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Why Trump Feels Betrayed By One of His Most Loyal Supporters

If the president endorses a candidate, he expects total devotion in return. The agreement doesn’t go both ways

Donald Trump

President Trump

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Of all the Trump acolytes running for office this November, few are more loyal to the president than Ron DeSantis. The former congressman from Florida now vying to be the state’s governor has based nearly his entire campaign around his allegiance to Trump, so much so that he forgot to actually put a platform together. He even released a bizarre campaign ad in which he preached the president’s values to his toddler children while describing himself as a “pitbull Trump defender.” Trump offered his wholehearted endorsement, and DeSantis won the Republican primary handily. But according to a new report from Politico, Trump has grown displeased with DeSantis, whom he feels betrayed him by refusing to support the president’s claim that the Hurricane Maria death toll was artificially inflated.

Florida boasts a substantial Puerto Rican population, and it’s understandable that someone running for statewide office might balk at publicly supporting the idea that the nearly 3,000 people who died on the island as a result of Hurricane Maria did not actually die. Rick Scott, the state’s current Republican governor who is now running for Senate, was quick to dismiss the president’s conspiracy theory, tweeting that he “disagree[s] with @POTUS.” But it was DeSantis’ dismissal that rankled Trump. “Ron DeSantis is committed to standing with the Puerto Rican community, especially after such a tragic loss of life,” his campaign said in a statement. “He doesn’t believe any loss of life has been inflated,”

One would think that Trump would understand that Republicans running for office in Florida have a political need to appeal to Puerto Ricans. Nope. To Trump, there is no excuse for failing to the tow the Trumpian line, no matter how ridiculous, even if it comes at the expense of hurting an election bid. According to Politico, one person close to Trump described the situation as a “divorce.” DeSantis’ team quickly went into damage control. “Ron DeSantis knows first-hand that President Trump honored all requests for Hurricane Maria relief and it is sad, though predictable, that Democrats are wrongly politicizing this issue and that the media is constantly trying to drive a wedge between the president and members of his own party,” his campaign said in a statement. “As governor, Ron will continue to work with the president through his reelection and second term to accomplish great things for Florida.”

Fueling Trump’s ire is his belief that DeSantis owes him his candidacy. Trump endorsed DeSantis for Congress back in 2012, and for governor as early as December 2017. In July, he held a rally in Tampa to promote him. When he won the primary in August, Trump was thrilled.

The president hasn’t been shy about taking credit for the primary wins of candidates he endorses. When Brian Kemp won Georgia’s Republican primary for governor in July, Trump tweeted, “They say that my endorsement last week of Brian Kemp, in the Republican Primary for Governor against a very worthy opponent, lifted him from 5 points down to a 70% to 30% victory!” A week later, after Troy Balderson won a Republican congressional primary in Ohio, Trump was similarly self-congratulatory. “When I decided to go to Ohio for Troy Balderson, he was down in early voting 64 to 36,” he tweeted. “That was not good. After my speech on Saturday night, there was a big turn for the better. Now Troy wins a great victory during a very tough time of the year for voting. He will win BIG in Nov.”

The following morning, the president tweeted “5 for 5!” in regard to the five candidates he endorsed having won their primary the previous night.

Not all of Trump’s endorsements pan out. When they don’t, the president is quick to make excuses. During the special election for the Alabama Senate seat that was ultimately won by Democrat Doug Jones, Trump initially endorsed Luther Strange, who failed to win the Republican primary. His support for Strange was tepid, though, and after one rally Trump reportedly railed against his aides for convincing him to back the interim senator who took office after Jess Sessions became the U.S. attorney general. When Strange lost, Trump shifted his support to Roy Moore, who was later alleged to be a pedophile. When Moore lost to Jones, the president backtracked. “The reason I originally endorsed Luther Strange (and his numbers went up mightily), is that I said Roy Moore will not be able to win the General Election,” Trump tweeted. “I was right! Roy worked hard but the deck was stacked against him!”

More recently, Trump endorsed billionaire businessman Foster Friess in Wyoming’s Republican gubernatorial primary. When Friess lost, Trump blamed his own son. “I was asked to do that, by my son Don, and I did it, but I did it, I was asked the morning of,” Trump told the Daily Caller. “And by the time I did it I guess 70 percent, almost 70 percent of the vote was already cast,” Trump said. “It’s very much my gut instinct coupled with a lot of talented people that I have that know where these people have come from over the last two years,” he added of the candidates he endorses.

Though Trump has had success backing primary candidates, his fortunes might shift in November. Most polls now predict not only that Democrats will regain control of the House of Representatives, but that they have a no-longer-so-outside chance to take hold of the Senate, as well. This is largely due to the combination of a popular thread of progressivism that has run through the campaigns of several Democrats seeking office, and a general distaste for Trump, whose approval ratings have been dropping. Also a factor is Trump’s continued insistence that, as he tweeted in August, “we will have a giant Red Wave!” A recent internal survey conducted by the Republican National Committee and obtained by Bloomberg reveals that most Trump supporters don’t believe there is any chance Democrats can win the House, which could keep them at home come election day. “We need to make real the threat that Democrats have a good shot of winning control of Congress,” warns the survey.

One thing that’s certain is that if a Red Wave fails to materialize, Trump isn’t going to accept one iota of responsibility. Vanity Fair reported as much on Tuesday, noting that the president is already set to blame Republican congressional leaders if the party comes up short. “This is the election about Ryan and McConnell — it’s about those guys,” Trump reportedly told a friend in the Oval Office last week. If the GOP is able to retain control of both houses of Congress, however, it’s probably unlikely that Trump will fire off any tweets congratulating the House speaker and Senate majority leader.

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