Trump-Bashing Will Sink GOP Establishment's Adam Putnam

Trump-Bashing Will Sink GOP Establishment's Adam Putnam
Monica Herndon/The Tampa Bay Times via AP
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It was likely always going to be an uphill battle for establishment candidate Adam Putnam in the race for Florida governor.  Yes, the state commissioner of agriculture has raised a lot of money from special interests in Tallahassee, but as we’ve seen in recent history, no amount of money can paper over a problematic record that, in Putnam’s case, includes support for amnesty (both the Arlen Specter-sponsored immigration bill in 2006 and the so-called Gang of 8 measure in 2013), opposition to E-Verify, support for the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street banks, voting with Nancy Pelosi for the Obama “cash for clunkers” program and supporting a massive expansion of federal authority over K-12 education, which laid the groundwork for Common Core. 

But what really will be responsible for sinking Putnam’s candidacy is the hostility he has demonstrated toward President Trump.  This hostility is not just the typical behavior exhibited by run-of-the-mill establishment Republicans, but includes actively seeking to sabotage Trump’s candidacy and to undermine his presidency.  This is a big reason why GOP Congressman and Trump ally Ron DeSantis will win the Republican primary for governor on Aug. 28.

Deny Trump the GOP Nomination at the Convention?

Incredibly, Putnam entertained the notion that Trump would be denied the party’s nomination in a convention fight in Cleveland.  In a piece in the Miami Herald headlined “Putnam ‘not real thrilled’ with Trump, won’t back him,” Putnam ruled out endorsing Trump prior to the national gathering.  "I don't envision a scenario where I would endorse Trump prior to the convention, and we'll see what the convention yields," said Putnam, a "super delegate" as a statewide elected official.  Putnam’s refusal was rooted in his negative view of Trump as a man. 

So, even though Trump amassed the necessary delegates in the spring, Putnam wanted to “see what the convention yield[ed]”?  This could only mean that he entertained the pipe dream that a convention fight would result in Trump being denied the nomination.  This is an attitude commonly found deep in the bowels of the GOP establishment: heads the establishment wins and tails the voters lose.  Even though Donald Trump blitzed through the primaries amassing impressive victory after impressive victory, we somehow must allow the party establishment to render the people’s judgment null and void? 

Help Hillary by Unfavorably Comparing Trump to Pence

During the general election campaign, Putnam continued his Trump bashing – even though that only helped Hillary Clinton.  He even used Indiana Gov. – and Trump running mate -- Mike Pence as a way to criticize the nominee, saying that Pence was “180 degrees different” than Trump.  Unlike Pence, Putnam explained, Trump is not “a level, steady, consistent guy who is a well-read, conservative rooted in sort of the founding philosophical documents of conservatism.”

By that point, Donald Trump had experienced massive success in a variety of fields ranging from real estate to television.   To denigrate him by saying he wasn’t “level” or “steady” on the verge of the most significant presidential election in a generation represented sabotage of the first degree.  With Republicans like Putnam, who needs Democrats? 

More Putnam Attacks on Trump: ‘Dishonorable’ and ‘Vile’

As the campaign wore on, Putnam – who refused to attend a single Trump rally in Florida during the campaign, even though he is a statewide official – continued to offer a steady stream of negative commentary of the candidate.  When Trump defended himself against attacks made by Khizr Khan and the news media during the 2016 Democratic convention, Putnam lashed out at Trump for being “abhorrent and dishonorable” and said Trump’s defense of himself “makes me question how badly he wants to win.  He keeps running his mouth about the most ridiculous things.”

When asked whether he intended to support Trump in November, Putnam demurred, saying, “I think I’ve said all I need to say about Trump today.”

Of course, when the “Access Hollywood” tape was leaked to the Washington Post a month before the 2016 election, Putnam rushed to condemn Trump as “vile and obscene.”  That the prospect of a Clinton victory would be detrimental to the country seemed not to have mattered to Putnam, who was more interested in currying favor with the media and anti-Trump political establishment.

Post-Trump Victory: Putnam Keeps Trump-Bashing

Following the election, Republicans across the country basked in the glow of Donald Trump’s historic victory over Hillary Clinton and were delighted as President-elect Trump began assembling a stellar Cabinet, including such luminaries as Mike Pompeo. Not Adam Putnam, who continued his anti-Trumpism by deriding the Trump transition as a “circus.”  It is almost as if Putnam was part of that small and irrelevant class of Republicans who deep down really preferred Clinton as president.

The classic GOP primary battle has traditionally pitted an establishment insider against a conservative reformer.  In the era of Trump, it is imperative that a candidate also capture the Trump/populist wing of the party in order to win.  Given that the president has sky-high approval ratings with Republican primary voters, this is probably the largest share of the primary electorate. 

As great as the contrast is between Putnam (a consummate political insider and career politician) and DeSantis (an Iraq veteran and Reaganite) on the “establishment vs. reformer” scale, the gulf between the two of them vis-à-vis support for President Trump is immense.  Since Trump assumed office, DeSantis has been a leader in supporting his policies, ranging from the border wall to the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, as well as exposing the deep state of bureaucrats that targeted Trump and wreaked havoc during the Obama administration. 

For Adam Putnam, the Trump presidency is a “circus.”  For Ron DeSantis, it’s a chance to Make American Great Again. 

Steve Hantler is a retired auto industry executive.

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