Are disgruntled Florida Republican Party officials taking out their grudges on the state party’s fundraising efforts? That’s what it looks like if we are to believe reports that an annual fundraising dinner was canceled due to a lack of interest.
Discord within the state party looks to be coming from the lack of enthusiasm for newly hired Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) executive director Peter O’Rourke. O’Rourke isn’t well-known and trusted yet. Former executive director Jennifer Locetta was fired though she was both well-known and liked. O’Rourke was investigated for rampant abuses in the Department of Veterans Affairs whistleblower office, the office he previously ran. The grassroots are outraged. Governor DeSantis and RPOF Chairman Joe Gruters were caught off-guard by the bombshell findings of the investigation. The internal chaos is reported to be creating a lack of enthusiasm among party members and tickets sales to the 2019 Statesman’s Dinner, a major fundraiser in Orlando are non-existent. The dinner was canceled and rescheduled for December 7. Did the investigation report depress sales and interest? The organizers couldn’t even secure a keynote speaker. President Trump was the first choice of the organizers but they couldn’t nail down a commitment from him.
The 100-page O’Rourke report landed on a Republican Party already gripped with in-fighting and coping with an underwhelming response to its Statesman’s Dinner, a big annual fundraiser that has yet to attract a keynote speaker and is drawing fewer sponsors than expected going into the 2020 presidential election, people familiar with the planning process told POLITICO. Organizers wanted Trump to speak at the event.”
The announcement of the dinner’s cancellation was made on Twitter.
“2019 Statesman’s Dinner and Fall RPOF quarterly meeting will be postponed for a later date this year,” the party wrote on its Twitter account. “More information and exciting news about the rescheduled event will be released soon!”
Rumors had circulated for weeks that planning for the party’s major event was hitting snags. The problem was exacerbated by Gruters’ original expectation that Trump himself would serve as keynote speaker.
So far, the only confirmed speaker for the event was DeSantis.
The only table sponsorships were purchased by local Republican Executive Committees. Though Gov. DeSantis pledged to raise millions of dollars, none of that money has come in. Donor and corporate tables have not been sold. Yikes.
The state party has been in turmoil in recent weeks. DeSantis Chief of Staff Shane Strum and first lady Casey DeSantis are credited (or blamed, depending on which side one comes down on) with putting O’Rourke into the leadership position.
The investigation into O’Rourke’s previous job performance shows a lack of transparency and a bias toward Trump appointees. The report is described as “scathing”. Is it a case of Trump loyalists versus Never Trumpers in the Florida Republican Party? It sounds like it is. Old leadership versus new blood. Establishment Republicans against populists.
The department’s Office of Inspector General said O’Rourke tried to bury whistleblower complaints and showed “bias” investigating complaints made against prominent Trump appointees.
Florida will be a crucial state for President Trump’s re-election bid. It likely will be a must-win state. This is not the time for the state Republican Party to go wobbly, to paraphrase Margaret Thatcher. So, President Trump has been secured to be the keynote speaker for the rescheduled dinner on December 7. You can bet that Trump will be a frequent visitor to Florida in the new year as he rallies voters to come out on election day and vote for his second term in office.
The dinner was initially scheduled for November, but has been pushed into December to give the party more time to attract interest, especially big-money donors.
The annual dinner is a key event leading up to next year’s presidential election, but the unexpected postponement was widely seen as another sign of the leadership turmoil within Florida’s GOP.
Florida is crucial to Trump’s re-election campaign. Key Florida Republicans, including DeSantis, are among some of the president’s most ardent supporters.
The visit will be the third to Central Florida this year for President Trump. In June, Trump kicked off his 2020 campaign with a rally at the Amway Center in downtown Orlando. He stopped in The Villages earlier this month to tout his support for Medicare and its private insurance option.
Last year the dinner netted $500,000 for the Republican Party of Florida. It is a pep rally as much as a fundraiser. It will be crucial for the infighting to stop and the state party to come together to work for Trump’s re-election. The question is this – will the presence of President Trump be a cure for the ills of the state party?