Donald Trump is no stranger to the power of the photo op, and the image that emerged from his Palm Beach Mar-a-Lago club Thursday evening was a powerful one.
Under a massive gold chandelier in an opulent dining room, 10 Republican members of Florida’s congressional delegation flank the former president at a long rectangular table, with a red Make America Great Again hat at the head of the table pointed squarely at the camera.
All the members of Congress in attendance have endorsed Trump in his 2024 presidential bid over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is expected to run against Trump, but has yet to officially announce. Rep. Carlos Gimenez, a Miami Republican who was seated near the head of the table across from his wife, announced his endorsement Friday.
Seated next to Trump on his left is Rep. Byron Donalds, who represents southwest Florida, and had introduced DeSantis ahead of his victory speech last November, when DeSantis won reelection as governor by a landslide.
But in political terms, that victory, and the strength it signaled for the governor in his home state, seems like another century.
“The dam is breaking in Florida politics and it’s breaking toward Trump and away from Ron DeSantis,” said David Jolly, a former Republican congressman from Florida. “This is a humiliating week for Ron DeSantis.”
Speaking to Fox News Friday, Donalds, who may seek the governorship after DeSantis leaves office, said his endorsement of Trump doesn’t indicate a lack of faith in DeSantis.
“I haven’t stopped my support of Gov. DeSantis, we’re just talking about the presidency,” he said. “Our country’s in a real problem. You’ve got to be able to hit the ground running on day one. We know Donald Trump can do it. He did it once before, he can do it again.”
But other Republican politicians have been less diplomatic and criticized DeSantis for his interpersonal skills, long considered a liability.
Rep. Greg Steube, who attended Thursday’s dinner at Mar-a-Lago and represents the district directly north of Donalds’ district, told Fox News that DeSantis repeatedly brushed him off when he tried to connect with the governor.
“You can’t win friends and influence people that way, especially in the political realm,” he said.
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, himself a potential Republican presidential candidate, also dinged DeSantis for his social skills.
“He seems to struggle with relationships, generally,” Suarez told Fox News on Thursday. “I look people in the eye when I shake their hands.”
The dinner came several days after DeSantis traveled to Washington, D.C., to try to win support from Republican members of Congress. One of those Congressmen, Rep. Lance Gooden from Texas, endorsed Trump soon after meeting with DeSantis.
The Thursday meeting with Trump at Mar-a-Lago came as Trump faces a criminal investigation in New York in connection with hush-money payments he allegedly made to a porn star and continuing probes into his handling of classified material and his efforts to influence the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
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The Miami Herald contacted all the Florida members of Congress pictured with Trump at Mar-a-Lago to ask about the visit and to ask about the propriety of meeting with Trump as he faces numerous investigations. Along with Donalds, Gimenez and Steube, U.S. Reps. Gus Bilirakis, Vern Buchanan, Matt Gaetz, Anna Paulina Luna, Brian Mast, Cory Mills and Michael Waltz were also pictured with Trump Thursday evening. None provided comment.
State Sen. Joe Gruters, former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, was also in attendance, along with Trump aides Susie Wiles and Jason Miller, among others.
Beyond politicians, DeSantis’ support among prospective voters also appears to be lagging.
A Wall Street Journal poll released Friday found that 51% of likely Republican primary voters said they would vote for Trump, while 38% said they would choose DeSantis in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup between the two. That result was a nearly complete reversal of a December Wall Street Journal poll in which 52% of likely Republican primary voters said they preferred DeSantis and 38% said they would pick Trump in the same hypothetical matchup.
That turnaround in support has been stunning, particularly to political observers in Florida. DeSantis won re-election by the largest margin of any gubernatorial candidate in 40 years, flipping numerous counties in the state that had long been considered Democratic strongholds, such as Miami-Dade County.
His victory seemed all the more impressive in the context of a disappointing performance by Republicans nationally, especially among candidates backed by Trump.
But Trump’s strength in the polls and the show of support from members of Congress demonstrates his hold on the Republican party, Jolly said.
“Donald Trump’s grip on the party is real,” he said. “Every other candidate is positioning himself to be the bridesmaid.”
Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee Bureau Chief Mary Ellen Klas contributed from Tallahassee.