Politics Makes All Vulnerable

Under The Hood

Photo of Joe Gruters

Even when you hold one of the most powerful political positions in the state, politics makes all positions vulnerable ones.

For a couple hours this week, it seemed a few words could unseat Joe Gruters as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.

In truth, a wild accusation that threatened the successful political leader’s future started to gain momentum this weekend. Well, depending how you look at it, problems started months earlier. That’s when someone filed a sexual harassment complaint involving a mal staffer at the state party. In this post #MeToo world, such complaints must and do receive thorough investigation. Add in the potential luridness of male-on-male harassment from a married, heterosexual politician and it was clear dynamite had been buried under a bridge and was waiting to explode.

Never mind the accusation itself stretched credulity. It seems notable Gruters, while very conservative on a number of issues, has held relatively progressive views on gay rights. And while some haters may see that as evidence he must be gay, that’s high school logic. In my experience, those who are most tolerant of LGBTQ people by nature seem the least likely to be closeted. Why hide something which you feel warrants no shame?

He also doesn’t seem like a harasser. Indeed, when Gruters faced criticism from those within his party over the years, it’s been for being too nice, too “soft” as someone put it this week. He’s been known to eat dinners with local DemocraItic leaders, in public Sarasota restaurants where everyone can see. He came to the defense of a moderate Democrat he serves with in the Florida Senate last year, one who at the time was pondering a run for Governor, and assured people he was no left-wing socialist.

But people sometimes disappoint you. Certainly as a reporter, I can’t rule out thatt a politician I've known for a dozen years could have concealed elements of this true nature.

Still, digging for information about this complaint, it seemed amazing how little dirt there was to find. It turns out the RPOF brought an outside investigator to look at the harassment allegation but they closed the case after three months. That’s because they had nothing. Honestly, not even an accusation.

It turns out a complaint came from someone who heard from someone who described an uncomfortable moment with Gruters. There was no firsthand account from the staffer in question, or from any witness who could back up the claim.

While it’s important, now more than ever, that complaints of sexual harassment receive due attention, it’s hard to call this a complaint. It’s more of a rumor. That may also be the only reason word of allegations dating all the way back to January didn’t leak out any sooner. Digging for details on the nature of the accusation, it’s hard to even call this an accusation at all.

Yet on Tuesday, emergency meetings came together with party officials, with Senate staff. Vague statements came form the state party which at first made no mention whether an investigation remained open. It took the entire day before an email blast reached members that made clear the matter had been closed.

This episode showed how vulnerable any political leader may be to accusations of any sort. Never mind Florida was among the only states in the union where Republicans in 2020, under Gruters’ leadership, performed better than in 2016. Never mind that while some forces certainly would like to move into Gruters’ role, none had the political will to even challenge his reelection as state chair. Yes, he seemed vulnerable to be removed this week. Yet, with nothing behind any attacks, he persevered.

So what’s that mean? It seems to me there’s other people in high positions in GOP politics. People who may have considered themselves invulnerable, because they had the support of powerful politicians and because they thought they had a strong constituency who had their back.

But politics makes all positions vulnerable ones.

Jacob Ogles is conribuing senior editor for SRQ MEDIA.

 

Photo of Joe Gruters

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