patrick Murphy seems to be pulling away from counter-culture hero Alan Grayson in the Democratic primary.

Of course, Rubio seems to be faring far better in his incumbent Senate primary than he did with his presidential ambitions. It would be a shock if Bradenton developer Carlos Beruff, a candidate who describes himself as one in the same vein as Rick Scott, defeated Rubio in the Republican primary later this month.

But no doubt, the anti-establishment Republicans in Florida have at least become a second establishment themselves. Rank Republicans once wary of Scott when he challenged political fixture Bill McCollum for the governor’s seat six years ago carried him to re-election two years ago.

It’s easier to beat the establishment in an off-year than it is when the presidency is at stake. But even if Florida doesn’t go red this November, it very likely will be a closer race than in other swing states. But come 2018, what seemed an alternative movement in Florida not long ago just may be the new Republican sound.

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor to SRQ Media Group.

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