Bloomberg Tax
Aug. 24, 2022, 11:30 AM

Florida Republicans Indulge Crank Candidates: Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein
Bloomberg Editorial

Primary elections in Florida on Tuesday provided yet another illustration of how the parties differ when it comes to dealing with their cranks (and worse): Republicans seem to be more tolerant than Democrats.

Before I get to that, it’s also worth mentioning the two special elections for House vacancies in New York, which also held primaries yesterday. In both cases, Democrats did better than expected given the results of the 2020 presidential election in those districts. That makes four House special elections that have gone well for Democrats since the Supreme Court ended the right to abortion. And that’s not counting one in Alaska where the votes are still being counted, which certainly appears to be another good result for the party.

Yes, it’s dangerous to put too much weight on special elections as a predictor of midterm results. And it’s hard to believe that a party with an unpopular president won’t pay the price in the midterms. But there are a lot of very confusing and contradictory signs out there.

Now back to Florida: In a safe Democratic seat, primary voters ended comeback bids from two former members of the House — Alan Grayson, widely considered to be an irresponsible demagogue, and Corrine Brown, who served time for tax fraud. The two combined for only a quarter of the vote in the open 10th Congressional District, finishing a distant third and fourth.

Meanwhile, a candidate that political scientist and scholar of extremism Brendan Nyhan called a “hateful lunatic” came close to knocking off a Republican incumbent in the 11th district. And not only was scandal-ridden incumbent Matt Gaetz easily re-nominated in the 1st district, but he stands to be one of the most prominent members of the Republican majority if they achieve it.

Republicans have demonstrated that they are capable of defeating an embarrassing politician if they choose to. That’s what happened to North Carolina’s Madison Cawthorn in May. But it’s also clear that Republican leaders don’t embarrass easily, so folks such as Gaetz, Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene, Colorado’s Lauren Boebert and others stick around and attract copycats, while Democrats coordinate to defeat candidates such as Grayson and Brown. And this isn’t about ideology: The Bernie Sanders-backed candidate who won in Florida’s 10th district is hardly likely to be a moderate in the House.

Speaking of extremism: The losing Republican candidate in Florida’s 11th district immediately rejected the results. This is happening more and more: Republican candidates who lose, even in primary elections, immediately lodge accusations of fraud without evidence. In doing so they are following the example of former President Donald Trump. It’s so corrosive — not only to the Republican Party, which may well be torn apart over these kinds of irresponsible assertions, but also to the republic, which depends on citizens who accept that elections are on the level.

A lot of House Republicans and a handful of Senate Republicans attempted to challenge the results of the 2020 presidential election. It wouldn’t be surprising if these challenges spread to House and Senate elections this year. I’d say things could get ugly fast, but the events of Jan. 6 show that they’ve already become pretty ugly. We may need new words for what’s to come.

To contact the author of this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Michael Newman at

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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