by David Silverberg
There’s an old adage: “When you’re in a hole, stop digging.”
But Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), seems to have turned that wisdom on its head: already deep in a hole, he’s digging deeper.
Just where he’ll end up is anybody’s guess.
What hole is Scott in? Consider the following:
In early 2022 Scott was explicitly told by his ostensible boss, Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), not to issue a Republican platform based on the 1994 “Contract With America.”
But as Scott would put it in a post-election letter to his fellow senators, “after travelling the country to support our candidates I believe voters want a plan. They are begging us to tell them what we will do when we are in charge.” McConnell wanted to keep the Republican platform vague.
Scott chose to deliberately defy him and on March 30, 2022 unveiled an 11-point (later 12-point) “Rescue America” plan in collaboration with former President Donald Trump. Among its points: “All federal legislation sunsets in 5 years. If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again.” (More about that later.)
After being entrusted by his fellow Republican senators in 2020 to win the Senate for the Party, Scott oversaw the disappointing Republican 2022 returns, having boosted such fringe candidates as Herschel Walker in Georgia, Kari Lake in Arizona and Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, all of whom went down to embarrassing defeats. Democrats kept the Senate and gained a seat.
Even the famously taciturn McConnell was moved to comment: “I think there’s a probably a greater likelihood that the House flips than the Senate,” he said at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Kentucky in August. “Senate races are just different—they’re statewide, candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome.” McConnell’s insight was proven correct.
Having now failed his Party, his colleagues and his boss, Scott turned on McConnell and ran against him for Party leader.
In a Nov. 15 letter to colleagues, Scott wrote: “I’m writing to you today because I believe it’s time for the Senate Republican Conference to be far more bold and resolute than we have been in the past.”
He brushed aside the criticism of his performance at the National Republican Senatorial Committee: “Despite what the armchair quarterbacks on TV will tell you, there is no one person responsible for our party’s performance across the country.”
He noted that he had heard voter requests for a Republican plan and stated: “Unfortunately, we have continued to elect leadership who refuses to do that and elicits attacks on anyone that does. That is clearly not working and it’s time for bold change”—clear criticism of McConnell.
Scott was endorsed by Trump, who even before the midterms called McConnell a “lousy leader.”
“I think Rick Scott is a likely candidate — he hates the guy,” Trump said of Scott’s attitude toward McConnell. “He’s tough — he’s tough, and I think he would probably go for it.” He later added that Scott was “underrated”—perhaps winning over some Trumpers.
But when the election for Senate minority leader came to pass, McConnell, a superb vote-counter announced, “I have the votes.” Indeed he did, crushing Scott by a vote of 37 to 10.
McConnell was gracious in victory. “I’m not in any way offended by having an opponent or by having a few votes in opposition,” he said in a not-so-subtle dig at Scott’s lack of support.
Still, McConnell was clearly disgusted with Scott and on Feb. 2 removed him from the prestigious Senate Commerce Committee. Scott told a reporter, “Well, he just kicked me off a committee. So that was pretty petty.”
On the home front, Scott didn’t do any favors for Florida, the state he ostensibly represents. In September he voted against the $1.7 trillion Continuing Appropriations and Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2023 (House Resolution 6833) that included $20 billion in disaster relief, funding desperately needed by a state reeling from Hurricane Ian.
In doing this he also once again defied the Senate Republican leadership, which supported the bill. And as though the potential injury of his negative vote was not enough, he added insult by calling President Joe Biden “a raving lunatic” just before the president came to Southwest Florida to see the damage for himself and pledge full support for the region’s recovery.
Then, in the past two months as Republicans began engaging in fiscal brinksmanship over raising the national debt ceiling and appeared to jeopardize vital programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, Scott’s “American Rescue” plan came back to bite him. That 6th point sunsetting all federal programs after five years was the chief Republican threat to the key trio of social safety programs.
President Joe Biden, Scott’s “raving lunatic,” hammered the Republicans for menacing the programs, using the American Rescue plan as a wedge. First, he did it in his State of the Union speech last Tuesday, Feb. 7.
Then, when he came to Tampa last Thursday, Feb. 9 he had copies of the plan placed on the seats of attendees at the University of Tampa.
“The very idea the senator from Florida wants to put Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block every five years I find to be somewhat outrageous, so outrageous that you might not even believe it,” said Biden. “But it’s what he…I won’t do it again,” he said of reading Scott’s plan, then changed his mind, “but, well, I will,” and he pulled the pamphlet out of his jacket.
“Twelve-point American Rescue plan,” he read. “One of the points: ‘All federal legislation sunsets every five years. If the law is worth keeping, the Congress can pass it all over again.’ Look, if it doesn’t get reauthorized, it goes out of existence. If Congress wants it, they got to keep it and they got to vote on the same thing. And then, in case there was any doubt, just yesterday, he confirmed that he still, he still likes his proposal.”
Biden continued: “Well, I guarantee you, it will not happen. I will veto it. I’ll defend Social Security and Medicare.”
In addition to these blows to his policy proposals and standing in the Senate, Scott had harbored presidential ambitions in 2024, although he said these were contingent on Trump not running. On Jan. 26 Scott announced he would not be seeking the presidency, would seek re-election to the Senate and would remain neutral in the presidential nominating process.
To add it all up as of this writing: Scott failed in his mission to elect a Republican Senate, failed to unseat the Republican Senate leader, failed to vote for aid to his state, failed to advance his presidential ambitions, provided a weapon for Democrats to hammer Republicans, became the face of Republican callousness, may have lost all of America’s senior voters—and he did all this while personally insulting the president and his own boss in the Senate.
That’s a pretty deep hole.
Most people, having failed in their pursuits and offended their friends, colleagues and the world at large, might draw back a bit, quiet themselves, contemplate their failings, ask forgiveness, humbly seek redemption and try to make amends.
Not Rick Scott. He has doubled down and dug deeper.
The morning after the State of the Union speech, Scott issued a statement arguing that he wasn’t advocating ending Social Security.
He stated that while “Last night, Joe Biden rambled for a while,” and was “confused,” Scott argued that accusing him of wanting to cut Social Security and Medicare was “dishonest” and a “lie” resulting from Biden’s “confusion.”
“In my plan, I suggested the following: All federal legislation sunsets in five years. If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again. This is clearly and obviously an idea aimed at dealing with ALL the crazy new laws our Congress has been passing of late,” he stated.
Implying that Biden’s assertion was the result of senility, Scott stated, “Does he think I also intend to get rid of the U.S. Navy? Or the border patrol? Or air traffic control, maybe? This is the kind of fake, gotcha BS that people hate about Washington. I’ve never advocated cutting Social Security or Medicare and never would. I will not be intimidated by Joe Biden twisting my words, or Chuck Schumer twisting my words – or by anyone else for that matter.”
He argued that, to the contrary, Democrats in essence cut Medicare when Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act gave the federal government power to negotiate lower prescription drug prices.
“They lie about it and the liberal media covers for them,” he complained. “If they think they can shut me up or intimidate me by lying… I’m here for it… I’m ready to go. I will not be silenced by the Washington establishment.”
But even conservative media hadn’t bought Scott’s plan when it was unveiled. The Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump, pro-democracy media organization, gleefully released a March, 2022 sound bite of Fox News host John Roberts arguing with Scott that his plan cut Social Security and Medicare.
Scott dismissed Roberts’ assertion as a “Democratic talking point,” to which Roberts forcefully responded, “It’s not a Democratic talking point, it’s in the plan,” and kept repeating “it’s in the plan” despite Scott’s denials.
Not content with denials and arguments, on Feb. 7, Scott announced on Twitter that he was releasing an advertisement to run in Florida, calling on Biden to resign. “I’m Rick Scott. Biden should resign. I approve this message,” it concludes.
That suggestion is not likely to go far.
Analysis: Channeling Trump and digging deeper
In this give-and-take over whether he wants to cut essential social safety net programs, Scott has clearly chosen to take the Trump approach to criticism: never apologize, never back down, attack your attackers and discredit the media that reports your failings.
Using this approach, Trump bulldozed his way through scandals, two impeachments, a failed coup and even, arguably, treason.
Scott is trying to do the same thing, only he’s not driving a bulldozer, he’s pushing a spade on the end of an idiot stick and the only place he’s going is deeper into the hole he’s already in.
As chronicled before (“Rick Scott meets the Peter Principle”), Scott, who has been able to essentially buy his elections in Florida, was out of his depth on the national stage when he tried to win the Senate.
Now he’s denying that his “Rescue America” plan implicitly endangers Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. However, as Joe Biden, John Roberts and a host of other commentators and critics have pointed out, it does precisely that by jeopardizing all longstanding, duly legislated programs.
In fact what this whole affair really shows is that Scott, in pursuit of broad-brush, politically advantageous slogans was and is unable or unwilling to truly think through the full implications of his policy proposals. In this he is also like Trump—and that’s not a good attribute for presidents or senators.
As previously noted, Scott is not a natural politician, either in his approach to people or leadership. His policy prescriptions are shallow, extreme and unimaginative. He’s not a deep thinker. In his challenges to McConnell and the Republican Senate leadership he’s demonstrated ineptitude and insensitivity and an almost total lack of self-awareness. Outside his own MAGA cheerleading section and whatever voices are in his head, his own statements and actions are coming back to haunt him.
Not to be forgotten in this is his friction with Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), a leading Republican presidential possibility. The two have never gotten along and their antipathy is likely to intensify as the presidential nominating process proceeds. His protestations of neutrality aside, Scott will no doubt remain a Trump partisan and there is always the possibility that he could be primaried by a viable DeSantis loyalist.
Florida Democrats should welcome Scott’s run for another term in 2024. By his arrogance, blindness and incompetence, Scott is making his Senate seat available. It’s an opportunity for the Florida Democratic Party to reconstitute itself and recapture a statewide office. Like all Scott races it will be expensive. Scott spends whatever it takes to buy votes, but he nonetheless offers Democrats a ray of sunshine after an otherwise dark season.
How deep a hole will Scott dig? He shows no signs of slowing down or changing course. But as anyone who has ever dug a pit knows, the deeper you dig, the more dangerous and unstable it becomes—and when you’re in over your head, that hole just may become your grave.
Special to Big Mouth Media from The Paradise Progressive. Originally published on February 13, 2023.