Florida Jewish Republican tears into DeSantis, endorses Trump

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida’s only Jewish Republican state lawmaker is dropping his endorsement of Gov. Ron DeSantis for president, writing in a scathing column that the Republican governor has not done enough to counter antisemitism in their home state.

State Rep. Randy Fine, previously a DeSantis ally, has pushed top priorities of the governor — including co-sponsoring legislation banning gender-affirming care for minors. He had such a good relationship with DeSantis that the governor at one point was backing him as a candidate for the presidency of Florida Atlantic University.

Fine, however, said that in the aftermath of the Hamas attacks on Israel, he is now shifting his support to former President Donald Trump. He touted Trump’s record in office, including his support for moving the United States embassy to Jerusalem and for brokering a peace deal between Israel and two Arab countries.

“The past two weeks have made me realize our choice as Jews is simple,” Fine wrote Monday in The Washington Times. “We can vote for the governor who says all the right things, or we can vote for the president who actually does them. When it comes to action, Donald Trump has never let us down.”

He also faulted DeSantis for not taking action against college students who have participated in pro-Palestinian protests, though DeSantis has said that, if elected president, he would cancel visas for foreign students who openly supported Hamas’ attack on Israel. Fine says students who espouse antisemitic views should be expelled from schools, pointing to a recent change in state law.

DeSantis, during a campaign stop in New Hampshire, called Fine’s Trump endorsement “pure politics” and said that Fine tried to become Florida Atlantic University president and “didn’t get it” and is now running for state Senate.

“He’s trying to ingratiate himself. Totally ridiculous,” said DeSantis, who touted his record regarding Israel, including his use of emergency powers to tap into millions of state dollars to pay for charter flights to bring back Americans from Israel.

“What other governor has rescued people from Israel?” DeSantis said. “I mean, like I marshalled resources. We brought back close to 700 people.”

Bryan Griffin, a spokesperson for DeSantis’ campaign, had also called Fine’s endorsement “shameful political theater at a time when Ron DeSantis is leading the charge to support Israel.”

Fine, in a text message, responded by saying that “what is shameful political theatre is the rallies taking place on college campuses calling for the extermination of Jews. And staying silent as Nazis marched across our state.”

DeSantis, who is trailing Trump in the presidential race, has long touted his support of Israel during his time as governor. He has sharply criticized Trump over his comments during a recent campaign appearance where he called Hezbollah, a group backed by Iran that has clashed with Israel, as “very smart.” Trump in that same appearance was also critical of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Fine was one of nearly 100 GOP state legislators who in May endorsed DeSantis’ bid for president just days before the governor officially jumped into the race. Fine also donated to DeSantis’ campaign. While Fine is just one legislator, his decision to withdraw his endorsement is another sign that the governor’s sway over Florida Republicans is starting to ebb.

Fine said that he told DeSantis’ campaign Monday night about his decision. He acknowledged that they tried to dissuade him from changing his endorsement although he did not go into any details.

A key question is whether other legislators will follow Fine’s lead even though DeSantis has two more years in office and could jettison their budget items and legislative priorities. State Sen. Joe Gruters, a Sarasota Republican who endorsed Trump, contended some of his bills were targeted due to his endorsement.

In his column, Fine took DeSantis to task over several items, including the state’s foot-dragging on creating a Holocaust memorial at the state Capitol. Legislators approved its creation five years ago but it still hasn’t been built. Earlier this year, legislators agreed to move the site of the memorial to a piece of property across the street from the current Capitol complex. Fine publicly complained about the ongoing delays.

Fine also criticized DeSantis for saying little about several sporadic neo-Nazi protests across the state in the last 18 months, including one near Disney World where participants carried both pro-DeSantis and Nazi flags. Democrats have repeatedly criticized the governor for not calling out these protests but DeSantis at one point said that Democrats were trying to “smear” him over the actions of a “half-dozen malcontents” and “jackasses.”

In September, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement arrested four people in connection for hanging antisemitic banners over an interstate highway overpass in Orlando. Fine was one of the sponsors of a 2023 law that prohibited individuals from displaying or projecting images onto a building, structure or property without permission.

Lisa Kashinsky contributed to this report.

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