Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) has had enough. In an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, Scott called out fellow congressional Republicans who long to govern while shying away from taking tough stands on issues that matter to the American people. That piece focuses on his “11-Point Plan to Rescue America”, a roadmap for where the GOP should go if it gains control of one or both houses in the 118th Congress. The message is remarkable, but so is the messenger.
Who Is Rick Scott? Scott is an unlikely maverick. Born in Illinois and raised in Kansas City, he joined the Navy after a year of community college.
Once completing his service, he received a degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City (where the future senator jumped into the business world by buying — of all things — two doughnut shops) and headed off to law school at Southern Methodist University. From SMU, he went into private practice with a white-shoe law firm in Dallas.
While there, Scott got involved in the acquisition of healthcare facilities. That was successful for a while, but according to Ballotpedia it did not end well for Scott. Scott then packed off to Florida where he formed an investment firm.
He next ran for governor of Florida, eking out primary and general election wins over some big names in 2010. He was reelected in a similarly tight contest in 2014 over former Governor Charlie Crist, an enigmatic figure who had won his gubernatorial contest as a Republican and thereafter joined the Democratic Party. (Crist is seeking the Democratic nomination to run against current Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) this year.)
Using the governorship as a springboard, Scott challenged Sen. Bill Nelson (D), beating the three-term incumbent (who had been in Florida politics since 1972) by just over 10,000 votes out of nearly 8.2 million cast in 2018.
Scott seems like an unassuming character, but with a history of winning exceptionally tight contests over well-established politicos, he obviously knows what people want.
Most significantly, he has been tapped by the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) to lead its efforts in the upcoming mid-term elections, so his colleagues in the Upper Chamber (a place where each member looks in the mirror and sees a future president) believe he has the right message and dynamic to lead his party to victory.
The Messenger Is as Important as the Message. All of which makes Scott’s tone in the Wall Street Journal so intriguing. It’s captioned “Why I’m Defying Beltway Cowardice: Republicans don’t deserve to govern unless we’re willing to take on the real problems America faces”. Calling out one’s colleagues in the country club that is the U.S. Senate is unusual enough, especially so if you are the party’s coach and cheerleader in an important election.
Here is an excerpt:
If we have no bigger plan than to be a speed bump on the road to socialism, we don’t deserve to govern. Most Republicans in Congress agree, but many live in fear of speaking the truth in Washington. If you do, the Democrats will attack you and use it against you. Therefore, they tell us, it’s best to keep your head down, vote as directed, and be quiet. But Americans have never had more information than they do today. They demand and deserve the truth, and it’s time to give it to them.
That is the kind of stuff that you say in Washington to your spouse after watching Maddow or Tucker, or to your best friends over beers (or single malt in the Senate) once you have looked over both shoulders in a bar. You don’t publish those words in one of the world’s biggest papers, especially when you are trying to get voters from Burlington to Bakersfield to cast ballots for candidates from your party.
Which is why the man and his message are so interesting.
In this case, the messenger is, to a significant degree, the message. Margaret Thatcher famously told George H.W. Bush on the eve of the first Gulf War, “This was no time to go wobbly”. That was the Iron Lady telling the leader of the Free World to get some spine. Here, it is the erstwhile doughnut man telling some of the most self-important people in the world not to be “cowards”.
Again, Scott has won over big odds in the past, which suggests he knows what voters think and what they really want to hear. And, to be the chairman of the NRSC and to not take the Senate from Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is to fail spectacularly on the second-biggest political stage. But Scott believes that such rhetoric is his and his party’s best path to victory.
Scott’s Immigration Message. Which brings me to immigration. Scott does not mention it directly in his Journal article, but he links to his 11-point plan, where immigration is prominently point four.
In a clear rebuke to President Biden’s flaccid response to the record surge of illegal migrants at the Southwest border, Scott begins folksily: “Nations have borders. We should give that a try.” In case anybody missed the point, Scott continues: “Countries have borders. We will control ours and secure it, once and for all.”
Scott’s position is not that different from former President Barack Obama’s, who stated in September: “[W]e're a nation state. We have borders. The idea that we can just have open borders is something that ... as a practical matter, is unsustainable.”
Even Biden in his State of the Union address had to pay lip service to “border security”, but Scott (and Obama to a degree) are getting to a bigger point, which the senator states plainly: “No one will enter without our permission. ... This is our country, and no one has a ‘right’ to come to America.”
Contrast that with the statements of Vice President (and quasi-border czar) Kamala Harris in the midst of the “Del Rio” debacle in September: “People want to stay home. They don't want to leave home. But they leave when they cannot satisfy their basic needs.”
This gets to a larger point that I often get asked about, which is why the Biden administration is failing to do anything to stop the migrant surge.
The best answer that I can come up with is that allowing hundreds of thousands of economic migrants into the United States is consistent with the administration’s dedication to “equity”. Simply put, the president and his immigration advisors think that it is not “fair” (a word you hear a lot from the White House in connection with immigration) to deny foreign nationals access to U.S. jobs just because they weren’t born here.
Want proof? One of the reasons why DHS and DOJ want to massively overhaul the asylum system at the border is to ensure that asylum applicants can get work permits as quickly as possible, even before their claims are heard and well after they are denied.
Scott does not shy away from other “third rails” in the immigration debate, going after sanctuary jurisdictions in the strongest of terms: “We will strip all federal funding from ‘sanctuary cities’ and prosecute any elected officials who flout our immigration laws.”
Did you hear that? Not only does Scott want to drain the federal trough for states and localities that will not get in line with assisting DHS to enforce the immigration laws, he wants to send those responsible to jail.
Public benefits for immigrants? Scott goes there, too: “We will stop incentivizing people to come to America to receive government benefits. We have plenty of welfare recipients — we need productive citizens instead.” Who says that? Many if not most in the working class starting their days at diners and in the cabs of trucks across America, but not politicians in Washington.
Then, there is this, perhaps the biggest gamble in Scott’s highwire act: “We oppose cultural segregation. We believe in the ‘melting pot’, where people from many backgrounds go all-in on becoming Americans, ‘one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.’”
If you want to get yourself barred from Georgetown cocktail parties or draw snide looks at any toney restaurant on Capitol Hill, just mention the role of (let alone the importance of) a common culture in American society. “Your heroes are villains, your history’s a fraud, your norms and values tools of oppression.”
Scott’s words, however, are not significantly different from those of Barbara Jordan, civil rights icon and chairwoman of President Clinton’s Commission on Immigration Reform. She listed her beliefs in a New York Times opinion piece published in September 1995 captioned “The Americanization Ideal”, where she wrote:
Immigration imposes mutual obligations. Those who choose to come here must embrace the common core of American civic culture. We must assist them in learning our common language: American English. We must renew civic education in the teaching of American history for all Americans. We must vigorously enforce the laws against hate crimes and discrimination. We must remind ourselves, as we illustrate for newcomers, what makes us America.
Jordan asserted that the United States is “more than a melting pot; we are a kaleidoscope, where every turn of history refracts new light on the old promise”, but I trust that the gentleman from Florida would accede to those words from the gentlewoman from Texas. I wear my cynicism as a carapace, but Jordan’s homage to the country, and the culture, she loved breaks through that shell every time.
Most significantly, however, Scott does not shy away from embracing immigration ideas advanced by Donald Trump. The senator is the last Republican I would ever expect to see wearing a MAGA hat (he was rocking fleece vests back when Governor Glenn Youngkin (R-Va.) was still running The Carlyle Group), but here is what Scott has to say:
President Trump’s plan to build a wall was right. ... We lock our doors at night, not because we hate the people on the outside, but because we love the people on the inside and want to keep them safe. ... We will secure our border, finish building the wall, and name it after President Donald Trump.
Nothing stands in starker contrast to Joe Biden’s (current) immigration positions than that. This is what the current president had to say on his campaign’s immigration webpage:
Building a wall from sea-to-shining-sea is not a serious policy solution – it’s a waste of money, and it diverts critical resources away from the real threats. Today, illicit drugs are most likely to be smuggled through one of the legal U.S. ports of entry. ... A wall is not a serious deterrent for sophisticated criminal organizations that employ border tunnels, semi-submersible vessels, and aerial technology to overcome physical barriers at the border – or even for individuals with a reciprocating saw.
Well, now we don’t have the wall, but we still have the drugs, suspected security risks are being released onto the streets, and illegal migrants are not scampering under the border, or being dropped off by midget submarines or drones — thousands are walking right in every day through gaps in places where fences are unfinished and construction materials are rusting in the sun, no “reciprocating saw” required.
On Twitter (where he is “permanently banned”) and among the chattering classes, Trump is a “pariah” in the words of the Washington Post, CNN, the New York Times, Barron’s, and an untold number of outlets that largely control the public narrative.
As recent polling reveals, however, he still has a lot of support (including in some interesting quarters): 54 percent of respondents in a recent Harvard/Harris poll state that he was a better president than Biden, and if the election were held today, Trump would beat his successor, 48 percent to 42 percent.
Neither candidate made immigration much of an issue in the 2020 campaign and point four in Scott’s 11-point plan suggests that the NRSC chairman thinks that was a mistake on Trump’s part.
Rick Scott has never been a bomb thrower, but he fired a salvo of rockets at his fellow Republicans who think that the current president’s unfavorability is enough to win control of the Senate in November. One of those rockets is called “immigration”, and the ultimate savvy political survivor believes that it will be key to victory in the midterms. Both Democrats and Republicans would be wise to take a look.