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Few Republicans echo DeSantis’ call for GOP chairman to resign amid rape accusation

Some of Florida’s most powerful Republicans — including Gov. Ron DeSantis — are demanding that state GOP Chairman Christian Ziegler resign amid an allegation that he raped a woman.

The vast majority of state GOP lawmakers, however, are staying silent.

On Monday, following the release of a search warrant affidavit that revealed new details of the allegations against Ziegler — including a description of concerned phone calls and messages to the alleged victim in the days and weeks following the alleged rape — Tallahassee Republicans seemed more eager to talk online about the snubbing of Florida State University’s football team from the College Football Playoffs.

Other prominent Republicans keeping things quiet include former President Donald Trump, whose allies supported Ziegler for the state party chairmanship over Florida GOP Vice Chairman Evan Power during a heated party election earlier this year. Representatives of his presidential campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The lack of public discussion from Republicans in the Legislature, a body that in recent years has fallen in line with DeSantis on most political and policy decisions, underscores the delicate situation the party finds itself in with four months left before the Florida GOP presidential primary.

It also accentuates Republicans’ hesitancy to oust members of their own party, even in cases when they are accused of committing acts that are seen as a stain on their party’s reputation and values.

“I won’t be calling on him to resign,” state Rep. Alex Andrade, R-Pensacola, said on Monday. “A single accusation made by an unnamed individual shouldn’t be enough to force anyone to resign.”

Ziegler, 40, is accused of rape by a woman with whom he and his wife, Moms for Liberty co-founder Bridget Ziegler, previously had a three-way sexual encounter, according to the search warrant affidavit. He has told detectives he is innocent and that he took video of the encounter, which he maintains was consensual.

Detectives say Ziegler told investigators that he initially deleted the video of the encounter, but uploaded it to his Google Drive once he found out about the allegation against him. Investigators haven’t been able to locate that video, according to a search warrant affidavit.

As details on the sexual scandal spill into public view, Ziegler has refused to step down.

“We have a country to save and I am not going to let false allegations of a crime put that mission on the bench as I wait for this process to wrap up,” Ziegler wrote in a memo to Florida Republicans on Saturday.

Ziegler’s defiant tone has led some Republicans to question why members of the party have stayed silent and refused to back DeSantis, who has called on Ziegler to resign.

“I am surprised that no more have asked him to resign,” state Rep. Spencer Roach, R-North Fort Myers, said about fellow Republican colleagues. In Roach’s view, Ziegler would be “delusional” to think he is benefiting the party by staying on.

DeSantis’ position has been echoed by some Republicans with sway. House Speaker Paul Renner and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo both called on Ziegler to resign on Monday.

“It is untenable for Christian Ziegler to continue as Chairman of RPOF and I recommend he resign his post,” Renner said in a statement. “The serious allegations at issue require his full attention and we need someone who can provide the singular focus the party needs.”

Passidomo echoed that sentiment.

“The Governor is the leader of our Party. I agree with his position,” Passidomo said in a statement Monday that misspelled the chairman’s name. “The allegations are serious, and will require Chair Zeigler’s full attention.”

Following those statements, Sen. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican, said he supported the position taken by DeSantis and Passidomo, and said Zieglier’s accusations have “become a distraction from the important work of our party for the future of our state.”

Most Republican lawmakers have avoided taking a public position on the matter — but Roach hopes the “floodgates will open” in support of Ziegler’s resignation now that Passidomo and Renner have publicly backed DeSantis, the de facto leader of the state party.

The Miami Herald sought comment from incoming House Speaker Daniel Perez, R-Miami, and incoming Senate President Ben Albritton, R-Wauchula, on the matter. Neither responded to requests for comment.

The governor’s office also did not respond when asked whether he believes Bridget Ziegler should step down from her posts in the Sarasota County School Board and the board DeSantis has appointed to oversee Walt Disney’s theme parks.

Roach, for example, said he believes Bridget Ziegler should resign.

“The hypocrisy is the number one reason they should resign,” Roach said, pointing to the Zieglers’ push for traditional values in public schools. “I don’t see how they ever get past that.”

Sarasota School Board member Bridget Ziegler and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, seen on Sunday, Aug. 21, 2022.
Sarasota School Board member Bridget Ziegler and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, seen on Sunday, Aug. 21, 2022.

Neither Christian nor Bridget Ziegler responded to messages seeking comment. In a statement last week, Christian Ziegler’s lawyer Derek Byrd said that his client was cooperating with law enforcement in their investigation and insisted that Ziegler would eventually be cleared of any wrongdoing.

Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Nikki Fried was among the first state leaders to call for Ziegler to step down, saying in a statement last Thursday that he “can’t possibly continue to lead the Florida GOP under these conditions. Making the situation even worse for Ziegler, she said, is his and his wife’s outspoken advocacy for conservative cultural values and criticism of anything that could be construed as a “non-traditional sexual relationship.”

State Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book, of Plantation, also called for Ziegler’s resignation on Monday. House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell, of Tampa, said the decision to have Ziegler resign his post from the state party should not be viewed through a partisan lens.

“With allegations this serious that is the only answer,” Driskell told reporters on Monday. “For him not to resign, frankly, would send a chilling message to the women of Florida about how the Republican Party views sexual assault.”