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Trump May Help the Democrats Capture the Governor's Mansion in Florida in 2026

Remember that good old "candidate quality" thingie? Donald Trump certainly doesn't. In fact, he seems to have a nearly unbreakable habit of supporting right-wing loonies who are capable of winning the Republican primary but not the general election. It now appears he is already working on the 2026 gubernatorial race in his home state of Florida, when Ron DeSantis will be term-limited.

Trump definitely wants to be a kingmaker and is talking to potential candidates and giving them encouragement, but without making a choice yet. After all the election is 2½ years away and a lot can change between now and then. Two candidates that seem to have Trump's favor at the moment are Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL), a Black man who is also an extremist, and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), an even louder extremist with a history of transporting underage girls across state lines for sexual purposes. (Gaetz' district, FL-01, has a long border with Alabama, so getting out of state is easy.) Rep. Mike Waltz (R-FL) could be a backup if Donalds and Gaetz burn up or fizzle out.

None of this sits well with DeSantis. While he can't run in 2026, he would like to have some influence in choosing his successor, especially if he runs for president again in 2028. His nightmare scenario is having Trump pick a Republican nominee so crazy that a Democrat is elected governor in 2026.

The invisible primary is long underway, but under cover. Justin Sayfie, an adviser to former governor Jeb Bush, said: "It's something that doesn't get talked about in the open, but it's classic Donald Trump to bring out into the open what everyone is saying behind closed doors." Sometimes the wannabe governors do help out though. Donalds, Gaetz, and Waltz have all shown up at the hush-money trial to cheer Trump on (or cheer Trump up). That is the kind of fealty Trump expects of petitioners.

It's not a sure thing that Trump will get his guy, though. A couple of women are also eyeing the job, including Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez (R-FL) and AG Ashley Moody (R). Both women are inside DeSantis' innermost circle and one (or both) of them is likely to get DeSantis' endorsement. So Trump endorsing one candidate and DeSantis endorsing a different one could set the stage for a power struggle in Florida in 2026.

Trump has taken down DeSantis before and could do it again. If he gets Donalds or Gaetz nominated, there is a decent chance that the Democrats might be able to pick up the governor's mansion in 2026. We saw this happen in Pennsylvania in 2022 and may well see it again in North Carolina in 2024. Florida 2026 could be the third one in a row where a crazy Republican loses the gubernatorial race to a bland Democrat. (V)

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