ORLANDO, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was in Washington on Tuesday to greet a parade of congressional Republicans interested in his emerging presidential campaign. Former President Donald Trump promptly rained on that parade with a shower of endorsements, several of them from their shared home state.
Trump has secured the public backing of seven members of Florida’s congressional delegation, three of whom signed up within hours of each other Tuesday. Reps. Greg Steube and John Rutherford formally threw their support to Trump. Though a formal announcement will come later, an aide to Rep. Brian Mast confirmed that he plans to endorse Trump as well.
As pressure mounted over Trump’s racking up endorsement wins in Florida, DeSantis on Tuesday announced the support of Republican Rep. Laurel Lee. It is the only endorsement he has from his home state delegation. Lee was DeSantis’ first secretary of state.
“The only people who like Ron DeSantis are the people who have never met him,” Taylor Budowich, the CEO of MAGA Inc., said after the wave of Florida Republicans backed Trump.
Trump has gained significantly more congressional support than DeSantis, who is not expected to announce his formal bid for president until May or June.
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DeSantis spent most of his first term in office building a reputation among national conservatives as the aspirational ideal of what a governor should be, in large part because of a hands-off approach to the Covid pandemic. But after Trump formally announced in November that he was again running for president, DeSantis has been bludgeoned with near-daily attacks from the notoriously pugilistic former president. Since then, DeSantis’ popularity has declined in public polling, prompting some donors originally committed to DeSantis to question whether he's ready for the big leagues.
Trump now has at least a half-dozen Florida congressional endorsements from a 20-person GOP delegation. He previously picked up the support of Reps. Matt Gaetz, Anna Paulina Luna and Cory Mills, all of whom had long been predicted to side with Trump. But he was also backed by Rep. Byron Donalds, a DeSantis ally who introduced him at his 2022 election night victory party.
DeSantis’ political operation remains undeterred.
“The men and women of the Never Back Down are the voices of grassroots calling for Governor DeSantis to run because they see a fighter unafraid to stand up to the woke left and the media to deliver real results,” said Erin Perrine, a spokeswoman for the pro-DeSantis super PAC Never Back Down.
Donalds’ endorsement, however, surprised DeSantis’ political team and prompted adviser Ryan Tyson to reach out to members of Florida’s congressional delegation to ask them to hold off on endorsing Trump for the foreseeable future. Steube is among the members Tyson called but who still decided to back Trump in an interview Tuesday afternoon.
“I’m happy and honored to endorse Donald J. Trump for president in 2024,” Steube told Newsmax. “He’s the only person that can reverse, on day one, all of these disastrous policies of the Biden administration. And the type of things that have happened under the Biden administration would have never happened under President Trump.”
Brian Jack, who was a political director in the Trump White House, is heading up what campaign aides say is a coordinated effort to roll out endorsements — often timed with Trump’s travel to various states.
Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said: “We’re strategically rolling out endorsements to coincide with events that we put on. There’s a strategic way to do it to get the most bang out of your buck. We’re being very cognizant of that; we’re being very deliberate. There’s a plan for all of this.”
While Trump hasn’t been on the road this week, several Florida lawmakers endorsed him in rapid succession as DeSantis traveled to Washington to meet with lawmakers from across the country.
The meetings didn’t all go as DeSantis had planned. In a particularly abasing moment, Rep. Lance Gooden, R-Texas, backed Trump after he walked out of the DeSantis huddle at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
“I met with Governor DeSantis, and while he has done commendable work in Florida, there is no doubt in my mind that President Trump is the only leader who can save America from the leftist onslaught we are currently facing,” Gooden said in a statement.
Overall, Trump has endorsements from more than 50 members of Congress: 42 House members and nine senators. DeSantis has just three, all from House members.
Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, who offered an early endorsement of Trump's 2024 bid, said in an interview that he has encouraged colleagues to support Trump's campaign. Vance credited Trump's political advisers for locking down congressional endorsements and predicted other "marquee senators" could soon join the list.
Vance also praised the strategic timing of the recent Florida endorsements.
"They're rolling this stuff out with maximum effect," he said.
Republican former Rep. Francis Rooney of Florida, who hasn’t formally endorsed DeSantis but has praised him and opposes Trump’s re-election bid, said there is one reason for the early wave of Trump congressional endorsements: job security.
“The penultimate instinct of an elected official is to keep their job. And the base down here, many, they love Trump,” said Rooney, a longtime GOP donor who represented a deeply conservative southwest Florida House seat from 2017 to 2021. “Those members read that polling about his support going up after the indictment. Democrats were super smart to indict him. They would rather run against Trump.”
Rooney, who was the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican in the administration of President George W. Bush, said he still thinks that it’s early and that momentum will ebb and flow.
“At this stage in 1976, no one took Jimmy Carter seriously. At this stage, no one knew who Barack Obama was,” he said. “Things can change. People can peak early, and Trump definitely has more pitfalls to deal with.”
Matt Dixon reported from Orlando, Jonathan Allen from Washington and Henry J. Gomez from Cleveland.