In many places, posing with a golden idol of a politician would be weird. In Florida, it was just another Sunday—at least if that politician is the most famous Florida Man of them all, Donald Trump.
That’s not just because Florida is enthusiastically weird; like chilled-iguanas-falling-out-of-trees-and-conking-pedestrians-on-the-head kind of weird. It’s also because Florida is the emerging capital of Red America. Like Trump himself, the GOP seems to be migrating to the Sunshine State. Seven of the 10 largest states voted for Trump in 2016. Trump won four of the seven again in 2020, but only in Florida did he increase his margin of victory. The incumbent president was seriously droopy in Texas and North Carolina and stayed about the same in Ohio, but he shone in Florida. His victory by 3.3 points was the most decisive presidential win in the state since 2004.
The golden Trump statue, more Buddha than Baal, was certainly in the right place at Orlando’s convention center this weekend. The annual Conservative Political Action Conference was held in Florida this year because organizers didn’t want to comply with pandemic restrictions in metro Washington, D.C. But the quest for permissive gathering rules seems to have brought the event to its natural home. The annual gathering for mostly young Republicans has gone from a libertarian-leaning event where Ron Paul was a perennial straw poll winner to its new incarnation as a haven for the culture-warrior populist right where Trump is, ahem, idolized. This year’s theme: “America Uncanceled.” That sounds a lot more like Central Florida than the D.C. suburbs.
Whether Trump, who crushed this year’s CPAC straw poll, runs for president again or not, there’s a pretty decent chance that in 2024 Republicans will again nominate a Floridian. Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott are all in the mix and all have sought to emulate, to varying degrees, Trump’s new nationalism. Like Ohio, its longtime swing-state partner to the north, Florida has been getting more Republican in recent cycles. Meanwhile, Southern and Western states, most notably Texas, are moving away from the GOP.