2022 midterms

In Florida, It Was a Battle Between MAGA and Mega-MAGA

Donald Trump’s new home state is Matt Gaetz’s kinda place. Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photo:Getty Images

The House primaries in Florida on Tuesday were to a considerable extent the product of an extreme pro-Republican gerrymander that Governor Ron DeSantis forced through the legislature after rejecting more balanced maps. Eighteen of the 28 districts are structured to be solidly Republican, as opposed to eight strongly Democratic districts and two that are genuinely competitive. Aside from all but guaranteeing the GOP a net gain of four House seats from Florida, the gerrymander has made for some Republican primaries in which candidates don’t have to worry a lot about the general election and can thus play heavily to the MAGA base of their own party. That was quite evident in the results.

The Florida Republican who overshadows even DeSantis, Donald Trump, didn’t take a lot of chances in primary contests; his 11 House endorsements included 10 incumbents. Only one of them was in significant danger – not so much of losing his primary, that is, but of losing his liberty. The infamous Matt Gaetz remains under a federal investigation involving possible sex trafficking and related charges, but remains a MAGA celebrity closely associated with Marjorie Taylor Greene. Trump only bothered to endorse Gaetz when his primary opponent started dropping rumors that the congresssman was the guy who dimed out the former president and made possible the recent FBI search of Mar-a-Lago. Gaetz, enjoying a big financial advantage, subsequently won easily.

That race did sort of follow a general pattern of MAGA candidates battling mega-MAGA candidates. There were no Liz Cheney disciples in the Sunshine State GOP this year. In a St. Petersburg district now represented by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist, which was massively gerrymandered into a safe Republican seat, Trump endorsed 2020 Republican nominee Anna Paulina Luna. Her principal primary opponent Kevin Hayslett (backed by Michael Flynn) called this Trump-certified candidate a “pro-amnesty, Obama-loving liberal.”

An incumbent who wasn’t Trump-endorsed, Daniel Webster, nonetheless scored a perfect record of supporting the former president in the last Congress before Trump lost office. Running in a solidly Republican district east of Orlando, Webster faced an opponent in Laura Loomer who likes to call herself a “proud Islamophobe.” As FiveThirtyEight’s Kaleigh Rogers noted when Loomer took an early lead, “it’s hard to overstate just how extreme she is:”

She worked for Project Veritas, the troll-y far-right project that attempts to trick journalists with fake stories and embarrass them with highly-edited hidden camera videos. She has also spread hateful and Islamophobic content. She has shared conspiracy theories about terrorist attacks like the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas. On a less disturbing but more ridiculous note, she was once arrested after storming on stage during a production of Julius Caesar in Central Park, because the title character was styled to somewhat resemble Trump. It’s wild to see her making a 40-year politician sweat.

Webster survived, but it was close.

In another heavily gerrymandered Atlantic coast seat from which Democrat Stephanie Murphy is retiring, state legislator Anthony Sabatini benefitted from personal campaigning by Taylor Greene herself. In one joint appearance he made it clear he disdained the label “conservative:”

“The entire phrase of ‘Make America Great Again’ is so dissimilar from the old guard Republican party, when they talk about conserving things,” Sabatini said. “Things are so crazy in this country (that) do we really want to conserve the moment we are in right now? Do we want to sit back and say please don’t do anything else? Folks, no. I want to start winning again.”

Sabatini said that if he were elected, the first bill he would co-sponsor would be Greene’s articles of impeachment against Biden, saying that failing to impeach him would be “normalizing” Biden’s “destruction” of the country.

Sabatini narrowly lost his primary to Cory Mills, who came across as less bizarre. But it’s not like Mills is anybody’s “moderate,” as this ad showed:

In still another gerrymandered new Republican district in the Tampa area, former DeSantis-appointed Secretary of State Laurel Lee, backed by a bunch of national conservative groups and boasting that she was DeSantis’s choice “to safeguard our elections,” came under fire from a PAC backing rival Kelli Stargel for inadequate vigilence:

That’s right: Lee didn’t order a forensic audit of an election Trump won in Florida. Being on the lookout for the phantom menace of voter fraud is clearly a 50-state job.

Yes, Trump and DeSantis can be proud of their state’s GOP. Once general election competition has been swept away, they’re louder and prouder than ever.

In Florida, It Was a Battle Between MAGA and Mega-MAGA