Party Animal

He’s a former poker pro, motivational speaker, and YouTube celebrity. Now he’s leading Florida’s Republican Party.

Blaise Ingoglia
Blaise Ingoglia knows when to hold ’em, knows when to fold ’em, knows when to walk away, knows when to run … for office and win.

Florida House of Representatives.

Blaise Ingoglia is a minor YouTube celebrity, a minor real estate mogul, a motivational speaker, and a tournament poker player. He’s also in charge of keeping Hillary Clinton from winning Florida. Ingoglia recently became chairman of Florida Republican Party—no small gig, given the state’s major implications for the 2016 presidential election—and things are already complicated.

His win was a big surprise to many Florida political observers. On Jan. 17, he beat Leslie Dougher, the incumbent Republican Party chairwoman, who had the full-throated backing of newly (and narrowly) re-elected Gov. Rick Scott. Ingoglia also beat a Democrat in November to win a seat in the state House of Representatives, and he’d been party vice chairman since 2011.

His win as chairman has precipitated a bit of a Tallahassee foofaraw: The committee responsible for getting Republicans elected to the state Senate “yanked $800,000 out of the state party as soon as Ingoglia won,” reported the Tampa Bay Times’ Adam C. Smith, and one of his first moves as chairman was to put the rest of the party’s finances on lockdown, “[t]reating the party’s ‘George Bush Republican Center’ like a potential crime scene.” A few Florida political observers said they expect Gov. Scott to stop fundraising for the state party.

Some are interpreting Ingoglia’s victory as a win for the state’s grassroots activists, who will have more clout and be in a better position to force the party to the right. “It’s kind of a course correction to push the Republican Party a little bit more towards the conservative roots,” said Steve Precourt, former Florida House majority leader.

But that’s not undisputed. One longtime Florida observer said Ingoglia is loosely in Sen. Marco Rubio’s orbit. Peter Schorsch reported at SaintPetersBlog that Richard Corcoran, the next speaker of the House, “worked furiously behind the scenes to line up votes for his House colleague [Ingoglia], who already gravitated in Corcoran’s political orbit.” Corcoran was Rubio’s chief of staff during his time as Florida speaker of the House. One source said Ingoglia’s ascent is likely a bigger win for Rubio than for grassroots activists. That’s not to suggest their interests are in conflict, the source added, but just to point out that Ingoglia’s ascent shouldn’t necessarily be seen as another chapter in the grassroots vs. establishment narrative.

But this isn’t just a local story. The success of the Florida Republican Party has major national implications. Florida just passed New York to become the third-most-populous state, and since 1996, the presidential candidate who’s won Florida has also won the White House. And though the state’s demographics look increasingly favorable to Democrats, Republicans hold every nonfederal statewide office, and control both chambers of the state legislature. So the Florida Republican Party punches above its weight, and its ability to keep on doing so is vital for the success of the national Republican Party.

Enter Blaise Ingoglia. Heading up the Florida Republican Party is one of the less interesting parts of his résumé. You might know him from the World Poker Tour, where he won more than $300,000 from 2005 to 2007. One of his rivals for party chairman tipped off the Tampa Bay Times to this video of him playing in a World Poker Tour game and sporting an unfortunate greenish-brown button-down and a gold necklace. “I can assure you my wardrobe has gotten a lot better,” he told the paper.

You also might know him from Donald Trump’s 2007 Real Estate and Wealth Expo in Los Angeles. That’s where, according to the Tampa Bay TimesDan DeWitt, the future GOP power broker pitched attendees on get-rich-quick real estate investment strategies that cost some people a lot of money.  

But you’re most likely to have encountered Ingoglia through one of his Government Gone Wild! viral videos, where he offered a different pitch on wealth creation.

“We are now at the point where the best investment isn’t gold, it’s not the stock market,” he said in a 2011 video called “Land of The Freebies, Home of the Enslaved.” “It’s being poor. For every $1 in taxes the lowest-income families pay, they will receive an average of $10 back in federal spending benefits, a tenfold return.”

That video has more than 1.1 million views. Another, called “Brother, Can You Spare a Trillion?,” has 5.2 million and was one of the five most watched political videos on YouTube in 2011. His rhetoric is showy and dramatic. He traveled the state giving Government Gone Wild! seminars that touched on the same themes as his videos, and wrote in an April 2012 column that Obama’s re-election would be “the end of America as we know it.” He also stirred a brief controversy in 2008 when he said that Obama’s face would be on food stamps instead of dollar bills. He later defended the comment from criticisms that it was racially insensitive. “Race had nothing to do with that joke,” he said, per the Tampa Bay Times. “I’m offended somebody would think it was a racial comment.”

None of this has hindered his rapid ascent to the top of the Florida Republican Party. Indeed, a number of the Republicans I spoke with offered unqualified praise for the poker player-turned-Grand Old Party animal.

Will Weatherford, former speaker of the House who’s often listed as a potential Senate candidate if Rubio’s seat opens up, said he’s happy about Ingoglia’s new role.

“He’s got a high motor,” said Weatherford. “He’s very good on his feet.”

Ingoglia has plenty of fans outside Tallahassee, too. Radio host Burnie Thompson said he thinks Ingoglia’s win means activists will have more say in the party’s direction.

“He’s a very compelling guy,” Thompson said. “When you talk to him, he just is very, very convincing.”

Whether he can convince Florida to vote for a Republican presidential candidate for the first time since 2004 is still an open question.