The staging tells the story: Local debates will be fraamed on the national platform…and Trump
In this midterm election year the Republican Party of Florida is staging this week The Sunshine State Summit, a political conference with a slate of national and statewide political figures. Here on the edge of the Disney World complex the Summit kicked off with a debate between the two primary contenders for the office of Florida Governor, Rep. Ron DeSantis and Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam.
The two candidates are vying for the office vacated by Rick Scott, now running for a Senate seat due to term limits, and each brings a strong set of skills for the office. Putnam is a longtime state politician who has risen through the political ranks, while DeSantis has been an active member of Congress since 2012 and has been vocal on many panels regarding the Russian Collusion investigations. There is a clear dichotomy, with Putnam resting heavily on his statewide record and DeSantis relying on his D.C. experience as a leader.
The debate was hosted live on Fox News, and that would explain why so many of the subjects were from a national perspective, rather than state-specific. But more than simply catering to a national audience the focus and tone of the questioning seemed to reflect the greater political dialogue in the country today. Seemingly all politics, even down to the state and local levels, has to be shaded and influenced by the broader national climate. At times during Thursday’s debate you would have thought President Trump was running as the third candidate, considering how often his name came up. (DeSantis has the President’s endorsement.)
The first question offered was about the Kennedy retirement from the Supreme Court, and the possible ramifications on Roe v. Wade. There is a reference to Florida possibly passing a heartbeat law, but the bulk of the talk on SCOTUS did not apply to Florida. DeSantis at least managed to steer the talk to his making choices for the state Supreme Court. Then the Russian collusion was brought up, again with little to concern the state. This is a subject that favored DeSantis, as he served on panels and earlier on Thursday was questioning Rod Rothstein in committee.
Many other subjects were brought up that are concerns beyond the state borders – child immigrant separations, the national civility, North Korea, Maxine Waters’ comments. Both candidates strove to steer subjects back to the state with them each positioning themselves on strengths. Putnam name-dropped numerous regions within the state to establish his local credentials, and DeSantis stated how he would be bringing his national experience to Tallahassee.
Of course, the current climate of immigration distress had to surface, especially given Florida is experiencing both the surge in illegals arriving as well as dealing with an influx of citizens from Puerto Rico in the aftermath of the hurricane devastation. But moderator Martha MacCallum followed the misinformation line from the bulk of the media, conflating all children held as being those removed from their parents. In posing a question to the candidates she stated, “There are approximately 1,200 migrant children being housed in three detention centers here in the state of Florida. Should these separations ever have been used by the administration as a deterrent to illegal immigration?”
This is a largely inaccurate positioning of the issue. As I had explained earlier this week it has been revealed that the overwhelming majority of immigrant children arrive here unescorted by parents. (There is also a stark absence of cages.) The second largest facility holding these children has only 5% occupancy of those separated from parents who were arrested. It is clear that messaging is going to have to be sharp to cut through the media fog on most issues.
Thursday’s debate may become used as a primer for the various races that are going to be taking place across the country in the coming months. An adept candidate will have to be one who is not only well versed in the issues concerning their localized territory but they will also need to be primed with how to answer questions of a much broader scope. They will also need to be prepared for inevitable questions surround President Trump, as he is woven into nearly every issue these days.