Conservative commentator and author George Will says Florida voters hold the key to victory in next year’s presidential election. Will says that without the Sunshine State, it would be difficult for any candidate to find a path to 270 electoral votes.
The columnist and political commentator is the author of a new book, “The Conservative Sensibility,” which explores the foundations and evolution of conservative politics. Will appeared on "The Florida Roundup" to discuss the Republican Party in Florida and how President Trump’s brand of Republicanism squares with traditional conservative politics.
This transcript was lightly edited for clarity:
The Florida Roundup: There are a lot of Florida independent voters and this 2020 election could turn in Florida on a very small group of those voters. What are your thoughts about Florida's role in the 2020 election?
George Will: Florida is incomparably the most important swing state in the country, and it is a genuine swing state. It is less purple than I think Texas is becoming, Arizona's becoming, and Georgia's becoming, and North Carolina's becoming and Virginia already has become. If Florida drifts into the Democratic camp, if you add that the Florida, New York, Illinois, rock solid states. I mean the Democrats get 55 electoral votes in California without spending a day or a dime campaigning there. If Florida begins to drift purple and then turn blue, it would be very hard to find a Republican path to 270 electoral votes.
When it comes to Florida politics, the state legislature and the governor's mansion have been dominated by Republicans for two decades. But the approach regarding some issues has been very, very different between administrations. This is most notable on the environment, just in the past 12 months or so here in Florida. Under Governor Rick Scott, state agencies couldn't talk about climate change. Governor Scott would remind people that he is not a scientist. He didn't seek scientific advice. Then a Republican, Ron DeSantis, came into the governor's mansion, in no small part, because of an endorsement from President Trump. Governor DeSantis appointed a chief science officer, a chief resilience officer, the first time in the state's history has pushed to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on water quality. So I'm wondering how this kind of DeSantis Republicanism concerning the environment is viewed by the party outside of Florida?
George Will: Well, it's a good question. I know how it was viewed until Mr. Trump became the face of the Republican Party members, Richard Nixon, who created the Environmental Protection Agency. And the train and others who have head of that agency have been Republicans in good standing. I think much of the country is open to arguments about climate change. They're not as convinced as some people are. But that's perfectly normal given the history of prior projections about climate trends. What interests me about Florida politics is that although, as you say in statewide elections, Republicans have been dominating, neither Scott nor your governor gotten their current positions by landslides by any means.
No. They were very tight elections.
George Will: Exactly. So small changes can have enormous consequences radiating all across the country, if they start in Florida. Florida is a bolder dropped in the American lake and it could create big waves.
George, you've been touching on this theme for a while. You broke with the GOP. We need two healthy, functioning political parties in this country. How does the Republican Party bring back some of those voters and address some of the discontent?
George Will: There’s an old story about the farmer who owned a mule, that when he wanted to do something, he'd take a two by four and hit it over the forehand because he said it was the only way he could get its attention. Maybe, in order to get the attention of the Republican Party, it needs to be hit over the head by the voters with the equivalent of a two by four, which is a sound bill election thrashing. There's nothing like a defeat to concentrate a political party's mind on its message. And it seems to me that one is coming, not just in the White House, but at the state and local levels next time around. After which we will see whether or not the Republican Party gets the message.