What should have been a major event for Florida's west coast Republicans and the 41 candidates who addressed the big Republican Party of Sarasota rally Saturday erupted like a volcano Sunday.
Blame bad behavior inside and outside of the GOP.
Between Elizabeth Cuevas-Neunder, a supporter of gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis, seen and reported for "stuffing the ballot box," and left-wing gate crashers standing on tables, hurling objects and shouting down Gov. Rick Scott, event organizers had no choice but to trash their tainted grand finale -- the all-important straw poll.
Cuevas-Neunder doesn't deny she grabbed 15-or-so ballots and handed them out to people sitting around her. But she insists no one voted twice.
Never mind that an anxious 1,200 attendees wanted to know the voting results. The Party was left with "no option but to not release results that it could not verify as accurate,” Republican Party of Sarasota Vice Chairman Jack Brill said in a Sunday press announcement.
The accused ballot stuffer explained she had to "help people vote" because event organizers made voting contingent on a free piece of pie -- you don't get a ballot until you pick up your pie. "Why ruin my body and get a piece of pie?" she told FloridaPolitics.com.
"This is atrocious and embarrassing behavior on the part of the DeSantis camp," Adam Putnam's spokesperson Meredith Beatrice told me. "Are they that afraid to face Adam Putnam on a level playing field?"
Bad behavior wounded this event. There's no other way to put it.
The older I get, the harder it is to keep up with shifts in the dynamic of party politics in our country, particularly when the party's "base," which was created yesterday, is dictating how I should think to be regarded as a true conservative and a good Republican.
Look at the 2016 Republican presidential race, dominated by a candidate who is not, in any meaningful sense, a Republican. Registration records tell us since 1987 Donald Trump was first a Republican, then an independent, then a Democrat, then a Republican, then an “I choose not to enroll in a party,” and finally a Republican.
President Trump has donated to both parties and shown loyalty to, and affinity for, neither. And how about Ted Cruz? The GOP's second-place guy built his brand by tearing down his party’s. He slurred the Senate Republican leader, railed against the Republican establishment, and closed the government -- all as a career move.
Certainly I'm not saying the Democrats are any more reliable. During the last presidential election they were major flip-outs from beginning to end. Remember, after the early primaries, one of the two remaining contestants for the nomination was not, in any meaningful sense, a Democrat. Sen. Bernie Sanders was an independent going in. He switched to nominal Democratic affiliation on the day he filed for the New Hampshire primary, only three months before that election. Sanders surged into second place by winning independents while losing Democrats. If it had been up to Democrats to choose their party’s nominee, Sanders’ bid would have collapsed after Super Tuesday.
What I'm saying is, in their various ways, Trump, Cruz, and Sanders demonstrated the new principle of America's established political parties: absolutely, positively no intelligible boundaries or enforceable norms -- the very definition of renegade political behavior.
Relics like me who are looking for them, or who think they're brave enough to defy their party's "base," are S.O.L.
Which is why, even though Jack Brill promised Saturday's debacle will never happen at another Sarasota GOP rally, we can only hope. Only take him at good intentions. The fact is, party politics is a renegade crazytown. Anything can happen next time.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: Nancy LBSmith