Florida Republicans chose a political consultant with ties to former President Donald Trump aides to lead the state party into the 2024 presidential cycle on Saturday, a move that some allies of Gov. Ron DeSantis worry will be a “huge Florida win for Trump.”
Christian Ziegler defeated Evan Power 126-100 in the Republican Party of Florida chairmanship election. Power previously served as the statewide GOP chair of chairs and as the leader of the Leon County Republican Party, while Ziegler previously served as the party’s vice chair.
They were running to replace departing chair Joe Gruters, who decided not to run again.
After deciding on Ziegler, party members chose Power to be his vice chair.
“Although the results may not have been what I had hoped for, the Republican Party is well positioned with a unified team that will work tirelessly to defeat the Democrats in Florida,” Power said.
Throughout the contest, both Ziegler and Power stated publicly that their goal as party chair would be to support Republicans and not participate in primaries, but the race was perceived as a tiny proxy war between Trump and DeSantis supporters. Trump has already declared his candidature for president and is increasingly criticising Florida Governor Rick Scott, who many believe will be his most formidable opponent for the GOP nomination. DeSantis is likely to make his candidature announcement in the spring.
Ziegler, a Republican political consultant with clients around the country, has worked closely with former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, giving some the impression he was a more Trump-aligned candidate even though he has publicly supported DeSantis since he took office in 2018. Bridget Ziegler, Ziegler’s wife, is a co-founder of the conservative parental rights organisation Mothers for Liberty, and she was sponsored by DeSantis in her candidature for Sarasota County school board.
Following the election, Trump’s team did nothing to mitigate the appearance of a proxy war.
“Chair contests around the country are and should be crucial for individuals running for president,” according to a consultant familiar with Trump’s views. The individual was provided anonymity in order to freely discuss the race. “To that extent, Trump’s candidate won tonight. That suggests the Trump campaign is probably delighted with the result.”
DeSantis’ camp dismissed any notion that Ziegler’s victory marked a setback for the governor, stating that Power will remain vice chair and that the governor works well with both.
“Both of our guys won, and we look forward to working with them,” a DeSantis aide who could not speak publicly said. DeSantis did not participate in the race personally.
Power’s fans, who would support DeSantis over Trump if he campaigned for president, were less optimistic. They argue that with Ziegler running the GOP, Trump might have more clout in Florida since the party chair has authority over choices on ballot access and how party funds are spent. The chair also assists with voter turnout measures, such as early voting and vote-by-mail campaigns.
“DeSantis didn’t weigh in at all on the [Republican Party of Florida] contest, and I think he regrets it,” said one GOP strategist who backed DeSantis and requested anonymity in order to discuss the race freely. “Ziegler is 100 percent Trump. He collaborates with Lewandowski and others. This is a huge victory for the Trump campaign in Florida.”
“I think DeSantis may have some major remorse not getting involved,” another DeSantis fan remarked.
The state Republicans has effectively turned Florida into a one-party state during the last three election cycles. Republicans won every major race in the 2022 midterm elections, including DeSantis’ reelection, which he won by roughly 20 percentage points.
That kind of track record aided Ziegler’s triumph.
“You don’t suddenly change the playbook for victory when you consistently exceed the rest of the country in back-to-back election cycles,” said Florida GOP consultant Max Goodman. “Ziegler’s expertise as the party’s vice chair will allow for a smooth transition as he strives to increase the majority and equal the results of his predecessor.”