Trump Plotted for Weeks to ‘Mindf-ck’ DeSantis With Florida Endorsements
The upper ranks of Donald Trump’s campaign and political operation exploded in jubilation on Tuesday, mocking Ron DeSantis’ staff as a bunch of “amateurs,” with multiple officials belly-laughing with one another over how much Trump had — in their verbiage — “cuck[ed]” the Florida governor on securing endorsements from the state’s congressional delegation, according to three sources familiar with the internal chatter.
Team Trump’s rollout of Florida endorsements on Tuesday was part of a plan to subvert DeSantis in his own state that the former president’s staff has been working on for more than a month, sources say. Trump’s aggressive, weeks-long outreach to secure Florida Republican endorsers this early in the game (when DeSantis hasn’t even officially declared a 2024 presidential run) has been spearheaded by top aides like Brian Jack and Susie Wiles, with the ex-president at times getting personally involved as well, the sources say.
By this past weekend, Trump’s inner circle was convinced they had a number of new Florida lawmakers ready to announce their support. Previously, the idea was to release the endorsements at once, likely Thursday or Friday of this week. However, by the weekend, plans had changed: It was decided that the Trump campaign would drip them out at different points in the coming days — including on Tuesday when DeSantis would be on the ground in Washington, D.C., trying to lock down his own endorsements from the Florida delegation. The ploy was part of a deliberate effort to, in the words of one of the sources familiar with the matter, “embarrass and mindfuck DeSantis” as much as possible, via a steady drip.
At least for this week, it seems to have worked.
Several lawmakers from the Florida governor’s home state threw their weight behind Trump on Tuesday, including Reps. Greg Steube, John Rutherford, and Brian Mast. The former president has now landed the support of seven members of Florida’s congressional delegation in Washington — with more endorsements getting scheduled for release in the coming days, according to those with knowledge of the planning.
NBC News reported that after Florida representative and DeSantis ally Byron Donalds endorsed Trump earlier this month, DeSantis adviser Ryan Tyson began trying to convince Florida lawmakers to hold off announcing their endorsements. Steube was one such lawmaker Tyson called, to no avail. “For the first time ever, I hear from DeSantis’ political person,” Steube told Politico of the call, noting multiple occasions DeSantis has snubbed him in the past.
DeSantis’ humiliation wasn’t confined to Florida. The governor met with Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Texas), only to see Gooden endorse Trump shortly thereafter. “Today, after careful consideration and a positive meeting with Governor Ron DeSantis, Congressman Lance Gooden announces his endorsement of President Donald J. Trump,” the announcement read.
DeSantis did lock down one endorsement on Tuesday, Rep. Laurel Lee (R-Fla.), who was formerly his secretary of state in Florida. It’s only his third congressional endorsement — the other two being Reps. Chip Roy (R-Texas) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) — which means Trump has secured more than twice as much support from DeSantis’ own backyard as DeSantis has secured … period.
The endorsement debacle isn’t the first sign DeSantis’ burgeoning 2024 campaign could be in trouble. Trump, leading in most polls by a wide margin, has been attacking the governor mercilessly for weeks. The former president has gone after his chief rival particularly hard over statements DeSantis made years ago expressing support for privatizing Medicare and Social Security. The statements were also the focus of an ad a Trump-aligned Super PAC released earlier this week that attacked the governor on Social Security — and was themed around a report that DeSantis once ate pudding with his fingers.
DeSantis has largely refrained from hitting back at Trump, and he has appeared visibly uncomfortable when reporters ask him to respond to news relating to the former president. Instead, he’s focused his ire on Disney, which opposed the anti-LGBTQ bill he signed into law last year. DeSantis has been trying to exact revenge on Disney World, one of his state’s biggest economic drivers, ever since. He threatened to build a prison next to it earlier this week.
Trump has delighted in the feud. “DeSanctus is being absolutely destroyed by Disney,” he wrote on Tuesday. “His original P.R. plan fizzled, so now he’s going back with a new one in order to save face. Disney’s next move will be the announcement that no more money will be invested in Florida because of the Governor — In fact, they could even announce a slow withdrawal or sale of certain properties, or the whole thing. Watch! That would be a killer. In the meantime, this is all so unnecessary, a political STUNT! Ron should work on the squatter MESS!”
The situation has gotten so dire that DeSantis’ big-money donors are starting to sweat, as evinced by messages from a group chat reviewed by Rolling Stone. “What the fuck is wrong with RD?” one wealthy donor wrote while DeSantis was on a publicity tour in Ohio as Fort Lauderdale experienced record flooding. Some donors were also put off by DeSantis describing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a “territorial dispute,” a euphemism that one might expect from Trump or his Putin-friendly allies, but not a traditional conservative. “My understanding is that the message was: ‘If we wanted a fucking MAGA candidate, we would donate to Donald Trump,’” a source familiar with a donor calling DeSantis to urge he walk back the characterization told Rolling Stone. DeSantis did indeed walk it back.
DeSantis is expected to formally announce his candidacy sometime after Florida’s Legislature session wraps up next month. He’ll be playing from behind whenever he does.