- By Lulu Ramadan Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday broke with President Donald Trump’s recent comments about Russian President Vladimir Putin and his denial of meddling in the 2016 election.
“I completely disagree with the president with regard to trusting Putin, trusting Russia,” Scott said during a campaign stop in Boca Raton on Wednesday afternoon. “I think it’s clear they tried to do something in 2016. I hope they won’t do anything in 2018.”
Speaking at a news conference, Scott — one of the first Republican officeholders to support Trump during the 2016 presidential election cycle — called Putin “a foe” and appeared to distance himself from the president.
The remarks went far beyond what other Republican leaders from Florida, such as U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, have said.
Scott’s comments Wednesday also went a step further than those he made two days earlier, when he censured Putin, but stopped short of criticizing Trump.
“Putin is not our friend. Putin is not our ally. I don’t trust Putin. It clearly appears that Russia tried to meddle in our election… As a senator I’m not going to trust Putin. I’m never going to consider him to be an ally and I’m going to be very skeptical of anything he says,” Scott said Monday.
Scott, a candidate for U.S. Senate, made the Wednesday remarks during a visit to Capitol Lighting’s showroom in Boca Raton. The stop was an effort to highlight the support for his U.S. Senate bid from what he said were more than 400 small businesses throughout Florida.
“I’m going to be with the president when it’s good for Florida. I’m going to be against the president when it’s not good for Florida,” Scott said, stopping just short of saying Trump had lost his support.
But the two-term Florida governor drew distance between his campaign for the U.S. Senate seat and the president with whom he has shared a common interest: jobs and economic growth.
When asked if Scott will invite Trump, who frequently visits his Palm Beach Mar-a-Lago estate, to campaign with him in the fall, Scott said, “I’m campaigning on my own. I know there will be individuals that come down to campaign for candidates, but I’m focused on my race …”
Repudiating Trump’s comments and separating himself from the president on Russia might be strategic in Scott’s U.S. Senate campaign, said Susan MacManus, a political analyst and professor at the University of South Florida.
Trump clinched Florida in 2016 by a margin of a little more than 1 percentage point, and Scott has won two gubernatorial races by slim margins, too.
“Holding on to Republicans is not enough to win a statewide race,” MacManus said. “You have to draw in some independent voters, and even some Democrats. And some of those Floridians do not want Trump. Anyone running a statewide race is going to look at those demographics.”
Scott was one of Trump’s earliest and most enthusiastic supporters while the Palm Beach billionaire was rumbling through a crowded GOP presidential primary field in 2015 and early 2016.
He gave a thumbs-up to Trump even though two Florida native sons, Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, were also vying for the party nomination. Scott chaired the Rebuilding America Now super PAC that raised more than $22 million for Trump’s election campaign.
After launching his campaign against Democrat U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, however, Scott has shown hesitance to flaunt his relationship with Trump, or outwardly criticize the president.
Trump’s comments after the summit with Putin has drawn widespread and, at times, harsh criticism from Republican and Democratic lawmakers. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, typically a vocal supporter of the president, slammed Trump’s comments on Putin and Russian election meddling, calling it “the most serious mistake of his presidency.”
Scott generally has avoided criticizing the president, save for breaking with Trump on the issue of separating immigrant children from their families in June.
Scott slammed Trump’s “zero-tolerance policy toward illegal entry into the United States” in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. He opened the letter, however, by pointing a finger at “decades of failed immigration policies from Washington.”