Remember the Florida Republicans who did nothing while Trump threatened American democracy

By the Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board, Orlando Sentinel  , Dec 4, 2020

In the year 2020, when a United States president, for the first time in history, tried to hijack an American election, Florida’s elected leaders faced these three options:

1. Aid the president’s wrongdoing.

2. Allow the hijacking to take place by remaining silent.

3. Denounce the hijacking and the damage it’s doing to democracy.

Here in Florida, a few — including the governor — aided Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the election. Most Republicans, like Florida’s U.S. senators, chose to remain silent and do nothing. You can count on one hand the prominent Republicans who spoke out against Trump’s efforts and the tactics of his legal team.

That’s how history will remember these Republican men and women of Florida, who chose party and power over a centuries-old tradition of Americans freely choosing a president, followed by a peaceful transfer of power.

Other states can point with pride to Republicans who defied President Donald Trump’s efforts to undermine democracy.

Georgia had Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who did his job and counted the votes, staring down fellow party members who tried to cajole and intimidate him into casting doubt on the outcome. The Peach State also can take pride in the grit shown by Gabriel Sterling, a Republican elections official who on Tuesday implored the president to “stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence.”

Michigan had Aaron Van Langevelde, a little known but principled state canvasser who faced similar pressure from his party but voted to fulfill his duty and certify the state election results.

Utah had Mitt Romney, the U.S. senator and one-time presidential candidate who was not only among the first prominent elected Republicans to congratulate Joe Biden on winning the presidency but one of the few willing to denounce Trump for trying to subvert a national election.

Such courage was in short supply in Florida, whose most high-profile politicians are potential candidates for president in 2024, and likely don’t want to risk angering the temperamental Trump.

One of those is Ron DeSantis, who chose option No. 1 and aided the president’s anti-American efforts.

In one of the most shameful moments in memory for a Florida governor, DeSantis went on Fox News’ Laura Ingraham show the night after the election and toyed with the idea that legislatures in states contested by Trump should consider overriding the popular vote and choosing their own slate of electors to the Electoral College. This before any evidence had emerged of widespread fraud (weeks later, there’s still none).

DeSantis went into virtual hiding for weeks afterward, maybe realizing the enormity of what he so recklessly suggested to Ingraham and her audience. Or maybe not.

In the U.S. House, class clown Matt Gaetz happily embraced wild conspiracy theories on Twitter, as did Florida Republican Party Chairman Joe Gruters, who also is a state senator.

Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi was beating the Pennsylvania fraud drum early on but ended her involvement with Trump’s legal team. That didn’t stop her from retweeting not one but two phony and debunked Trump campaign claims of dead people voting in Georgia.

Meanwhile, Florida’s U.S. senators chose option No. 2 — complicity through silence.

Rick Scott turned a blind eye to the president’s attempts to undermine Joe Biden’s legitimate election, but did clutch his pearls in a Nov. 10 tweet, writing that Americans had “lost confidence” in elections. The main reason for that, Scott neglected to note, is that the president and his minions were declaring at every opportunity that he had been robbed and that the election was rigged.

Otherwise, Scott remained mum to a U.S. president ranting about Dominion voting machines and crooked algorithms and the sacking of a Department of Homeland Security official in charge of election security, Chris Krebs, for having the gall to say the elections were secure. (A Trump campaign lawyer upped the ante Monday by saying Krebs should be shot, followed by more silence from Scott.)

That, senator, is why a recent poll showed half of Republicans thought Trump “rightfully won” an election that he clearly did not, with 68% saying the election was “rigged,” even though courts have found no such thing. With Scott’s help, they’ve been duped.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio briefly showed some backbone by acknowledging the obvious that Joe Biden had won.

But bravery has always been a fleeting trait for Rubio. Like Scott, he’s had nothing to say about the president waging war on democracy by trying to strong-arm elections officials and lawmakers to toss out millions of votes and throw the election to Trump.

As two of just 100 senators, Scott and Rubio had a unique platform to stand up for democracy. Instead, they stood down.

Most Florida Republicans followed the senators’ playbook. They stayed quiet, indulging the president’s fever dreams and his legal team’s contention that Hugo Chavez, dead since 2013, somehow had a hand in manipulating a U.S. presidential election seven years later.

The list of prominent Florida Republicans willing say what we all knew — that Joe Biden is the president-elect — is thin. Former Gov. Jeb Bush. Outgoing U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney. Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano (you know we’re getting desperate when we’re down to county tax collectors).

Trump won Florida by a comfortable margin. But given the cowardice and connivance of Republicans in this state, we can’t help but wonder about a post-election scenario where Biden had eked out a narrow win.

In the face of lawsuits and political pressure, would Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee — a DeSantis appointee — have demonstrated the fortitude of Georgia’s Raffensperger, who is elected? Would DeSantis have given in to Trump and leaned on Lee to put a finger on the scales?

We wouldn’t put it past him.

And what about lawmakers in that situation? Would a GOP-led Legislature have entertained the idea floated by the governor of usurping the will of the voters and choosing a winner more to their liking based on conspiracies and unsupported accusations of fraud?

Such questions might have seemed absurd a few weeks ago. Not now. Not after what we’ve witnessed since Nov. 3 by people whose names should always be associated with timidity when their state and nation needed courage.

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