Apr 19, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Trump takes DeSantis fight to Florida

118th Congressional Republicans' endorsements, by 2024 presidential candidate
Data: Axios research. Chart: Axios Visuals. DeSantis has not officially declared. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) is considered an endorsement for himself.

Former President Trump is pushing his fight deep into Gov. Ron Desantis' backyard in Florida, picking a fight over Disney and picking off Sunshine State lawmakers, one by one.

Why it matters: Trump sees DeSantis as his only threat for the nomination — and has told aides he will pound him relentlessly with name-calling and policy attacks.

DeSantis earned his first congressional endorsement from a member of the Florida delegation today — Rep. Laurel Lee — hours before meeting with three dozen members of Congress on Capitol Hill.

  • That was quickly overshadowed by news that Reps. John Rutherford and Brian Mast would become the sixth and seventh House Republicans from Florida to endorse Trump.
  • Josh Kraushaar tweeted: "No surprise that DeSantis wasn't going to get [Floridian U.S. Reps.] Matt Gaetz or Anna Paulina Luna. But to lose Greg Steube, Brian Mast and Byron Donalds — the type of FL Republicans you'd expect to be on the DeSantis bandwagon — is a leading indicator something not right with the [DeSantis] outreach."

DeSantis, who has been endorsed by Reps. Chip Roy (R-Texas) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), trails Trump significantly in 2o24 polls.

  • NBC News reported last week that DeSantis' team had called at least six members of the Florida delegation, including Lee, to try to stop them from endorsing Trump.

Massie — a rising GOP star who was a host of the governor's Capitol Hill event yesterday — noted the significant protester presence.

  • "[D]ogs don't bark at parked cars," Massie told Axios. "If you're trying to rally Republicans to a cause and a bunch of extreme leftists show up, it's not a bad thing."

Trump continues to troll DeSantis from Palm Beach, Fla., posting yesterday after the governor made new threats against Disney: "DeSanctus is being absolutely destroyed by Disney. His original P.R. plan fizzled, so now he’s going back with a new one in order to save face."

  • DeSantis suggested Monday, perhaps partly tongue in cheek, that Florida could build a competing theme park or even a prison near Walt Disney World: "I think the possibilities are endless."

Reality check: At home, DeSantis is racking up wins after his 19-point landslide re-election in November. A Washington Post front-page story today is headlined, "DeSantis amasses power — and puts it to use ... How DeSantis became Florida’s most powerful governor in a generation."

  • With the GOP holding veto-proof control of the state House and Senate, DeSantis is using the current legislative sessions to swiftly advance an agenda to "remake the state to his vision," the Post writes.
  • He says in his book — "The Courage to Be Free," which will be on the New York Times bestseller list next Sunday for the sixth week in a row — that he ultimately aims to "Make America Florida."

To cap DeSantis' bad day, Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Texas) tweeted last evening: "Today, after careful consideration and a positive meeting with Governor DeSantis, I have decided to endorse President @realDonaldTrump for 2024."

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