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FL Republicans React To Trump's Win, Rubio's Departure

Mar 16, 2016

Now that Donald Trump has won Florida's Republican presidential primary and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio has suspended his run, members of the GOP are dealing with the fallout at the state and local levels.

While many are urging unity behind Trump, the front-runner for the nomination, others are still hoping for another option - and one noted Florida Republican says he'll vote for a "tree stump" instead of the billionaire real estate mogul.

Dennis Ross is a three-term Congressman from Lakeland who served eight years in the Florida House before going to Washington, D.C. He said while the primary process can be incredibly divisive, there's a time for the party to come together behind whoever the GOP's nominee is.

"At the end of the day - are we doing what the Democrats want us to do and that’s infight amongst ourselves and self-destruct? If so then what good are we?" Ross said. "We’ve got to brush ourselves off, gain some sense of humility and come together for the good of this country."

Former Governor Bob Martinez agreed, telling the BBC that Republicans had to unite behind the eventual winner, even if it’s Trump. 

However, longtime Florida lobbyist and attorney Mac Stipanovich told NPR's Morning Edition he would "support a tree stump over Trump."

"Should Trump be nominated, then I'm a charter member of Never Trump. I will not vote for him in November, and I will try to get everybody I know not to vote for him in November," Stipanovich told Steve Inskeep. "I honestly believe he's a menace to the country."

Nick DiCeglie, the Chair of the Pinellas County Republican Executive Committee, was more measured in his response to Trump's win.

"I don't think a lot of the (party) insiders are satisfied with the direction and the tone that Mr. Trump is setting," he said at an election results watch party in Clearwater Tuesday night. "That being said, there is a significant part of the electorate that is attracted to Donald and agree with him and his position that what is going on is not working."

And while DiCeglie said he'd follow the will of the voters and support Trump if he was chosen to be a delegate to the Republican National Convention, he worries about what Trump's name on a general election ballot will mean for Republicans in state and local races.

"A lot of folks that are voting for Donald Trump are tired of the establishment, so all these other candidates, these traditional candidates down ballot are going to be considered 'the establishment' by these voters," he said. "On the Democratic side, they're going to vote down ballot - they're going to vote for whoever the nominee is and they're going to vote Democratic down ballot."

Stipanovich and DiCeglie were also among those delivering post-mortem judgments on the campaign of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. Rubio suspended his campaign Tuesday night shortly before all the votes in Florida were counted. He ended up finishing second in his home state, losing to Trump by more than 18 percent.

Stipanovich, who supported Rubio, told NPR that there were at least three ways his campaign was challenged.

"One was he didn't have a core constituency like some of the other candidates do to whom he appealed. He wasn't really right wing. He wasn't really mainstream. He tried to have it both ways, and he failed," he said.

"Then (Rubio) didn't have the stature - meaning experience - to overcome the lack of a core constituency," Stipanovich added. "And then he had the wrong message. He was preaching optimism and hope to an electorate that is angry, envious and bitter."

DiCeglie was of the same mindset, both about Rubio and the voters he unsuccessfully tried to appeal to.

"Marco is a great Republican, he's somebody that can articulate our principles very clearly," he said. "Unfortunately for Marco Rubio, the electorate has spoken - they're looking for somebody who is antiestablishment, who's committed, I think, to do something different than Washington has seen in decades quite frankly."