Former President Trump is hosting a gathering Thursday night at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, for the growing number of House Republicans from Florida who have endorsed his 2024 presidential campaign.
That list — already at seven as of Wednesday night — grew by one on Thursday morning as Rep. Michael Walz backed the former president. “The many crises facing our country demands bold leadership like President Trump has demonstrated,” Walz wrote in a statement.
The number of endorsements is expected to climb even higher, as sources Reps. Gus Bilirakis and Carlos Gimenez of Florida are expected to attend the Mar-a-Lago event, and Republican sources say they could potentially make endorsement announcements. Sources close to Trump’s orbit confirm that Rep. Brian Mast of Florida is planning to formally support Trump in the coming days.
The launch of Trump’s third straight presidential campaign in November was followed by only a trickle of endorsements from Republican members of Congress. However, as Trump’s position as the clear front-runner in the burgeoning 2024 Republican presidential nomination race has become more pronounced this spring, the pace of congressional endorsements has accelerated. He can now boast the backing of roughly 50 House Republicans and nine GOP senators. He also enjoys the backing of Gov. Henry McMaster of South Carolina, the state that holds the third contest in the GOP presidential nominating calendar.
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The spate of Trump endorsements this week from Sunshine State federal lawmakers came as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a former congressman, was making a rare trip to the nation’s capital to host a reception for roughly 30 to 40 Republican House members and senators. While he currently remains on the 2024 sidelines, DeSantis is expected to launch a presidential campaign sometime after the Florida legislative session next month. He has been quietly building a presidential campaign infrastructure behind the scenes.
Trump and his allies have long viewed DeSantis as their top threat in the 2024 GOP presidential nomination race and have repeatedly targeted the Florida governor for months, with the pace of those attacks accelerating in recent weeks.
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“Ron DeSantis is blinded by ambition. Every day that goes by the party becomes more solidified behind President Trump. Those who know Ron best have abandoned him. If he doesn’t start to read the room he’s not just throwing away 2024, but his entire political career,” Taylor Budowich, CEO of the pro-Trump super PAC MAGA Inc. argued in a statement to Fox News.
DeSantis grabbed the backing of first-year Rep. Laurel Lee of Florida, who served as DeSantis’ Secretary of State in Florida before winning election to Congress last November, hours ahead of his stop on Capitol Hill. Lee joins Reps. Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Chip Roy of Texas in endorsing DeSantis’ anticipated presidential run.
“I think it’s time to have someone who’s not a baby boomer, somebody who can serve for two terms,” Roy said this week in a Fox News Channel interview, as he made a generational argument for DeSantis.
It is no surprise that Trump world unleashed a rapid-fire succession of endorsements as DeSantis made his way to Washington. That effort is being led by Brian Jack, who served as political director during Trump’s tenure in the White House.
“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,” Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said in a statement.
While many of the Florida lawmakers who have backed Trump have long been strong supporters of the former president, Rep. Byron Donalds, who endorsed Trump earlier this month, is a DeSantis ally. Donalds spoke at the governor’s victory celebration last November, when DeSantis was overwhelming re-elected to a second term in Tallahassee, and praised him as “America’s governor.”
The latest Trump endorsements come after an effort by the governor’s political team to slow down the pace of Florida endorsements for Trump. However, minutes after meeting with DeSantis on Tuesday in the nation’s capital, Rep. Lance Gooden of Texas endorsed Trump. Mast’s Thursday endorsement is also significant, as he succeeded DeSantis in representing Florida’s 6th congressional district.
DeSantis allies note that current support for the former president pales in comparison to Trump’s GOP backing for his 2020 re-election campaign.
“Donald Trump had nearly unanimous Republican support in 2020 and every voice that isn’t behind him now is a clear defection. Trump only has ground to lose on endorsements while Governor DeSantis, who isn’t even an announced candidate, continues to have a growing base of support,” Erin Perrine, communications director for the pro-DeSantis super PAC Never Back Down, told Fox News.
The surge in endorsements comes as Trump continues to pad his lead in the latest public opinion polls in the race for the 2024 GOP nomination. The former president enjoys a nearly 30-point lead over DeSantis in an average of the most recent national surveys in the Republican presidential primaries, with everyone else in the emerging field of actual and potential contenders in the mid to low single digits.
A Wednesday poll from the University of New Hampshire indicated Trump holding a 20-point lead over DeSantis in the state that holds the first primary and second overall contest in the GOP presidential nominating calendar.
Trump allies are touting the endorsements and the latest polls.
“The endorsements and also the polling both prove that DeSantis’ campaign is imploding before it’s even begun,” MAGA Inc. spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt claimed.
However, it is still very early in the 2024 cycle.
“This is good early news as he [Trump] tries to consolidate the Republican establishment around him. But it’s a long campaign and voters in the early states haven’t had their say yet, and they don’t really factor in endorsements,” longtime GOP consultant Ryan Williams told Fox News.
Williams, a veteran of multiple Republican presidential campaigns, noted that “early state voters make decisions for themselves and while this is good news [for Trump] and clearly part of an effort to try to snuff out Gov. DeSantis’ campaign before it begins, it’s not something voters will be talking about in three to four months.”
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