Gov. Scott has lunch with President Trump, fueling new speculations

By Troy Kinsey, Capital Bureau Reporter
Last Updated: Thursday, August 17, 2017, 9:32 PM EDT

President Trump hosted Gov. Rick Scott for lunch at his Bedminster, NJ, golf club Thursday.

  • Gov. Scott had lunch President Trump in New Jersey
  • Scott said he went to the see the president solely to promote Florida
  • Rumor is Trump could be wooing Scott for National Economic Council

The lunch came a day after the governor declined to denounce Trump for equivocating the violence wrought by white supremacists in Charlottesville, VA, to the counterprotest led by civil rights activists.

In a statement, Scott's office said he "was solely there to promote Florida."

But as more prominent Republicans move to repudiate the president's characterization of the Charlottesville events, Scott has emerged as a card-carrying member of a club of Trump loyalists that is growing more exclusive by the day.

The president could have asked the governor's counsel on a range of issues -- not least of them the current crisis enveloping the White House -- during the lunch.

With National Economic Council Chair Gary Cohn reportedly considering stepping down in protest over Trump's remarks, some Tallahassee insiders suggested the president could be wooing Scott as Cohn's possible successor.

The governor, a former health care executive with close ties to business leaders, is termed out in 2018 but has been widely expected to challenge three-term Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. A role at the NEC would change that plan.

But if Scott does plan to run next year, he could be calculating that disowning Trump carries significantly more risk than standing by him, a lesson learned the hard way by scores of establishment Republicans during last year's presidential campaign.

"You can ask President Trump what he said," Scott told reporters Wednesday in declining to repudiate Trump's statements.

The governor did make clear, however, that he disagrees with the president's assertion that the Charlottesville violence was caused by "both sides."

"I'm telling you right now that I don't believe in racism, I don't believe in bigotry," Scott said. "What happened in Charlottesville was evil. There's no moral equivalency between the two sides."

Scott's relative embrace of Trump has sparked outrage among Democrats. On Thursday, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham emailed supporters a request to sign a petition to "Tell Rick Scott to denounce Trump's remarks."

And progressive activists predicted the governor's stance could play a decisive role Florida's 2018 elections.

"Even though it may galvanize their numbers, it will also galvanize our people," said Barbara DeVane of the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans. "People like this -- racist, sexist -- they always throw red meat to the base. But guess what, Gov. Scott? Trump's base is dwindling now because even his supporters, a lot of them, do not want to be connected (to the president)."