As delegates from Manatee and Sarasota counties gathered for breakfast alongside other Florida delegates before the second day of the Republican National Convention, some of their baseball caps bore Donald Trump’s trademark “Make America Great Again” slogan. Others delegates, however, donned a cap they say embodies a goal that hits closer to home: “Make Florida Red Again.”
The Florida Grown Breakfast was sponsored by Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam and included speeches from former Congressman Lt. Col. Allen West, former presidential candidate Ben Carson, and Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton. At press time, Carson was also scheduled to speak Tuesday evening during the prime-time lineup at the Republican National Convention. Cotton spoke in the same slot Monday evening.
A mix of country songs and popular hits played as guests enjoyed chicken and waffles as well as orange juice — an attempt to move product, Putnam joked. There was also a “Florida-inspired” Bloody Mary bar.
The opening speeches were diverse in their messages, yet focused on an improved nation. Quoting Bible verses, West opened by urging delegates to show strength and courage and suggesting that GOP stand for growth, opportunity and prosperity. Carson followed with an impassioned stand against political correctness, which he claimed is another way of telling people to “sit down and shut up.” Cotton, echoing his Monday night speech, spoke about national defense and military exceptionalism, declaring that “America never retreats. We always advance.”
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Though national issues were prominent, the Sunshine State was the focus of the room. “Florida is a prize,” Putnam said in his closing remarks, claiming that Florida could be the “envy of the planet.” The way to achieve that goal? Understanding the importance of growing business – particularly by rewarding small businesses – which Putnam referred to as the “bedrock” of any state government.
Though Putnam did not confirm expectations for a 2018 run for Florida governor, Sarasota County Republican Party Chairman Joe Gruters and Sarasota County state committeeman Chris Ziegler were among those who saw the event as an example of Putnam’s fit for the role.
“He’s going to be a great Florida governor,” Gruters said afterward. “What Adam Putnam gets is the small things that really matter to people. He hits a home run every time.”
Ziegler was similarly encouraged, adding that Putnam is a “fantastic Republican [and a] good conservative.”
Putnam’s comments on business growth complemented Tuesday’s convention theme –“Make America Work Again” – a concept delegates hoped would aid party recovery after Monday’s at-times raucous proceedings. In addition to a last-ditch effort to deny Trump the nomination, Monday’s opening ceremony proceedings were marked by accusations of plagiarism in Melania Trump’s opening speech and comments by both her husband and campaign manager Paul Manafort criticizing Ohio governor John Kasich for refusing to attend the convention. Ziegler saw these setbacks as nothing more than “little speed bumps.” Responding specifically to Melania Trump’s alleged plagiarism, Ziegler suggested that the focus on her speech only detracted from Monday’s theme of American safety.
“That’s a paragraph out of a 20-minute speech,” he said (though critics argued that more than a single paragraph in the talk echoed a speech by Michelle Obama). “Really the focus should be on how much Hillary has actually lied to the U..S and the American public when it deals with national security interests.” Citing incidents in Libya and Benghazi as well as the nation’s relationships with Israel, Russia and Europe, Ziegler stated that Monday’s heavy emphasis on foreign policy and security effectively highlighted Clinton’s failure as secretary of state.
In regards to Tuesday’s theme, Ziegler noted that when it comes to putting Americans back to work, “who better than Donald Trump, who is worth billions of dollars and has employed tens of thousands of people?”
Gruters agreed, hoping that Tuesday’s focus on jobs would unite people after “small internal party squabbles” on Monday.
People are tired of the special interests in DC getting everything they want all the time.
“People are tired of the special interests in DC getting everything they want all the time,” he said. “Donald Trump’s going to put Americans to work. He’s going to change the status quo.”
According to Gruters, Trump is “laser-focused on jobs” and plans to place job growth as a high priority, making him a “champion of the middle class.”
Manatee native Carlos Beruff — who is currently mounting an aggressive campaign to unseat incumbent Senator Marco Rubio — echoed claims by both Putnam and Gruters, saying that small businesses are the bedrock of the United States, not just state governments. For Beruff, Trump will be a successful champion of small business growth because “he understands the complexities that businesses have to deal with.”
“I’m a homebuilder,” Beruff added. “At the end of the day, the federal government adds $10,000 to $12,000 to every house I build in regulations…it shouldn’t be that complicated.” Beruff believes a Trump presidency will help business growth in Manatee and Sarasota by making it easier to start and maintain businesses, specifically by such as labor regulation, minimum wage and the Affordable Care Act.
Though business and jobs were the focal points of the day, Tuesday evening was marked by the official nomination of Trump as the GOP presidential candidate. Ziegler was on the floor as Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., reported the 89 New York delegates that tipped his father over the 1,237-delegate threshold.
“The state of Florida is excited,” Ziegler said. “Our state was fully behind Trump. We’re ready to move forward, go into November and to beat Hillary.”
Matthew Zyle is a third-year student at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, where he studies English, film and journalism. He is Director of Design for The Observer, CWRU’s undergraduate student news publication. Follow Zyle on Twitter @mzyle1 to view his coverage of the #RNC for the Bradenton Herald.