NATIONAL NEWS

Trump celebrates DeSantis’ decision to drop out, ending a bitter feud that defined the 2024 campaign

Jan 21, 2024, 5:03 PM

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump during a campaign stop in Rochester...

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump during a campaign stop in Rochester, N.H., Sunday, Jan. 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

ROCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — Donald Trump set aside months of criticism and mockery of ended his presidential campaign and endorsed the former president.

For Trump, it’s become a familiar ritual to welcome the backing of someone who once tried to take him on. Nonetheless, it was notable at Sunday’s rally in New Hampshire to see Trump praise DeSantis without calling him “DeSantimonious” or “DeSanctus,” putting an end to perhaps the most bitter rivalry of Republicans’ 2024 campaign.

“I just want to thank Ron and congratulate him on doing a very good job,” Trump said at the outset of his remarks. “He was very gracious, and he endorsed me. I appreciate that, and I also look forward to working with Ron.” Trump described DeSantis as “a really terrific person.”

Earlier in the day, DeSantis said via video that he would be ending his campaign two days before New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation GOP primary. But, Trump’s glee Sunday night aside, it wasn’t the warmest of endorsements.

“It’s clear to me that a majority of Republican primary voters want to give Donald Trump another chance,” DeSantis said, offering matter-of-fact analysis through a forced smile without adding plaudits for Trump.

“I signed a pledge to support the Republican nominee, and I will honor that pledge,” he continued, before adding a dig at the remaining contender, Nikki Haley. DeSantis described the former U.N. ambassador and onetime South Carolina governor as a stand-in for “the old Republican guard of yesteryear, a repackaged form of warmed-over corporatism.”

Trump seemed unbothered by DeSantis’ approach, striking a tone of camaraderie as fellow political combatants. “I will tell you it’s not easy,” Trump said Sunday night in Rochester. “They think it’s easy doing this stuff, right? It’s not easy.”

Brenda Moneypenny, a 64-year-old from Alton, waited in the cold for two hours to see Trump on Sunday night. She whipped out her driver’s license to prove her last name and explained she is a registered independent who often votes Republican. Moneypenny said she has considered Haley, especially because of the chance to elect the first woman to the presidency. But she never considered DeSantis.

“Too flim-flamsy,” Moneypenny said of the governor. “He needs better campaign people. He doesn’t have anybody that’s doing him any favors right now.”

Ultimately, she settled on Trump: “Tried and true,” she said.

The former president seemed to revel in skewering DeSantis throughout the campaign, often making clear it was a personal grudge because he considered the governor’s decision to run in the first place an act of disloyalty. Trump endorsed DeSantis, then a congressman, in a competitive 2018 GOP primary for Florida governor. DeSantis went on to win the nomination and the general election. By the time DeSantis won a landslide reelection four years later, though, he was positioning himself for his own White House campaign.

As recently as November, Trump came to Florida and addressed a boisterous crowd at a state GOP meeting standing in front of a sign that read: “Florida is Trump Country.” That evening, Trump did not mention DeSantis until more than 30 minutes into his speech. Even then, it was to brag about polls showing his advantages over the governor.

“I endorsed him, and he became a rocket ship in 24 hours,” Trump said, claiming that DeSantis had begged for his endorsement. “Now he’s like a wounded falling bird from the sky.”

Trump never did debate DeSantis or any other 2024 rival. He has said he wouldn’t until one proves they are a legitimate threat to him winning the nomination.

DeSantis concentrated his campaign in recent months in Iowa, where he finished in second place in last week’s caucuses — 30 percentage points behind Trump and barely ahead of Haley. Haley, meanwhile, has long prioritized New Hampshire as a potential springboard ahead of her home-state South Carolina primary next month.

In Iowa, APVoteCast surveys of caucusgoers suggested DeSantis’s supporters were much more likely than Haley’s to consider themselves conservatives who would back Trump no matter what if he wins the nomination and faces President Joe Biden in November. If that trend holds in New Hampshire, then Trump could expect at least some boost from DeSantis dropping out, and whatever he gets could stretch out his margin and frustrate Haley’s ability to claim any momentum. Indeed, Trump’s aides have said they expect DeSantis’ support around the country will shift heavily to Trump.

Trump noted Sunday that he won New Hampshire’s 2016 primary by about 20 points. He lost the battleground state twice in general elections.

On Monday, he plans to be in New York at a civil defamation trial stemming from a columnist’s claims he sexually attacked her. Then he is scheduled to return to New Hampshire for an evening rally in Laconia.

___ Barrow reported from Atlanta.

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Trump celebrates DeSantis’ decision to drop out, ending a bitter feud that defined the 2024 campaign