Thursday, May 12, 2011

Florida governor's poll plummet spells relief for the GOP, trouble for Tea Party movement

Gov. Rick Scott
This clearly wasn’t the way Florida Gov. Rick Scott, R-Distant Galaxy, reckoned it would be.

Scott, who hitched his political circus wagon to the Tea Party agenda on his way to buying the GOP nomination and the governor‘s mansion, awakened this week to news his approval ratings were fast approaching Nixon train wreck territory.

It was the same week polls showed President Obama’s approvals at 60 percent.

Less than five months after taking office, Scott has accomplished something that was once considered impossible. Since February, the governor has managed to double the number of Florida voters who disapprove of his job performance. Nearly 50 percent. Political odds makers were figuring it would take Scott at least a year to tick off roughly half the state‘s adult population. They obviously underestimated the guy.

When a politician’s negatives hit 40 percent, it’s time to break out the HAZMAT suits to keep the toxins from spreading. Scott, according to a recently released Quinnipiac University poll, is at 48 percent and is bordering on becoming a political Superfund site.

The only good news for Scott: His negatives will likely begin to flatten once they reach 100.

This week, Sarasota Herald Tribune political writer Jeremy Wallace noted in his blog “Political Insider” that Scott’s negatives effectively crippled him in the eyes of the state legislature. It’s hard to get much done when the folks in your own party are crossing the street to avoid eye contact.
“When you have an approval rating of 60 percent during a legislative session, you’ve got the bully pulpit,” state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said in an interview last week. “You’ve got the people on your side.”
But in Scott’s case, Fasano said legislators had little fear of crossing him during his first session. “There’s no impact there,” Fasano said. “There’s no influence.”
That’s just part of the story. Scott’s political free-fall will likely echo beyond the Sunshine State. In a May 9 editorial, the New York Times suggested Scott began self-destructing in the eyes of Florida voters when he “thoughtlessly rejected $2.4 billion in federal aid for a high-speed rail line.”

Scott, the Times suggested, thought he “was doing a huge favor for the national treasury, which he expected would give away the money in tax cuts. That was nonsense, of course; Mr. Scott was really doing a favor for train passengers in the Northeast, Midwest and California, which were given $2 billion of his money on Monday for better service.”

Florida’s voters, the newspaper said, “might want to think about that decision as they sit in traffic jams, burning up $4-a-gallon gasoline. In fact, some of them clearly have thought about it because Mr. Scott now has some of the worst approval ratings of a Florida official in the last decade.”

Other Republican governors, the Times wrote, are beginning to notice. And they’ve put Scott's number on political call blocking.

Further, Scott’s joined-at-the-hip relationship with Tea Party ideology (instead of unveiling his proposed budget in a traditional address to the legislature, Scott did the deed at a county fair-style Tea Party rally) is likely to give GOP politicians across the nation cause to pause as they begin spooling up for the 2012 elections.

The same Republicans who risked crippling themselves to win the Tea Party’s blessing less than a year ago, can now use Scott’s misfortune as an alibi to ease away from the slash and burn ideology espoused - or, more accurately, shrieked - by the tea baggers during the 2010 campaign. Post-Scott, Tea Party types probably shouldn’t count on a whole lot of grip and grin photo ops with GOP hopefuls as election season kicks in.

Slow learners aside, Scott’s adaptation of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride has an upside for Republicans desperate to shed the “party of crazy” Tea Party baggage by selecting a nominee with a fighting chance of actually winning in 2012. This means moving the GOP away from the fringe underworld of the tea partiers, and its potential to screw up Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina for any Republican they suspect might be leaning to the left of Glenn Beck.

Scott can now be rolled out as a GOP poster child, a two-word response to Tea Party organizers who would otherwise be demanding a kingmaker role when Republicans gather in Tampa for their national convention.
"We want you to ..."
Rick. Scott.
"But … "
Rick. Scott.
"Our members … "
Rick. Scott.
Florida’s voters have watched Scott lay waste to their education system, bankrupt local government and disembowel the few state agencies that were marginally functional - all in the name of God, country and the Tea Party Patriots. And, of course, he gave away their train. They have, in just five short months, figured out that the only thing worse than a candidate who breaks campaign promises is one who actually keeps them.

When Rick Scott took office, some Sunshine State Republicans hysterically heralded him as the new conservative messiah, one who was destined to play a vital and immediate role in national GOP politics. Scott was, of course, one of them. Turns out they might wind up being right - but for all the wrong reasons.

If Scott’s poll numbers continue to crater, that role will still be vital - just not the one they once so enthusiastically envisioned.