DeSantis ends 2024 presidential campaign and endorses Trump

Jan 21, 2024, 1:10 PM | Updated: Jan 22, 2024, 8:50 am

Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis greets supporters during a caucus night...

Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis greets supporters during a caucus night party, Monday, Jan. 15, 2024, in West Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Originally Published: 21 JAN 24 15:03 ET
Updated: 21 JAN 24 15:58 ET

(CNN) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who entered the Republican presidential primary as Donald Trump’s greatest threat, announced Sunday that he is ending his White House bid and endorsing the former president.

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His announcement, made in a video posted on X, comes after a disappointing second-place finish in last week’s Iowa Republican caucuses.

“If there was anything I could do to produce a favorable outcome, more campaign stops, more interviews, I would do it, 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,” DeSantis said.

He then touted his support for Trump: “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.”

“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 or repackaged form of warmed-over corporatism that Nikki Haley represents,” he said.

His departure leaves former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley as the lone Trump alternative in the race but without much time to consolidate support and catch up to the front-runner.

DeSantis’ decision came after days of conversations with donors. It became clear over the weekend that there was neither the rationale nor the financial support to continue his candidacy.

DeSantis and his wife Casey made the decision Sunday afternoon, surprising many of his rank-and-file staffers and supporters.

DeSantis called top donors personally and told them that he had woken up that morning and decided there was no path to winning and it was time to get out, two Republican donors with knowledge of the calls told CNN.

DeSantis told the donors that there was no reason to waste his time and money staying in the race. DeSantis said there was no path to victory with Trump in the race, recalling how he kept hearing from attendees at his events that, “if it wasn’t for Trump, I would vote for you.”

The two sources said DeSantis knows he is young and if he is to have a chance at winning the GOP presidential nomination in 2028, he needed to endorse Trump.

It’s a devastating blow to the promising career of a once-rising GOP star, and his failure to reach the lofty expectation of his candidacy has already sparked a wave of second-guessing from close allies and advisers. Some believe DeSantis took too long to attack former President Donald Trump. Others think his team underestimated former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.

More yet remain convinced that there was nothing DeSantis could have done to wrestle the party from Trump’s loyal and sizable followers.

“DeSantis has run the playbook to a T,” Steve Deace, a well-known conservative radio commentator and supporter of the Florida governor, told CNN in recent weeks. “It’s just as simple as: when they started indicting Donald Trump, people weren’t ready to move on from him. And for DeSantis, it wasn’t quite his time.”

For his part, DeSantis has blamed his performance on a host of challenges, including Iowa’s weather, conservative media’s loyalty to Trump and the unprecedented barrage of negative ads against him. One thing he hasn’t faulted was his main pitch to voters – his record of accomplishment in Florida – which he continued to feature in speech after speech until his final moments as a presidential candidate.

Last week’s outcome in Iowa proved an especially devastating blow. DeSantis had once vowed to win the state, then predicted he would perform well, claiming his ground game would reveal itself as a secret weapon. He instead finished nearly 30 points behind Trump and barely edged out Haley for second place, sapping his credibility along with the enthusiasm for him.

DeSantis vowed to fight on, but after Iowa, it was increasingly clear to many around him that his campaign had run its course.

Trump can now take credit for upending the political futures of three of the most prominent and promising Republican politicians in his adopted home state: DeSantis, former Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio (the latter two of whom he bested in the 2016 Republican presidential primary).

It is unclear what is next for DeSantis, who, at age 45, has three years remaining in his second term as governor before he is term-limited. In recent weeks, DeSantis has planted the seeds for a potential 2028 bid, claiming that some Trump supporters have already encouraged it.

“They were coming up to me saying, ‘We want you in 2028, we love you, man,’” the governor recently told reporters.

DeSantis had an inauspicious start on the path to White House contender. It wasn’t until his third term in the US House in 2017 that he began to make a name for himself as a loyal defender of Trump on Fox News. On the website then known as Twitter, Trump called DeSantis “a true FIGHTER!”

With Trump’s backing, DeSantis won the Florida governorship in 2018. DeSantis then spent the next four years charting a path distinct from his one-time ally. He found his lane as an unabashed and willing culture warrior who broke from the medical community during the coronavirus pandemic and dove into national controversies over immigration, education and LGTBQ issues, earning fawning media coverage from right-wing outlets along the way.

By the time of his 19-point reelection victory in 2022 – when a GOP red wave fizzled elsewhere and many Trump-backed candidates flamed out – a presidential campaign was all but certain. Republicans looking to move on from Trump saw a resume straight out of central casting: blue-collar roots, Little League star, a college athlete at Yale, Harvard law degree, Navy veteran and a photogenic young family.

Beyond that, DeSantis at that point had never lost a race.

“DeFuture,” declared the New York Post, the tabloid published by conservative media mogul Rupert Mudoch, the morning after the midterm election, with DeSantis and his wife Casey, a top confidant, splashed across the cover.

But DeSantis slow-walked his entrance into the race – there was first a book to sell and a legislative session to oversee – and, once in, he struggled to match those lofty expectations. More critically, DeSantis failed to convince other Republican presidential hopefuls that he and Trump stood alone atop the GOP and spent the 2023 summer running against a crowded field instead of the former president.

The campaign trail proved a challenging environment for DeSantis, who had grown accustomed to holding court and chastising media from behind a lectern. His political foes gleefully elevated his stiff and awkward interactions with voters. In eight months as a candidate, he struggled to articulate a coherent rationale for his candidacy and focused more often on his past accomplishments as a governor than his ideas for the future.

His campaign was also beset with cost overruns and shakeups that dogged him throughout the summer. A small group of loyal but inexperienced advisers in Tallahassee regularly clashed with the veteran GOP operatives who commanded his super PAC, led by strategist Jeff Roe. By the time Iowans caucused, the super PAC, Never Back Down, was on its fourth CEO, had undergone an exodus of staff and advisers and was no longer running ads.

Still, DeSantis remained a viable candidate until the voting started, a testament to a relentless appetite for campaign stops and media appearances. In Iowa, for example, he visited all 99 counties and had earned the support of the state’s popular Republican governor, Kim Reynolds.

But it was clear in the days after the Iowa caucuses, when he appeared tired and sounded dejected, that the grind of the campaign had taken its toll. DeSantis maintained, though, that he had no regrets about running.

“If I had been sitting on the sidelines, and Republicans end up losing in 2024, people then would have said, ‘Oh, well, you had the opportunity to do something, and you didn’t,’” he said in a recent interview. “So, any one can sit there and carp on the sidelines – get in the arena, and fight for what you believe in.”

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

CNN’s Kaitlan Collins and Jeff Zeleny contributed to this report.

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DeSantis ends 2024 presidential campaign and endorses Trump