Donald Trump supporters are locked in a predictably epic battle for control of the Republican Party of Florida as two major candidates vie in next week’s chairmanship election in Orlando. Incumbent chairman Blaise Ingoglia is a close Marco Rubio ally who fought Trump in the primaries. Insurgent challenger Christian Ziegler, meanwhile, is a friend of the Trump campaign’s original cast.
With nine days to go until the election, Rubio pal Ingoglia, a state representative, is coming under fire in the swamplands. By Ingoglia’s own numbers, the state party has $1.1 million in cash for 2018. Insiders think his state party haul was only about $10 million during the presidential election, less than half of what the party raised in past cycles. Not good.
The Trump campaign did not trust Ingoglia when they went up against Team Marco in the Florida primary. Here’s Mr. Trump on March 12:
Word is-early voting in FL is very dishonest. Little Marco, his State Chairman, & their minions are working overtime-trying to rig the vote.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 12, 2016
Ingoglia, a World Poker Tour player, is about to face a charge-card spending scandal in the local press. Here’s the rundown: Ingoglia’s friend Richard Corcoran, who was Rubio’s chief of staff and is now the Florida House speaker, had a personal credit card managed by his twentysomething staffer. Ingoglia’s state party re-imbursed that credit card for $800,000 in fundraising costs. Ingoglia is going to have to explain some of those charges, which cropped up in Napa Valley, Boca Grande, and on private jets.
The full re-imbursement list is getting passed around right now in political circles. “Obnoxious” is the word that comes to mind while looking at the list. “Why is the state party paying for cigars?” and “More than $2,700 at the Broadmoor Hotel? Really?” would also be understandable reactions.
So, there’s an opportunity for a challenger to rise.
That challenger is named Christian Ziegler. He has driven 7,000 miles reaching out to state party executive committee members. Those members will cast the 202 votes to decide the chairmanship race on January 14 in Orlando. Ziegler will need about 120 votes to comfortably take down Ingoglia (he already has Governor Rick Scott’s ten votes…Scott is not a fan of Ingoglia and never has been. In fact, Ingoglia beat Scott’s choice for chairman in 2015, putting him in prime position to help Rubio in the Florida presidential primary. Scott was not happy). The vote is in-person but it will be a secret ballot, so the voters don’t have to fear intimidation from Ingoglia supporters or congressmen who don’t usually show up to this kind of vote anyway.
As a Florida resident, Ziegler’s campaign speaks to my demographic: Former Breitbart 2016 campaign reporters who wanted Trump to beat Rubio in the primaries.
For those of us who waged them, the Trump-Rubio Wars were no joke. At the time, Ziegler’s friend Corey Lewandowski was running a low-budget guerrilla campaign for Trump that came in second in Iowa and won New Hampshire. My Breitbart brother-in-arms Matt Boyle and I rode down to South Carolina for the first round of Southern combat below the Mason-Dixon line. There, Donald Trump pulled off the impetuous feat of getting booed by the entire studio audience at a Republican debate for bashing George W. Bush and still beating Rubio by ten points.
By the time the race went down to Florida, Rubio was on the ropes. The D.C. Establishment went to war against Trump, recruiting research nerd Joe Pounder to sketch out a list of fatuous Trump oppo topics that made their way into Rubio’s hyper-memorized stump speech (remember Little Marco’s grotesque “small hands” joke when he was trying to be Don Rickles?) Rubio sank and Trump swam. But we all knew that the war wasn’t over.
Christian Ziegler is not at war with Marco Rubio (he’s not) but I suspect that Blaise Ingoglia is still at war with the proud and industrious Trump rebels that went all-in for the outsider back when everyone in politics thought we were just bluffing with a two-pair. Sure, Ingoglia came around to support Trump, but did he actually do anything to help Trump win? The answer is no. He wouldn’t even put Trump’s name on the state party Victory Centers and his spokesman resigned as soon as Trump got the nomination. You think this guy is going to be jazzed up to raise money for Trump initiatives like building the wall and installing term limits? I don’t.
I called up Karen Giorno, who ran Trump’s operation in Florida until the final weeks, when she got promoted out of state to work for Mr. Trump nationally. Here’s what she told me about Christian Ziegler and Blaise Ingoglia:
I definitely side with Christian. For me as a political strategist and being on the Trump campaign in a high level position to deliver Florida, I am very concerned about state parties aligning with his agenda. When Christian told me he was taking on Blaise, it piqued my interest. Nobody ever takes on a sitting chairman!
Christian stayed neutral during the Florida primary but was as helpful as he could be, which I appreciated. It showed integrity. When we won Florida with 66 of 67 counties he immediately pledged his support for Mr. Trump and became one of our key advisory board members for Florida. He introduced me to Joe Gruters. Donald Trump invited me and Joe Gruters to be state co-chairs. Without (Christian’s) ability to be proactive in searching me out, I would say Joe would not have been in consideration, and he was instrumental in helping us win the state. Christian has great contacts in the grassroots community which helped us win this election. It was a core component to our victory in Florida in the general election.
I wish I could say the same about Blaise. He was a difficult character from the beginning. He was difficult on a grassroots level. Some would call it obstructionism. He was a difficult personality.
He was never helpful to the Trump campaign. Never. He gave me a hard time when we won the primary. The chairman gets 30 delegates to select for the convention. It’s a collaboration between the party and the the chairman. It was like pulling teeth. We got 5 out of the 30 that were actually full-on Trump people.
The narrative coming out of Blaise’s mouth is that he helped win Florida for the president-elect. (But) Tallahassee did nothing to help us. The local party folks were very instrumental. We went county by county and region by region.
If you have a part-time chairman who is also an assemblyman beholden to the House speaker and a relationship with the sitting senator, the likelihood that your resources go to the president-elect or the governor is unlikely. We already know there is a contentious relationship between Blaise and Governor Scott.
The governor and (Florida attorney general Pam Bondi, who is getting a Trump White House job)…have not raising money the whole time (Blaise) has been chairman. Why? The governor doesn’t trust Blaise with the money.
I also called up a member of the Florida legislature, who spoke to me on condition of anonymity. Here is what he/she said:
Blaise is the single most divisive figure of his legislative class…A sitting member of the legislature being chairman of (the state party) presents a lot of conflict of interest. Where does the campaign money go? It’s caused incredible strain in the House of Representatives…
(Blaise) is going for a second term (as chairman) because Richard Corcoran wants him to continue. I think it’s because Blaise will hold all the campaign money and Corcoran wants to run for governor.
As you know, Blaise is a poker player. Blaise is an opportunistic straight-faced poker player. This is Blaise seeking the opportunity to help his buddy Corcoran. This is about Blaise Ingoglia and Richard Corcoran. That’s what this is about…
…Trump won Florida because of Joe Gruters…and people like Christian Ziegler. Christian jumped on it from the beginning.
Blaise Ingoglia would not talk to me for this article. Will he be willing to talk to Trump supporters who want to make sure that we don’t get rolled in state parties by #NeverTrump double-dealers? Will he explain why he had to pay for all those cigars, dinners, and private jets?
Will the Trump movement be able to grow and consolidate its power in the wake of a historic victory? Or will the feisty Deplorables end up getting purged from the Republican Party of Florida photo scrapbook like we’re Kim Jong-Un’s disloyal uncle?
With nine days to go, it’s time for MAGA Nation to up the ante.
Patrick Howley is senior strategist at America First Project, an advocacy group for populist nationalist policy.