Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis dropped out of the U.S. Republican presidential primary on Sunday and endorsed former President Donald Trump two days before GOP voters in New Hampshire go to the polls.
“Nobody worked harder, and we left it all out on the field,” DeSantis said in a video announcing his exit from the race. He said he didn’t “have a clear path to victory.”
The Florida governor’s second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses did little for him in New Hampshire, where tracking polls showed him stuck in the single digits. “He’s closer to zero than he is to me,” former South Caronina governor Nikki Haley told reporters at a Thursday campaign stop.
The final DeSantis stops in New Hampshire were in small venues, where political tourists and college students often got prime seats. Before a Friday night rally in Nashua, the perennial candidate Vermin Supreme climbed on a stage set up for DeSantis, leading a half-amused cheers from the crowd for “free ponies” and “zombie power.”
“I’m the ghost of Bootgates past!” said the candidate, who campaigns with an upside-down boot on his head. DeSantis told audiences that he would out-work both Haley and Trump, taking dozens of questions and pointing out that neither rival was being so open with New Hampshire voters.
“Trump’s running for his issues, Haley’s running for her issues — I’m running for your issues and your family’s issues,” DeSantis said, a line he’d developed in Iowa after Haley was endorsed by Americans for Prosperity and her super PAC got a check from Democratic donor Reid Hoffman.
DeSantis’ PAC may have hurt him
Signs began emerging in December that DeSantis didn’t have a future in the election, and there was a quick turnaround in support for his candidacy. Never Back Down, a super PAC supporting the Florida governor, started losing staffers in November. The super PAC handled many parts of DeSantis’s campaign — but in managing so much, it may have done the candidate a disservice, Semafor’s David Weigel noted. “One reason is subjective, though it’s an opinion shared by plenty of operatives: Its ads haven’t been very good,” he wrote.
As Never Back Down’s leadership became consumed by in-fighting, donors and campaign staff began to feel skeptical about DeSantis’s chances in the primary, Bloomberg reported in December. Campaign “operatives privately say Never Back Down has spent money irresponsibly,” Bloomberg noted, while the super PAC viewed DeSantis’s Florida campaign staff “as a group of novices, who have no national political experience.”
DeSantis couldn’t catch up in the polls to former President Donald Trump
DeSantis struggled to gain a foothold in his native Florida, and the polling gap between the governor and Trump continued to widen throughout his campaign. The state represented something of a turf war between Trump and DeSantis, and local government leaders rallied their support behind Trump. Among the issues DeSantis faced was upending the cult of personality which follows the former president, Jonathan Chait argued for New York Magazine. While Chait believed it was likely that DeSantis would be the favorite to win the primary, that changed after it became clear that Trump’s sway over voters would not so easily transfer to DeSantis.
Supporters predicted DeSantis’s campaign would fall apart
People who initially rallied behind the governor were “disappointed and demoralized,” one source told Politico in July, adding they expected other supporters would bail on the campaign if its trajectory didn’t turn around. DeSantis shied away from attacking other candidates with the same vigor they showed him, and refused to engage with the mainstream media, election watchers noted to Politico. “More than anything,” the governor needed to “focus on defining himself,” one analyst said.