COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Ron DeSantis has yet to enter the 2024 presidential race, but former President Donald Trump is aiming to drum up support in the Florida governor’s backyard, securing endorsements already from more than one-third of the Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation.
Republicans hold 20 of Florida’s 28 U.S. House districts, and eight of those lawmakers have announced their support for Trump. They include Rep. Byron Donalds, who introduced DeSantis at his reelection party last year. Earlier this month, Donalds called Trump the only leader “at this time in our nation’s history who can seize the moment and deliver what we need.”
Rep. John Rutherford backed Trump on Tuesday shortly after leaving a Washington meeting with DeSantis. Others going with Trump are Reps. Vern Buchanan, Matt Gaetz, Anna Paulina Luna, Brian Mast, Cory Mills and Greg Steube,
In all, Trump has won the backing of more than 40 House Republicans across the country. His team, led by former White House political director Brian Jack, contacted some of those lawmakers, while others reached out to him.
Endorsements rarely have a dramatic impact on whom voters ultimately support, especially this early in a presidential primary. But they do signal which candidates are gaining support within a party. That’s important as Trump tries to assert himself as the undisputed leader of the GOP in seeking the 2024 nomination.
Trump’s endorsements are notable because they suggest his criminal indictment in New York this month did little to erode his support among elected Republicans. If anything, the charges may have enhanced his standing within the party.
“I think after the indictment, a lot of people were willing to be very vocal with their endorsement,” Trump spokesman Steven Cheung said.
DeSantis’ backers note that the governor hasn’t formally launched his effort, making it harder for him to get official endorsements. He has expanded his travel outside of Florida, making his first appearances Wednesday in South Carolina, where support for any GOP nominee is critical, and where a few state lawmakers have said they will back him if he runs for the White House.
So far, DeSantis has three congressional endorsements, including one from Florida, first-term Rep. Laurel Lee, who served as DeSantis’ secretary of state for more than three years. Rep. Chip Roy of Texas was the first House member to sign on.
Rep. Thomas Massie, who has endorsed DeSantis, acknowledged Trump’s growing endorsement advantage but emphasized that the Florida governor hasn’t yet entered the 2024 race.
“Ron DeSantis hasn’t asked anybody for an endorsement,” Massie, R-Ky., said in an interview Wednesday. “He can’t ask anybody for an endorsement because he is not a candidate for president.”
The real question, Massie said, is why Trump has yet to lock up more endorsements, given that the former president is essentially an incumbent.
“I’m not concerned that Donald Trump is getting endorsements and getting a lot of them,” Massie said. “He should have all of Congress. Why doesn’t he have the whole Republican Congress?”
DeSantis’ slow start in building out a national coalition underscores his long-standing disdain for investing in relationships with other Republican leaders. Fellow GOP governors and party officials regularly grumble about his tendency to ignore their public gatherings, fundraisers and conference calls.
In his recent book, DeSantis, who served nearly three terms in the House, referred to Congress as “grotesque.”
As a practice, DeSantis typically does not attend meetings of the Republican Governors Association. During the height of the pandemic, he did not participate in regularly nightly conference calls of Republican governors, according to Gov. Chris Sununu, R-N.H.
“All the Republican governors, for the most part, are pretty tight. We’re buddies,” Sununu said in a recent interview. “He didn’t get on the phone calls. He didn’t. He doesn’t come to our events. If he comes to a governors’ event, he shows up, makes a speech and leaves. That’s just him and his style. At first, we were all taken aback by it, but that’s just him.”
DeSantis’ unwillingness to engage with colleagues stands in stark contrast with successful candidates at the national level in the past.
Former President George W. Bush’s lengthy Christmas card list is cemented in political lore. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regularly sent handwritten notes to mark birthdays or graduations to local activists in New Hampshire and Iowa. Trump, before and after his 2016 election, was almost always on the phone with party officials, donors or business leaders.
Massie, who served with DeSantis in Congress for six years, said he hosted a private reception with him on Monday night, in part, “to dispel this notion that he is not personable.”
Massie noted that DeSantis spent less than 10 minutes of the two-hour event delivering a speech. The rest of the time, he said, DeSantis spoke one on one with other members of Congress.
“He surprised me with the degree to which he understood peoples’ districts,” Massie said. “He is a student of politics.”
Associated Press writers Jill Colvin and Steve Peoples in New York and Will Weissert in Washington contributed to this report.
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP