Once again, Florida has been handed a star role in America’s presidential contest, an unsettling turn of events if you care about the future of the republic.
Here in the Sunshine State, we’re still struggling to recover from the humiliating Bush-Gore fiasco of 2000. Now a nervous establishment is beseeching Florida Republicans to rise up and smite Donald J. Trump in the March 15 primary.
To which we say: Don’t lay this whole thing on us! Are you nuts?
We are the state that elected Rick Scott as governor, for God’s sake, knowing that a hospital company he ran had been socked with the biggest fine for Medicare fraud in the history of Medicare.
The man took the Fifth Amendment 75 times in one civil deposition, but did we give a rat’s ass? Nah. We elected him anyway.
And now you’re asking us to derail The Donald just because he’s vile, dishonest, inconsistent, staggeringly ignorant about foreign policy and dangerously unprepared to be commander-in-chief.
To which we say: Is that all you got?
The anti-Trump forces within the GOP are well aware that the bar of bad behavior is unusually high in Florida. Numbed by generations of public corruption and deceit, voters here aren’t easily mortified.
Yet initially polls indicated that the recent torrent of negative ads might have cut into Trump’s lead. Commercials featuring ordinary folks who got fleeced by “Trump University” seemed to have touched a nerve even with scandal-jaded Floridians.
Local favorite Marco Rubio had pulled within single digits of Trump, promising a tide-turning showdown on Tuesday. Establishment Republicans passed the word that Florida could be the beginning of the end for the Trump juggernaut!
All hope is invested in Rubio, whose showing in other major primaries can gently be described as lame. The strategy of trading anatomical insults with Trump vaporized the meager gravitas that Rubio had, to the benefit of scary Ted Cruz.
No matter which TV network you watch, all the pundits say Rubio’s wheezing candidacy is dead if he can’t win his home-state primary.
He’ll need a miracle. The most recent Quinnipiac poll shows Trump stomping Florida’s junior senator by 23 points.
To which we say: Don’t blame us. It’s the same weirdness all over the country.
Trump portrays his slice of the Republican electorate as rabid and unshakeable, but every voter has a gag reflex. The challenge for Trump’s enemies is to find an advertising formula that nauseates enough of his followers before the primary.
There’s no shortage of material, but so far the impact is minimal.
One of the commercials now running in the Panhandle and other markets is a profanity highlights reel, a bleep-fest of Trump expletives from his public appearances, including his use of the term mother——.
This would destroy the campaigns of most conservative candidates, offending not just evangelical Christians but many voters who still believe a president should behave with dignity.
But do enough Floridians really care that Trump cusses like Tony Soprano in front of women and children, or is it just one more vulgar trait that his followers are happy to overlook?
The contest between Trump and Rubio might get closer in the final days.
In a halfway normal swing state, you could bank on it.
But we must come back, as always, to Florida’s freak factor. There’s no such thing as normal here. There are only varying shades of abnormal.
Every four years since Bush-Gore, Floridians silently offer a collective prayer that goes something like this:
“Please, God, don’t let us be the ones to decide who wins the presidency. Let us vote quietly, without controversy, and have no impact whatsoever on the national election. Please, God, let it be Ohio or some other state that screws it up this time.”
Yet here we are, once again saddled with way too much political responsibility. In 16 years the debate has descended from dangling chads to the dangling attributes of the candidates.
How ironic that so many people have turned to Florida, with its scruffy history of con artists and suckers, to save the nation from the Big Orange Trumpster.
If Republican voters award the state’s 99 delegates to Rubio, we are told, it sets the table for a brokered convention where responsible grownups might prevail.
To which we say: Don’t count on us, America!
Get a Plan B, fast.
(Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at: 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132.)
(c) 2016, The Miami Herald Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Photo: Susan Wantz of Boca Raton, Florida, sits as she argues with Patricia Lobracco, a supporter of U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump before Trump’s scheduled campaign rally at the Sunset Cove Amphitheater in Boca Raton, Florida, March 13, 2016. REUTERS/Joe Skipper