TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott ended last year with a failed leadership challenge to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and criticism from his own party over his leadership of the Senate’s campaign arm.
But Scott’s not apologizing for any of it.
“I’m going to continue to be no different than I’ve always been,” Scott said in an interview. “We’ve got to be hellbent about what we are going to do. We’ve got to start talking about what are we going to do to improve this country.”
He’s steamrolling into the next election cycle, firmly fixed on his own reelection in 2024 and all but openly daring anyone from either party to challenge him — while not entirely ruling out a possible future run for Senate GOP leader or a White House bid.
He’s dropping $1.1 million on a new television ad running nationally on Fox News until Jan. 19 that acknowledges his unsuccessful challenge of McConnell. Last week, he embarked on a statewide tour where he’s rolling out a legislative agenda that he plans to pursue in Congress despite Democratic control of the Senate. He is using these stops to drum up local media coverage as he attacks President Joe Biden over the border, debt and inflation.
In many ways, this is familiar territory for Scott. He began his political career more than a decade ago as the ultimate outsider, shunned by the Republican establishment as he entered Florida’s governor’s race with the help of his vast personal wealth, which he earned as a health care executive. When he was governor for two terms, beginning in 2011, he was willing to spend money on television ads targeting wayward Republican legislators not on board with his agenda.
Now he’s being blamed — in part — for the GOP’s inability to take back the Senate. Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) called for an audit of the National Republican Senatorial Committee shortly after the 2022 midterms. And even before the November elections, Scott was panned for his “Rescue America” plan, which initially called for all Americans to pay income tax and for federal legislation to sunset in five years, including social security. Scott did drop the income tax proposal last summer and has insisted he would never support or getting rid of social security.
And some may be inclined to write off Scott’s political future — just as they did in previous elections — even though the Florida Republican has influential allies, including former President Donald Trump. (Scott voted against certifying the Pennsylvania results in 2020.)
Ahead of his reelection, Scott said he’ll continue taking swipes at McConnell. He questioned why the Kentucky Republican stood side by side with Biden last week at an event touting the infrastructure bill and assailed the legislation as full of “unbelievable amounts of waste,” calling it part of a “woke agenda.”
“I believe we have got to have a change in leadership,” he said.
Spokespeople for McConnell did not respond to requests for comment.
But on top of his cold war with McConnell, he’s gotten plenty of criticism over his handling of the NRSC during the past cycle. Just days ahead of the election, Scott bragged that the GOP would pick up several seats to gain a clear majority, only to watch it fall apart in state after state.
Scott’s critics saw this as affirmation that his strategy — which included staying out of GOP primaries — didn’t work. And they remain doubtful any new efforts will work.
“The last time Rick Scott talked about his plan for America he drove the NRSC into the ground and Senate Democrats had the best midterm in modern history, so we hope he keeps it up,” said David Bergstein, a spokesperson for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
It’s not clear if Democrats will actually target Scott after staying largely on the sidelines during last year’s matchup between incumbent GOP Sen. Marco Rubio and then-Rep. Val Demings. Demings outraised Rubio, but still lost by more than 16 points. This is the first time Scott — who won his Senate seat by a little more than 10,000 votes — will be on the ballot during a presidential year when turnout will be significantly higher. Plus, Democrats don’t have a lot of pickup opportunities elsewhere during the cycle.
Scott, who was forced out of his company amid a federal fraud investigation that resulted in a then- record fine of $1.7 billion, does have several advantages that could sustain him.
One is his personal wealth that he’s used to bankroll three successive elections. But he also has a reputation for his machine-like discipline, whether it comes to fundraising or messaging.
“Those who bet against Rick Scott do so at considerable peril,” said Brian Ballard, a Republican lobbyist and national fundraiser who has backed Scott ever since 2010, when he Scott defeated then Attorney General Bill McCollum in the GOP primary for governor. “He has never lost a race, beat the establishment in the Republican primary for governor and knocked off a sitting senator.
Melissa Stone, who was Scott’s 2014 campaign manager and chief-of-staff while governor, contended that Scott “isn’t interested in polls or popularity.”
“He wants to change Washington,” Stone said. “That’s what makes him so dangerous to the entrenched establishment politicians. He is not one of them — and he doesn’t want to be.”