Veteran Florida GOP strategist Susie Wiles’s return to the Trump campaign shows that the president is still competing in his adopted home state, despite presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s monthslong lead in most head-to-head public polls.
Florida officials and political consultants rallied behind Wiles in interviews with the Washington Examiner, hopeful that this was a step toward President Trump’s victory in the fall.
“Susie Wiles is one of the most effective, if not the most effective, political operative in Florida on the Republican side,” said Republican strategist and former Florida congressional candidate Ford O’Connell. “What this means is, it’s an all-hands-on-deck moment in Florida, and the Trump campaign is betting Florida is going to be tight as a drum.”
The Trump campaign made the announcement in a tweet last week as Vice President Mike Pence and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis met in Tampa to discuss the surging number of coronavirus cases.
Wiles was ousted from the Trump campaign last year at DeSantis’s urging after securing his unlikely victory in the 2018 gubernatorial race, along with Trump’s win in Florida in the 2016 presidential race, and Sen. Rick Scott’s win in his race for governor in 2010.
Palm Beach County Republican Party Chairman Michael Barnett said he was “thrilled” at Wiles’s return. “Those of us who are grassroots and who work with the grassroots know Susie and respect her abilities, and we’re thrilled to see that she is back on the team,” Barnett said. “She’s a winner. She won Florida for the president back in 2016. And you should stick with the winning team.”
In Florida, where Trump recently claimed residency, Biden leads the president by 5 points, according to a RealClearPolitics statewide polling average. Biden is ahead in all but 1 of the 10 latest public polls.
Despite Wiles’s status as “persona non grata,” said former Palm Beach County Republican Party Chairman Sid Dinerstein, campaign officials looked at the polls, “and they said, ‘What are we going to do?’ There’s only one answer. Get Susie Wiles. She never loses an election.”
Most in-person political events were placed on hold as the coronavirus spread across the country, and they are resuming slowly, presenting an additional challenge. Amid the lockdown, Trump has struggled to grow a foothold in Florida, where nearly one-quarter of the population is aged 65 and over and where virus cases have exploded over the last four weeks.
The pivot to Wiles was do or die, advisers said.
Trump’s Florida political director, Kevin Cabrera, “left a leadership void,” said one operative, who was granted anonymity to speak freely. The operative said Cabrera failed to build a loyal and experienced ground game operation, leaving the president exposed and without the capacity to deliver messaging at the level needed for a presidential reelection campaign. “He’s a little out of his league.”
Donors, local organizers, and Trump 2016 campaign veterans who have dealt with Cabrera made their displeasure known to officials all the way up to campaign manager Brad Parscale, a Broward County transplant. One state committee chairwoman raised her concerns with Trump during an Oval Office meeting.
“Now that they see what’s going on here with Florida, they’ve decided that you’ve got to let the operative operate,” another Florida adviser close to the White House said. “That’s why you’re seeing Susie come in. We’ve got to stay the bleeding. This is winnable. You’ve got to bank on Florida out.”
“The Trump campaign has been lashing out at the way the Florida and the Arizona operations have been run,” this person said, noting the frustration.
Meanwhile, Trump’s support has cratered in Florida and in the national polls amid the shock of the coronavirus, related economic woes, and social unrest in the wake of George Floyd’s death. “There’s no question June was not good for Trump,” the person said. “Some people are very scared about what’s going on. That’s why you’re seeing Trump go to New Hampshire to an airplane hangar.”
Many hope Wiles’s return will help Trump rally seniors and turn out Florida’s rural voters.
“Susie is a seasoned hand,” said a political consultant with a winning history in Florida who is close to Trump. “Her role is to close the deal.”
This person described Wiles as a consensus-builder, crucial in a state like Florida, where the margin for victory could be razor-thin.
“Everybody’s going to listen to her, and she will get everybody marching in the same direction,” said Dinerstein.
The Trump campaign and the Florida Republican Party did not return a request for comment.
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