Christian Ziegler selected as new Florida GOP chair in Orlando

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ORLANDO, Fla. — Florida Republicans elected Christian Ziegler as their new party chair in Orlando Saturday.

Ziegler will oversee what could be a tense few years for the state GOP, with Gov. Ron DeSantis widely expected to challenge former president and current Florida man Donald Trump for the party’s nomination for president in 2024.

Ziegler, the former vice chair under outgoing party leader Joe Gruters and a fellow Sarasota County resident, defeated Leon County GOP chair Evan Power during the party meeting at the Rosen Centre.

Outside the meeting, evidence of the potential party split was apparent. The usual merchandise table was divided between “Trump 2024″ and “DeSantis 2024″ flags, and not one but two cardboard Trumps stood their ground against a single cardboard DeSantis smiling off to the side.

The decision for chair was a generally close one, with Ziegler pulling 126 votes to Power’s 100, according to county chairs.

The media was not allowed into the meeting and Ziegler was not made available for comment.

A dejected-looking Power was hugged by supporters outside the room following the vote. After losing his leadership bid, Power was named the state party’s vice chair. He declined comment.

Glades County chair Stu Taylor, who stressed the importance of rural counties such as his own, said he had supported Power.

“But I will support Christian the same as I did Evan,” Taylor said. “He’s the chairman and we’ll move ahead from there.”

Taylor added he would support DeSantis in any presidential matchup with Trump.

“If DeSantis decides to run, I hope the Republican Party stands behind him,” Taylor said. “... I think he’s brought Republicans together "

Alex Rizo, the Miami-Dade party chair and a state Rep., said he had backed Ziegler.

“I think I think he’s a very good fit,” Rizo said. “I think he’s he’s got the right vision for what we want and where we want our state to go as Republicans.”

As for any potential Trump-DeSantis split in the state party, “we know that the next President of the United States is currently a resident of Florida. And that’s how we’re going to take it until we let the primary process play out.”

“I would love the governor to jump in,” he added. “He hasn’t said anything yet. But we’ll see where we are four, five, six months from now.”

There was already lots of bad blood between Trump and DeSantis, though still largely one-way. Trump has railed against DeSantis, slamming him as an “average” governor who came begging for an endorsement while “politically dead.”

This month, Trump posted on social media a photograph of what is purported to be DeSantis as a young teacher partying with teenage girls.

DeSantis angrily responded, “I don’t spend my time trying to smear other Republicans.”

On Saturday, Trump posted that he would “never call Ron DeSanctimonious ‘Meatball Ron’ as the fake media is insisting I will.” He then criticized DeSantis’ record and his loyalty before again insisting “it would be inappropriate to use the word ‘meatball’ as a moniker for Ron!”

State Sen. Gruters, R-Sarasota, decided not to run for another term as chair and instead unsuccessfully sought a national GOP position.

His time as chair included major wins for the party in 2020 and 2022, including a 19-point reelection for DeSantis and super majorities in both houses.

But it also included reports of infighting and troubles with DeSantis behind the scenes, including the governor’s push for a pay cut for Gruters and his efforts to have his own people in high-ranking positions within the party.