I wonder if GOP gubernatorial candidates Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis are feeling a little queasy.
It was a quite the global spectacle Monday, watching President Donald Trump all but genuflect to Russian “President” Vladimir Putin, but it had to be worse for Putnam and DeSantis right here in our little corner of the planet.
Both men have been unflagging in their bro-love for Trump in the lead-up to the Aug. 28 Republican primary. DeSantis has been saturating TV with ads trumpeting his endorsement by “the big man himself” while Putnam hasn’t let that little detail derail his undying allegiance to the “commander” in chief.
While that strategy may appeal to Trump’s true believers who turn out for the primary, it becomes problematic in the general election.
After the President’s inept performance Monday in his face-to-face with Putin was widely panned, even by many Republicans, close association with Trump, while always a risky election-year strategy, may be downright toxic now.
Florida voters generally approve of the president a little more than most, but it’s a stretch to think that number won’t go down after Trump sided with a dictator over his own intelligence reports regarding Russia’s covert attempt to influence the 2016 election.
That sets up a dilemma for DeSantis and Putnam.
Do they begin to distance themselves from “the big man himself” and risk the wrath of the almighty base? Or do they just pretend Monday never happened and hope so much other stuff will occur between now and November that undecided voters forget about Helsinki?
That’s not Putnam’s only problem, either.
The latest Gravis poll has him trailing DeSantis by six points. And now he may face a renewed backlash from the tweet that wouldn’t die. That’s the one, almost a year ago, where he declared himself a “proud NRA sellout.”
The Tampa Bay Times reported on a whistleblower lawsuit brought by a former supervisor at the Florida Department of Agriculture, which Putnam has headed for nearly eight years. The department is supposed to do background checks on people applying for concealed weapons permits.
The 2013 lawsuit, which was settled for $30,000, claims the supervisor, Xenia Bailey, was threatened with retaliation because office workers weren’t processing the permits quickly enough and failed to meet a daily quota. The lawsuit claimed Bailey was told she “worked for the NRA.”
Putnam’s office, in a statement to the Times, denied all that.
Either way though, it’s not a good look for Putnam, who earlier faced embarrassing revelations that his department allowed 291 people to received concealed weapons permits because of a reviewing error.
Putnam once was presumed to be the GOP nominee and, by extension, Florida’s next Governor. And, this being Florida, that may yet come to pass. Or, DeSantis may be able to take advantage of Putnam’s struggles.
For victory in November to happen, though, both major Republican candidates have to ask themselves if continuing to defend some of the indefensible things Donald Trump does will cost them in the end.
Joe Henderson has enjoyed a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He says Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all. His column appears courtesy of FloridaPolitics.com.