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Abortion and weed are on the ballot in Florida. Rick Wilson takes a look at how the FL GOP stumbled their way to placing themselves at ground zero in November.
Published:April 4, 2024

By Rick Wilson

Uh oh.

The Florida Supreme Court—as reliable a Republican group of Federalist Society types as you can imagine—just threw a big, heavy wrench in the works of the Sunshine State’s usually reliable Republican machinery by allowing two initiatives on the November ballot.

The first was an amendment to make weed legal. (Two disclosures: I last smoked Mary Jane in 1985, so I don’t have much skin in this game, but I did do some work on medical marijuana legalization back in the day.)

I’ll drill down more on the polling and impact of the marijuana amendment perhaps another time and might or might not write about it, but the idea that it will turn out massive numbers of young voters is a bit of a stretch. Most of them already believe it’s legal in Florida, and given the dense distribution of pot shops across the state, one could see why.

But Amendment 4, which overturns Florida’s restrictive 15-week (soon to be 6-week) abortion ban, is the one shaking up the political landscape.

These two amendments, but particularly the abortion amendment, are consequential and will reshape the race in Florida — particularly down-ballot. There are at least two polls in the field right now, with more to come, and Florida’s Republican political class is scrambling as I write this.

This was the last thing they wanted.

In the meantime, here are a few observations:

  1. It doesn’t “lock up Florida” for Biden…but it doesn’t hurt.

The Biden Campaign sees a sliver of opportunity and a chance to make the already broke-ass Trump enterprise spend more money. The clever folks in the campaign aren’t joining the chorus shouting this puts Florida in the blue column this November, but they most certainly see how discomfited the GOP is by this development and are churning the waters.

In a campaign strategy memo they released yesterday, the campaign said:

”Make no mistake: Florida is not an easy state to win, but it is a winnable one for President Biden, especially given Trump’s weak, cash-strapped campaign and serious vulnerabilities within his coalition.”

That’s about right. If Trump has even a scintilla of worry about Florida slipping from safe red to likely red, he’ll overcorrect, overspend, and over-Truth.

As for Team Biden, they’ve got better ROI — for now — in less expensive swing states, but stay tuned.

2. It will probably pass.

Florida ballot initiatives need 60% to pass. (We’ll debate that another time, but here we are.) Early polling shows about 2/3 of Florida voters approve of Amendment 4.

Granted, these numbers are from November of 2023, but starting at 62% is a decent spot to be in. 53% of GOP voters and 59% of independents said they’d vote to protect abortion rights in Florida, which is why this is making the boys on Jackson Street stay up late.

3. Rick Scott is still the favorite in the Senate race.

But our first Reptile-American Senator isn’t happy. He wants this race to be about immigration and crime, and he’s going to have to spend a lot more than he wanted to keep it that way.

If he weren’t sitting on top of a giant pyramid of stolen Medicare cash, it would be a different race, but he is, and it’s not. (For the record, I worked against Scott in the GOP primary in 2010, so I have no brief for the man. He’s a lavishly weird Medicare fraudster who got away with it.)
4. This makes Florida more expensive for the GOP.

It’s the problem from hell.

If the GOP spends resources to fight this, those dollars aren’t going into the Presidential, Congressional, State House, State Senate, and local races. If they don’t fight it, their evangelical hard-core base will be disheartened.

If they make it a centerpiece, they know that a meaningful cohort — between 22 and 28% of GOP women will start eyeing the exits. If they don’t, it could meaningfully ramp turnout for the Democrats.

Fighting against it costs money—lots and lots of money. Giant stacks of bills, all the loot, the grip, the qwan. Where’s it coming from?

The critical fact here is that Trump is broke.

Florida is wildly, cripplingly, absurdly expensive. I mean, unimaginably expensive. Killing this effort would cost $50-100 million, and that amount of bank just isn’t there.

They simply don’t have the money if things go wrong here, and they won’t have it as long as Trump spends the lion’s share of campaign donations on his legal fees.

There’s a rising concern in the down-ballot GOP races in the marginal districts.

5. This isn’t an instant cure-all for the Florida Democrats…but it doesn’t hurt.

Florida Democrats have Nikki Fried at the helm, and she’s been on the game better than any chairman I’ve seen there in decades of Florida political work. She’s kept her focus on voter registration, where it should be, and now she’s been handed a perfect hook.

This is the theme for rolling up younger voters who haven’t registered, moving some NPAs to the Democratic line, and motivating volunteers and canvassers to grind out voter registration in the grueling Florida summer.

Pissed-off women are dangerous women, and the six-week bans on abortion are having a massive political ripple effect in the country. The Florida Democrats should focus on tightening the GOP’s current 800,000 registration advantage and ramping turnout with women voters.

Again, it’s not a cure-all, it most certainly is a fuel in the tank they urgently needed.

6. There’s a template on how to win when abortion is on the ballot.

The Democrats should take lessons from the abortion ballot questions in Kansas, Kentucky, and Ohio.

This isn’t simply about abortion qua abortion.

It’s about the heavy hand of government overreach. It’s about Ron DeSantis deciding when you should know if you’re pregnant. It’s about monitoring women. It’s about turning doctors into criminals.

The winning formula is out there on this issue. Democrats would be wise to use it. The ads, messages, and strategies in successful models of this issue are more libertarian than you might expect…and draw a percentage of women Republicans and conservative-leaning independents across the line.

7. Kulturkampf Generalissimo Ron DeSantis is to blame.

The six-week abortion ban is only law because Ron DeSantis insisted on it as an element of his 2024 primary run against Trump.

Expect more tensions between the Worst Primary Candidate Ever and Trump, and rightly so. This is a creature of DeSantis from top to bottom, and he will take the bulk of the blame for it.

Trump hates this amendment. Trump called the DeSantis ban “a terrible thing and a terrible mistake.”…and that’s just in public.

Donald Trump was pro-abortion before he switched to run in the GOP primary. As on most other issues, he has no firmly held moral positions beyond wealth and power, particularly on culture war issues like abortion. (And, if you don’t think Donald Trump has paid for more than a few abortions, I have several bridges to sell you.)

Although Trump adopted the pro-life rhetoric of the GOP, his keen animal instincts have led him to sniff out the political trap on the 6-week bans and on this ballot initiative. Trump has been road-testing a 16-week abortion ban “because it’s a round number” and has seen what’s coming if the Republicans don’t calibrate on this issue.

8. It’s a rare loss of control by the Florida GOP.

Florida is a red state because the GOP has all the money, power, and control of the legislature, the courts, and the Governor’s office. They’re very accustomed to

The grandees of the party fought tooth and nail to knock the abortion ballot measure out of contention, both politically and legally. They lost. I’m told the Florida Senate Republicans — elected and professional consultant types — didn’t want DeSantis to sign the six-week ban. I know his polling team hated the impact it would have, but the DeSantis Presidential primary campaign triumphed.

Side note: The Republican Party of Florida is now largely out of control. Its most recent chairman was booted out after a sexual abuse scandal involving a three-way, an alleged rape, and a stuffed alligator. (OK, I made up the alligator part, but it is Florida.)

His replacement is a soft, affable apparatchik who will do as he’s told, and when Trump demands he drains the RPOF’s coffers and sends the cash to Mar-A-Lago, he’ll do it without a blink.

It also recently underwent an ugly search for a new executive director due to the incumbent’s, ahem, seriously ugly personal issues. The incumbent held on, but not by much.

Politics likes to throw the occasional curveball at the people most secure in their beliefs and smug in their incumbency and control. Florida’s GOP is very smug in its sense of power and position, and it’s fascinating to watch how this is giving them an unaccustomed frisson of terror.

This is a big one; the consequences will be fascinating to watch in the coming months.