Scott’s political advisers and those who know his thinking wouldn’t comment on the record, with one saying the ad campaign — which consists of a 30-second TV commercial and a 2-minute digital spot — speaks for itself.
Independently wealthy, Scott made his mark in Florida politics as an outsider businessman who spent at least $149.5 million of his own money to win races for governor and U.S. Senate. Months after first taking office in 2011, he launched a statewide ad campaign announcing his own legislative priorities, a technique he continued to employ through his two terms. In 2018, when he dropped $64 million of his own cash to defeat Sen. Bill Nelson, Scott practiced a far more partisan and sharp-elbowed style of politics, of which the new ad campaign is a continuation.
“That sound you hear is the starting gun for 2024,” said a Republican consultant who worked for one of Scott’s prior political campaigns but wanted to remain anonymous for fear of speaking without authorization. “The Republican Party is the Party of Trump. And Rick Scott is a member in good standing. And he wants the nation to know it.”
Scott spokesman Chris Hartline, denied the ad had anything to do with future presidential campaigns.
“This is Rick Scott getting a message out at a moment when it will be heard the loudest,” Hartline said.
When asked why the ad is airing in the key early presidential state, Hartline said, “that’s the moment and place it will be heard the loudest If you want to give us the money, we’ll run it in New Hampshire, too.”
After Trump’s 2016 election, insiders say, Scott became more convinced than ever that he could be president and that his three successful elections in the nation’s biggest swing state effectively neutralized his biggest liability: a record Medicare fraud fine paid out by his former hospital company in 1997.
Scott began favorably comparing his bio with Trump’s in the lead-up to the 2016 Florida presidential primary, when Trump walloped Scott’s future colleague, Sen. Marco Rubio — who has remained notably quiet in contrast to Scott over impeachment.
Rubio is expected by some in Florida Republican circles to run for president again. Also in the possible 2024 mix: Gov. Ron DeSantis, who ran as an unapologetic Trump Republican in 2018.
As each competed for Trump’s affection following their elections in 2018, DeSantis and Scott developed a frosty relationship.
Tony Fabrizio, Trump’s pollster who once worked for DeSantis, surveyed Florida Republicans last year about who they would like for president and found that DeSantis came in first at 37 percent, followed by Rubio at 26 percent and Scott at 18 percent, while 19 percent were undecided.
“Anyone with political sense recognizes that there is a greater reason for any Republican not named Donald Trump to be going up on TV in Iowa,” said Florida Republican consultant Brian Swensen, who has worked for Scott, DeSantis and Rubio. “Florida will potentially have at least three incredibly accomplished candidates running who will articulate the successes of conservative governance. Let the 2024 games begin!”
In a sign of a mutual negative reinforcement feedback loop, Biden’s presidential campaign welcomed the hit, saying that the Republican attacks on the former vice president indicate that he’s the Democrat that Trump fears.
First, Trump tried to pressure Ukraine into investigating Biden, which led to Trump’s impeachment and helped Biden rally Democrats to his side. Then, Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst on Monday mused about how the impeachment trial — in which Trump’s team has tried to accuse Biden of corruption — would affect Biden in Iowa, a statement that Biden said “spilled the beans” on GOP fears of his general election candidacy.
Biden fundraised off of Ernst’s comments and is expected to do the same with Scott’s attack ads, which Biden’s campaign dismissed as full of conspiracy theories.
“Republicans are falling all over themselves because they know what poll after poll has demonstrated and what many Democratic House members who flipped their seats in 2018 have said: Joe Biden would beat Donald Trump like a drum and be a force for Democrats up and down the ballot,” Biden’s campaign said in a written statement. “Donald Trump himself is so afraid he’d lose to Joe Biden that he became the only president in American history who tried to extort a foreign country into lying on behalf of his reelection campaign.”
Scott’s ad buys mark one of the most strident attacks yet on Biden from Republicans, an effort that began last year. Timed to coincide with Trump’s defense team resting its case in the impeachment trial, the spots feature him talking in a radio broadcast studio as if he’s a conservative talk-show host as he criticizes impeachment, Biden and Adam Schiff, one of the House impeachment managers despised by many Republicans.
“We are being subjected to the cruel and unusual punishment listening to the rantings of Adam Schiff, a person from a parallel universe,” Scott said in his digital ad, saying the “impeachment fiasco is political theater.”
Scott also vowed that, if witnesses are called in Trump’s impeachment, he’ll make sure Biden is called to testify.
“If that happens, he will be too cowardly to show up,” Scott said. “But if he did show up, here’s what I will ask him: Mr. Biden, why did you as vice president of the United States threaten a foreign country and force them to fire a prosecutor, who was investigating a company that was paying your son $83,000 a month?”
Media accounts and the sworn testimony from Trump administration officials reported that Biden was acting on behalf of the U.S. government and other foreign governments that demanded in 2015 that Ukraine’s prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, be fired because he was corrupt.
There was no contemporaneous evidence to justify the claim that Shokin was investigating the Ukrainian natural gas company, Burisma, when Biden’s son, Hunter, worked for it. Anti-corruption activists lauded the firing of Shokin at the time, as did Republicans in the U.S. Senate. While the appearance of a conflict of interest with the Bidens was troubling to some, Republicans never investigated or raised concerns until Trump faced him as a potential opponent.
One of Scott’s former political consultants, who also did not want to be identified, said the former governor is experiencing some of the growing pains of transitioning from an executive to a legislator. And the impeachment trial to Scott is just a waste of time, the source said.
“He has been very frustrated with this whole trial and has been coming up with ideas to remain relevant,” according to the source. “This is the best way to remain relevant because this is what he knows how to do: cut ads, surprise people and make news.”
Johnson, the former executive director of the Florida GOP, said Scott was also having fun by getting “people on Twitter to lose their minds.”
“They’re saying, ‘he’s running’,” Johnson chuckled. “He’s doing nothing to foreclose the option. He really knows how to make a $19,000 ad buy go the distance. Just imagine what he’ll do with millions more.”