Apr 20, 2023, 7:10am EDT

Trump’s endorsement spree is emboldening DeSantis rivals

Ron DeSantis in New Hampshire
REUTERS/Brian Snyder

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The News

If the Ron DeSantis plan was to clear the field for him to tackle Trump mano-a-mano, it's not working.

Sources close to other 2024 hopefuls are encouraged by his latest struggles, which they believe suggest that endorsements, donors, and votes are all still up for grabs.

“This idea that DeSantis is the clear alternative to Trump and has coalesced the Republican non-Trump party apparatus — it’s just simply not the case,” a senior official on an unannounced 2024 campaign told Semafor.

Trump’s come out swinging this week on the endorsement front — particularly with Florida lawmakers — while openly taunting DeSantis and urging him not to run.

So far, the former president has nabbed endorsements from eight Florida lawmakers and two more are reportedly set to throw their weight behind him in the near future. The list would mean that Trump will soon have half of Florida’s GOP congressional delegation and Semafor is told more endorsement announcements are in the midst of being locked in.


The rollout seemed timed for maximum impact. After DeSantis made a rare appearance in Washington for a meet-and-greet with lawmakers, Rep. Lance Gooden, R-Texas emerged and immediately announced he’d be endorsing Trump.

DeSantis did earn his first and currently only endorsement from the Florida delegation on Tuesday, when Rep. Laurel Lee announced her support hours before the closed-door meeting. No attendees came out for DeSantis after hearing him speak who hadn't already done so.

Some of the Florida lawmakers who backed Trump cited perceived snubs or slights from DeSantis, which served to highlight existing concerns that DeSantis struggles with basic human interaction — something other campaigns say they expect to be an ongoing problem. The most glaring example came from Rep. Greg Steube, who told Politico after his endorsement that, unlike Trump, DeSantis never called him when he suffered a fall that put him in the ICU.

“He’s not the type of candidate that I think is going to course correct after this because of how insular he is,” a senior advisor on a second 2024 hopeful’s team said. “I think it’s another piece of evidence in a theory that we’ve long held internally: That he’s not cut out for the long game.”

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The endorsements are of questionable value in and of themselves. After all, Trump famously didn’t get any significant backing from elected officials at all until he had almost won the nomination.


Does [the] Jane Doe voter in Iowa even know who Lance Gooden is?” one person close to DeSantis’ team said. “And if she does, there's about a 99.9% chance his opinion doesn't matter to her.”

And, as Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La. told Semafor, there is something off about Trump celebrating Beltway endorsements given his outsider brand.

“You could argue that President Trump has become enmeshed in the swamp, that he’s looking for people in Washington, D.C., to give him validity. It’s kind of ironic because that’s what he originally ran against,” Cassidy, who voted to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial, said.

But the news does contribute to a larger feeling that DeSantis is vulnerable and that his rivals are free to run a tough campaign against someone who just weeks ago seemed like he might enter the race as a prohibitive frontrunner.

It was significant this week that so many of his rivals — not just Trump, but Nikki Haley’s PAC, Chris Christie, and others — attacked him over his ongoing war with Disney, going straight at the core of his political brand.


DeSantis’ situation also isn’t quite like Trump’s was in 2015. His quickest path to victory was consolidating support from conservative leaders, interest groups, donors, and media to create a sense of inevitability and then peeling off Trump’s MAGA base from there. For a moment after the midterms, as Trump’s campaign flailed and DeSantis surged in the polls, it looked like it might work.

Instead, Trump’s team is now “trying to essentially knock the legs out of DeSantis’ campaign before it even gets off the ground,” as one Florida Republican strategist put it.

There’s lots of time for him to regain his strength — he hasn’t even announced, after all — but winning the nomination by acclaim no longer looks realistic, if it ever was.

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The View From A Pro-DeSantis Group

“Gov. DeSantis isn’t even an announced candidate for president and it is very clear that Donald Trump is absolutely obsessed with him,” Erin Perrine, communications director for Never Back Down PAC, said in a statement.

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Room for Disagreement

While we’re skeptical this week is a decisive turning point given how early it is in the cycle, some people are making bolder predictions. “Ron brought three fingers to a gun fight. Stick a spork in him. He’s done,” Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall writes, arguing that the Florida endorsements suggest catastrophic problems for DeSantis that Trump will be able to exploit.

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  • “He doesn’t like talking to people, and it’s showing,” a DeSantis ally told the Washington Post in a Wednesday piece focused on his campaign struggles.

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