Gov. Rick Scott has distinguished himself recently as one of the few high-level Republicans willing to campaign for Donald Trump. That effort has established him as such a player in national political circles that some GOP operatives are floating him as a potential presidential contender in 2020, should Trump lose in November.
- Rick Scott's super PAC raised $18 million in 3rd quarter
- Scott's fundraising success seen as preparation for U.S. Senate run
- Support of Trump has earned Scott loyalty of Trump's own supporters
Talk of a future Scott presidential bid has been simmering for weeks but has been mostly confined to Scott loyalists in Tallahassee, who are largely viewed as separate and distinct from the state's Republican establishment.
This week, however, the Scott-chaired Trump super PAC Rebuilding America Now reported raising $18 million in the third quarter, an impressive haul that's getting the attention of national Republican operatives.
Written off by many political observers as too aloof and unpolished for the national political stage, Scott has nonetheless proven himself to be a prolific fundraiser. He pulled in more than $5 million for his own state political committee since his 2014 re-election to an office he's unable to run for again because of term limits.
The governor's fundraising streak has been cast as preparation for a U.S. Senate campaign in 2018, when Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson will be facing re-election. Trump's rise this year on the back of populist fervor, however, could embolden Scott's message, regardless of whether he seeks the Senate seat or the presidency, or both.
"We need somebody that's going to go to Washington, D.C., cut taxes, reduce regulation, streamline the permitting process," said Scott earlier this year. "Don't create an incentive for companies to move out of this country; create an incentive for companies to move to this country, and so, we need that."
The governor's choice to embrace the most divisive Republican presidential nominee in two generations has gained him the allegiance of Trump's loyal followers. In many respects, those followers resemble the Florida Tea Party activists that propelled Scott to the Governor's Mansion in 2010. They're likely to remain a force in Republican presidential politics, no matter the outcome of this year's election.
That storehouse of potential grassroots support, combined with his fundraising prowess, could position Scott as an attractive GOP presidential candidate in four years. His greatest challenge, some strategists suggest, could be keeping the party establishment at arm's length.
"He's always talked about taking the battle to Washington, that government is broken," said Republican consultant Chris Cate. "That's been his message, so if he wants to continue that message, I think it'll be important to keep a distance from those mainstream Republicans if he wants to, sort of, use that Trump momentum, that outsider class, those outside voters, to propel himself."
That, it would seem, wouldn't be difficult for a governor whose message to Trump's supporters in Tampa last spring could also serve as a rallying cry for his own potential presidential bid.
"Who is our common enemy? Washington, D.C.!" Scott thundered.