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DeSantis suspends presidential campaign, endorses Trump

The announcement brought an end to the national rise of Florida’s ambitious governor.
 
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at his Iowa caucuses watch party on Monday, Jan 15, 2024, at the Sheraton West Des Moines Hotel in West Des Moines, Iowa. DeSantis on Sunday announced he is suspending his campaign.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at his Iowa caucuses watch party on Monday, Jan 15, 2024, at the Sheraton West Des Moines Hotel in West Des Moines, Iowa. DeSantis on Sunday announced he is suspending his campaign. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Jan. 21|Updated Jan. 22

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that he is dropping out of the presidential race Sunday, ending the long-held ambitions of the man whom his backers previously deemed “America’s Governor” and who had positioned himself as the torchbearer for the next generation of Republican leadership.

DeSantis made the announcement in a video posted to the social media site X just before 3 p.m.

“Following our second-place finish in Iowa, we’ve prayed and deliberated on the way forward. If there was anything I could do to produce a favorable outcome ... I would do it,” he said. “But I can’t ask our supporters to volunteer their time and donate their resources if we don’t have a clear path to victory. Accordingly, I am, today, suspending my campaign.”

In the video, DeSantis threw his support behind former President Donald Trump, despite ramping up his attacks against Trump on the campaign trail.

“While I’ve had disagreements with Donald Trump, such as on the coronavirus pandemic and his elevation of Anthony Fauci, Trump is superior to the current incumbent, Joe Biden. That is clear,” DeSantis said. “I signed a pledge to support the Republican nominee, and I will honor that pledge. He has my endorsement because we can’t go back to the old Republican guard of yesteryear, a repackaged form of warmed-over corporatism that (former South Carolina Gov.) Nikki Haley represents.”

The move suggests his team saw no viable path forward after placing a distant second behind Trump in the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 15, a state on which DeSantis had staked his campaign.

It was an unceremonious end to a campaign that previously had soaring expectations following DeSantis’ landslide 2022 reelection victory, a win that prompted many observers to predict that DeSantis could be the front-runner for the 2024 Republican nomination. Some early polls in late 2022 and early 2023 showed DeSantis leading Trump, in some cases by double digits.

But the reality was quite different.

Even after DeSantis’ campaign and supportive super PACs spent more than $100 million — including money spent to promote DeSantis in states that will now vote after he has dropped out — Florida’s governor could not pry Republican primary voters from Trump.

DeSantis was not expected to fare well in New Hampshire’s primary on Tuesday. DeSantis had consistently fallen into fourth place in that state in publicly available polls, behind Trump, Haley and ex-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, before the latter dropped out.

DeSantis’ departure highlights how difficult the path may be for Haley in trying to loosen Trump’s grip on the party, even as the former president faces unprecedented criminal indictments.

Haley was stumping in Seabrook, New Hampshire, on Sunday when she learned DeSantis had dropped out. Haley and DeSantis had been locked in a political brawl for months as it became clear they were in a heated battle for second place.

”I want to say to Ron, he ran a great race, he’s been a good governor, and we wish him well,” Haley said to the voters at her event, according to a video posted to social media. ”Having said that, it’s now one fella and one lady left,” she said to cheers.

In a statement, Trump’s campaign bashed Haley and called for “all Republicans to rally behind President Trump to defeat Crooked Joe Biden and end his disastrous presidency.” Speaking at his campaign’s Manchester, New Hampshire, office, Trump on Sunday told reporters that his favorite nickname for DeSantis, “Ron DeSanctimonious,” was “officially retired.”

Less than 24 hours before he dropped out, DeSantis had packed a town hall in Lexington, South Carolina — his third Palmetto State stop of the day — where he reiterated his stance that he would not accept the role of Trump’s vice president. He also addressed the prospect of endorsing the former president.

“(Trump) expects everyone to endorse him,” DeSantis told supporters. “And if you don’t, you could be the most conservative, successful elected official in America, and he will trash you.”

Within hours of DeSantis’ campaign suspension, several state lawmakers who had endorsed DeSantis for president announced they were switching their support to Trump.

“Nobody will work harder than I will in making sure we return President Donald J. Trump to the White House,” state Sen. Blaise Ingoglia posted on X, days after he’d flown to frigid Iowa to campaign for DeSantis. “Let’s gooooooo!!!!”

Just earlier in the day on Sunday, DeSantis’ campaign sent out a text to supporters asking them to “make your voice heard with Ron DeSantis.” And DeSantis had several events lined up in New Hampshire leading up to Tuesday’s primary, as well as Sunday appearances on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and CNN’s “State of the Union.”

When he pulled out of those interviews Saturday evening, spokesperson Bryan Griffin posted on X that it was because of “a scheduling issue” and that DeSantis would be traveling to New Hampshire Sunday morning for “public events scheduled Sunday evening through Tuesday.”

Once news broke that DeSantis was suspending his campaign, Griffin wrote that his Saturday post was true at the time, and that DeSantis’ decision “was made today after rerouted travel to Florida to make it at home with family.”

While his bid for president may be over, DeSantis will still be the chief executive of Florida through 2026. What was less clear, though, is how DeSantis’ once-enormous clout in Tallahassee could be impacted by this loss in the national arena.

“His ridiculous obsession with the presidency has had real consequences here, from his refusal to address our property insurance and affordability crises to the effects of his made-up culture wars,” said Nikki Fried, the chairperson of the Florida Democratic Party. “His lack of people skills and political instincts — not to mention complete inability to surround himself with a competent team — finally brought him to the most predictable place we could imagine: a whimper of an ending almost as embarrassing as his failure to launch in May.”

At his final campaign stop Saturday night, DeSantis took questions from the audience for about an hour before shaking hands and posing for photos with supporters near the stage. He left with a wave, saying “thank you” as Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop” played overhead.

Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau reporter Romy Ellenbogen contributed to this report.

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