Just as soon as it began, the Republican presidential primary election seemed to be over with Ron DeSantis dropping out of the race and publicly endorsing Donald Trump.
After frigid temperatures and low voter turnout for the Jan. 15 Iowa caucuses led to a decisive Trump victory, Republican candidate Vivek Ramaswamy dropped out of the race along with DeSantis – leaving ‘never-Trumper’ candidate Nikki Haley as Trump’s sole opponent. So, how did this come about, and is the Republican nomination for the general election all but set in stone?
The end of the DeSantis campaign, which was largely regarded by pollsters and Republican donors as the highest-likelihood option to beat President Biden in a general election in early months of the campaign, is something that many pundits and political analysts saw coming. The campaign’s lack of a concise agenda and distinction from the field of other Republican primary hopefuls was a major reason for DeSantis’s demise, according to one former DeSantis campaign staffer in a report by NBC.
After spending over $150 million to gain only 20,000 votes in Iowa, narrowly beating his rival and third-place finisher Haley by two percentage points, DeSantis’s speech after the caucuses seemed to suggest he had no intention of dropping out.
“We have punched our ticket out of Iowa,” DeSantis said at a campaign event following the count.
However, that punched ticket seemed to be for a one-way flight back to Tallahassee, Florida rather than to New Hampshire to continue along the campaign trail.
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts – Winston Churchill,” DeSantis posted on his X account, along with a video announcing his retirement from the race (although the International Churchill Society asserts that Churchill never actually said that).
“What harmed the campaign the most off the bat was that it didn’t have a clear purpose and message,” the staffer said. “No one really could articulate: ‘why Ron.’”
So, why was DeSantis so quick to endorse the man who he publicly scrambled with over the course of the last year? Self-preservation and prospects for future campaigns may have something to do with it.
“You can be the most worthless Republican in America, but if you kiss the ring, he’ll say you’re wonderful,” DeSantis said at a campaign event six days before the Iowa caucus.
DeSantis may have been onto something – after over a year of Trump calling DeSantis everything from ‘Ron DeSanctimonious’ to ‘Pudding Fingers’ and ‘Meatball Ron,’ not to mention suggesting that he was a pedophile in a Truth Social post, Trump quickly changed his tone after DeSantis offered his public endorsement.
“I’d like to take time to congratulate Ron DeSantis, a very great person,” Trump said at a campaign event following DeSantis’s announcement. “He was very gracious, and he endorsed me. He said will I be using the name ‘Ron DeSanctimonious,’ and I said, ‘that name is officially retired.’”
With only Haley standing between Trump and a third Republican consecutive presidential nomination, all eyes are focused on Haley’s home state of South Carolina – with the state’s primary less than a month away. But in a state where Trump beat Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz by 10 points in 2016, voters will have to decide whether to continue to support the former president or break rank to support their homegrown former governor.
“Ms. Haley did some fine things as governor, but Donald Trump is the man,” Doug Roberts, a retired electrician in Conway, South Carolina, told the Associated Press.
Voters will soon determine whether Haley and her donors can survive a loss in South Carolina, or if winning the state will even be enough to turn the tides in following state primaries, but one thing is certain: the 2024 Republican Presidential primary election is all but conventional.