Donald Trump had a message for Republicans about his 2024 presidential announcement: Endorse me now, or pay later.
In the days running up to the election, Trump made a series of phone calls to GOP lawmakers and other elected officials, demanding that they endorse him before he announced he’s running — or at least right after, according to two sources with knowledge of the conversations. The president said he was tracking who endorsed him early, adding that “those who waited too long” were “not gonna like” what happens when he wins. (Trump, who lost the 2020 election, has long operated the assumption that he’ll win back the White House.) Trump also said he was keeping tabs on who jumped ship for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis or other potential 2024 primary challengers, the sources say.
“He said it was ‘not a tough call’ to make and that there was one right move: endorsing him ASAP,” says one of the sources.
But Trump’s efforts to extort Republicans into supporting his third presidential campaign are not going well. He’s secured endorsements from diehard loyalists, but the party’s heavy hitters — even some who have previously been quick to stand behind him — have been hesitant to hop on board. When Trump announced his candidacy from Mar-a-Lago on Tuesday, Madison Cawthorn, the scandal-ridden outgoing representative from North Carolina, was the only member of Congress who bothered to attend.
Even some of Trump’s former official surrogates are, right now, noncommittal. Jack Kingston, a former U.S. congressman from Georgia who worked as a Trump surrogate before and during his presidency, once told Trump, “I’m with you and I’ll stick with you until the curtain comes down.” On Wednesday, asked if he is going to be Trump’s surrogate again or if he’s going to endorse Trump 2024, Kingston replied, “I am a free agent right now. Focusing on the Georgia runoff, among other things.”
Stephen Moore, another former surrogate and adviser to Trump, was similarly noncommittal when asked about an endorsement: “Not sure yet.” He said, however, “I think if Trump will stay on message about his America First agenda and not obsess about the 2020 elections, then he can be a real force.”
And while Trump was shopping for endorsements, he was dealing with defections: Two of his major donors announced Wednesday they would no longer be backing him. Trump’s former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, also appears to have cut bait, leveling a barely-veiled dig at the former president on Wednesday, tweeting that “we need more seriousness, less noise, and leaders who are looking forward, not staring in the rearview mirror claiming victimhood.”
For years, Trump’s blessing could make or break political careers within the MAGAfied Republican Party. And even through the 2022 GOP primary season, his endorsements vaulted several candidates from semi-obscurity to victory. But in the general election, many Trump-backed candidates did high-profile face plants, including gubernatorial candidates Kari Lake and Doug Mastriano, and Senate hopefuls Blake Masters and Mehmet “Dr.” Oz.
And so Trump’s “endorse-me-or-else” threats may not be landing with the same force. He’s been making them for years, repeatedly teasing that if he didn’t get his way, he would try to burn it all down on the way out the door. In recent weeks, the former president has attempted to gather salacious dirt and opposition research from several confidants, just so he can find novel ways to mess with fellow Republicans Glenn Youngkin, Virginia’s governor, and DeSantis, two potential 2024 rivals. Just before the 2022 midterm elections last week, Trump even publicly threatened to air some of that alleged dirty laundry, telling reporters he could “tell you things about [Ron] that won’t be very flattering.”
The party’s highest-profile leaders are, so far, holding off on endorsing, while signaling they welcome challengers to Trump in the primary. Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, as well as Sens. Josh Hawley, Tom Cotton, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy dodged or declined to answer questions from Politico regarding their potential endorsements. Sen. John Cornyn told the publication that he’ll “support the nominee of the Republican Party, but I think there’s likely to be a competitive primary election.”
Wyoming Sen. Cynthia Lummis, who voted against the certification of Joe Biden’s election as president in 2020 in a display of pro-Trump (and anti-democratic) sentiment, declined to say if she’d endorse him. “I don’t think that’s the right question,” she told Politico. “I think the question is ‘who is the current leader of the Republican Party.’ Oh, I know who it is: Ron DeSantis.”
Major conservative publications, including the Murdoch-owned New York Post, lauded DeSantis as the future of the party, and called for Trump to step aside as gracefully as possible. The Wall Street Journal went so far as to call Trump the GOP’s “biggest loser,” with the Post branding him “Trumpty Dumpty.”
Many of the current legislators who rode Trump’s coattails into office or relevancy were quick to sound off their approval. Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Paul Gosar, and Matt Gaetz were some of the first out of the gate. House Republican Conference Elise Stefanik wrote that she was “proud” to endorse Trump, who “has always put America First, and I look forward to supporting him so we can save America.” Following Trump’s announcement speech at Mar-a-Lago, Sen. Lindsey Graham tweeted that “if President Trump continues this tone and delivers this message on a consistent basis, he will be hard to beat.”
However, the bulk of Trump’s most enthusiastic 2024 support is coming from the sycophants who have made careers playing to the former president’s cult following. Cawthorn declared following the announcement that he will “follow [Trump] until the day I die. This man has bled for us, fought for us. I want a president who people are terrified of, who’s gonna push people out of the way.” Election denier and pillow mogul Mike Lindell, online personalities Diamond and Silk, conservative comedian Terrence K. Williams, and actor Jon Voight all pledged their continued support to the president, as well.
“Ron DeSantis should endorse our real president Donald Trump first thing in the morning!” Lindell told Rolling Stone the night of Trump’s 2024 announcement in Florida. Lindell, who was at Mar-a-Lago for the announcement, later added: “I told him after what a great speech he gave! Even my Democrat friends said it was one of his best ever!”
As of Thursday morning, there was no sign DeSantis would bow to the My Pillow Guy’s request.