John Morgan’s bait-and-switch leaves Democrats in crisis


Attorney John Morgan has been teasing a potential run for the governorship of Florida pretty much all year. The specter of his candidacy has been tantalizing for progressive Democrats who saw his deep pockets and shallow policy agenda as an ideal alternative to politics-as-usual; many considered him the party's best chance of reclaiming a spot they've not held in 20 years. The architect and chief financier of last year's successful medical marijuana vote was even touted by folks as diverse as Snoop Dogg and Roger Stone, which in retrospect could have hinted at shenanigans to come.

While candidates on both sides were steadily stacking paper and building on their bonafides, Morgan deftly danced around the issue like a b-boy on bath salts. Actually, it's been more like a classic fan dance, albeit with much bigger fans. He shows them a little, then pulls back, smiling amidst a chorus of wolf-whistles, while liberal eyes bug out, their tongues wagging like a Tex Avery cartoon. In this case, however, the full reveal was not to be, as Morgan used his Black Friday to darken the mood by declaring that he would not stand for office in 2018-maybe. Always with the maybes, this guy.

Much like the president, Morgan chose Twitter as the ideal vehicle for breaking hearts on a mass scale by not only quashing hopes for his campaign (maybe), but also launching a fusillade of verbal bombs against the state's Democratic party, which is already under siege following the resignations of Stephen Bittel and Sally Boynton Brown. These losses left the party undermanned and underfunded as it enters an epochal 2018 race that will define Florida politics for the next decade, maybe.

Morgan went a step further, though, by suggesting that Bill Nelson essentially concede his place in the Senate to current governor Rick Scott and put his energy into running for governor himself, which would torpedo the chances of actual candidates like Gwen Graham, Andrew Gillum and Chris King. "In the senate he accomplishes nothing," Morgan told Matt Dixon of Politico, echoing a key Republican talking point, presumably by accident. "As governor he could have a legacy." Putting aside the obvious implication that Nelson's still searching for a "legacy" after 45 years in elected office, his idea essentially hands another Senate seat to the White House.

"The Dems have little if no chance of taking the majority," he told Politico, which would be a surprise to most of the party, which has been fighting and fundraising toward that specific end for months now. "Gwen or one of the others could run," he adds, while failing to consider how readily Florida voters would elect a candidate who declared for governor and got pushed aside on the word of a trial lawyer who's not even faithful to her party, in favor of a senator-for-life who viewed that position as not worth defending. Will they really vote for a candidate for whom the Senate is basically a consolation prize? If Bill Nelson can't beat Rick Scott (and I disagree, but it's none of my business), what makes him think that Gwen Graham can? I mean, it's not like she'd get any money from John Morgan. A cynic might suggest that Morgan's touting of Nelson is about as fantastical and ill-fated as his earlier bout of self-touting, maybe.

If this is how he talks about the people he likes, I cannot imagine how he talks about the ones he doesn't like. (Actually, I don't have to imagine it. Keep reading.) Morgan went on to echo longstanding and legitimate critiques of the Democratic Party, which has been accused of overt fealty to corporate interests and stacking the decks against their progressive wing. Asked by Politico if he would still support the DNC, DCCC or DSCC, his response was a measured and statesmanlike, "Fuck, no. It's like pissing money down a rat hole." Never mind that much of the money those organizations raise ends up being spent on statewide candidates, some of whom he likes, maybe.

He has a few more dank nugs of wisdom elsewhere on his Twitter feed, noting on Nov. 26 that "The voters and Trump voters were all independents when you boiled it all down. They are the majority who don't care about parties but do care about solutions for their families!!" Where have I heard that before? Oh, yeah, from Roger Stone, in these pages, four months ago: "Both Trump and Bernie Sanders attract new voters in the primaries. It's just more people upset about the so-called 'rigged system'. Bernie rags constantly about the corruption and the power of Wall Street; so does Trump. So I think they're very similar."

The real takeaway from all this is that Morgan, long hyped as a hero among a progressive base that has struggled for position in the ongoing internecine warfare within the Democratic Party, strung them along for an entire year and then embarrassed them on a grand scale. An independent campaign is still entirely possible, and I'm sure Adam Putnam would love to see that happen, more so than almost anyone else. Graham and Gillum are left in the lurch, as it now looks like their own constituents found them considerably less attractive than a guy who, let's be honest, was never serious about being governor, and never made even the slightest effort to appear to be serious.

While the Republicans were building a tsunami of cash to float Putnam into Tallahassee, their opposition was chasing waterfalls. The internal conflicts are polarizing on an existential level, but rather than addressing their issues, resolving them, and then banding together to fight a GOP that has already hunkered down for what they expect to be a brutal, protracted defensive struggle, Democrats down here persist in painting each other as the enemy, and Morgan's statements will only exacerbate that tendency. Because that worked so well last year. There are many lessons to be drawn from this debacle, but the late social theorist Christopher Wallace put it best: "Never get high on your own supply." Maybe.

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