By Brian Anderson |
A third Florida man has his eyes on the White House.
On Wednesday, after weeks of teasing an announcement, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez officially became the latest entry into the crowded Republican primary for president.
His speech at the Reagan Foundation the following day hit all the right notes—citing Miami’s “economic explosion” and “disciplined approach to spending” amid budget bloat in Washington—and there is little doubt that the mayor of Florida’s second-largest city will tout his role in the state’s booming economy.
Florida continues to stand out as a national model for conservative governance, with a low unemployment rate and record influx of new residents to prove it. But, before Suarez takes too much credit, voters would be wise to familiarize themselves with the mayor’s record, including how vehemently he fought against the very policies that have made Florida ‘Florida.’
After all, there would be no ‘Governor’ Ron DeSantis today if Suarez had had his way, only a ‘former Congressman.’ The mayor’s choice in the 2018 Florida gubernatorial race was Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, the progressive up-and-comer endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders and backed by Democratic mega-donor Tom Steyer.
Gillum’s radical campaign platform called for ‘Medicare for All,’ a 40 percent increase in the state’s corporate income tax, and other progressive priorities that would have slammed the brakes on the Sunshine State’s forward momentum. Yet Suarez campaigned for him ahead of Election Day and ultimately cast his ballot the same. (Two months later, he attended a special inaugural ball celebrating the victory of Agriculture Commissioner-elect Nikki Fried, the Democrat who would run for the state’s highest office in 2022.)
Thankfully, DeSantis ended up in the Governor’s Mansion, while Gillum’s 15 minutes of fame ended on the floor of a hotel room under less-than-ideal circumstances. Floridians rejected Suarez’s advice and have been better off for doing so ever since.
Case in point: COVID-19.
Perhaps no issue has defined DeSantis’ reputation more than his handling of the pandemic. The governor remained unwavering in his commitment to freedom and personal responsibility, even as opponents smeared him as “Ron DeathSantis,” as lockdown lobbyists in Grim Reaper costumes stalked families at his re-opened beaches, and as media properties like “60 Minutes” devolved into baseless fever dreams aimed at undermining his vision.
Miami’s mayor was not on the side you might think.
In April 2020, Suarez opposed the governor’s plan to “soon” resume in-person learning, insisting that “it would be particularly dangerous” to re-open schools considering the “incredible amount of children who could be at risk.”
He criticized DeSantis in September 2020 for his “acceleration” toward re-opening Florida’s economy “a lot faster … than what we had planned.”
Suarez also complained in January 2021 that “we’ve been restricted from being able to put in mitigation measures,” such as public mask mandates, by the governor, despite having “tried to reach him on multiple occasions” to lobby for the power to do so. The mayor called for a national mask mandate as well, strictly enforced with “the threat of fines” and “even arrest.”
This is not the record of a small-government conservative.
His recent hasty characterization minimizing DeSantis’ subsidy fight with Disney as a “personal vendetta”—all while lobbing personal insults at the governor (he “struggle[s] with relationships” and won’t “look at people in the eye”)—makes one wonder if Suarez doesn’t have a vendetta himself, with a campaign to dilute Florida’s primary vote as its main vehicle.
In short, the 2024 presidential race’s newest candidate may sing the right tune on the campaign trail, but the Sunshine State is the beacon of freedom it is today not because of Miami’s mayor, but despite him.
Suarez told “Face the Nation” host Margaret Brennan last month, “I’m someone who needs to be better known by this country,” and I agree, particularly by Republican primary voters—lest his happenstance proximity to Florida’s achievements be confused for actual contributions to them.
Brian Anderson is the president of the Saguaro Group, an Arizona-based research firm.