Ron DeSantis drops out of US presidential race, endorses Trump

DeSantis struggled to connect with voters on a personal level and lost heavily in the Iowa caucuses.

Ron DeSantis waving in front of a campaign poster
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis entered the race as a major rival to Donald Trump [File: Alyssa Pointer/Reuters]

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has ended his Republican United States presidential campaign just before the New Hampshire primary and endorsed Donald Trump, after failing to emerge as a serious challenger for the White House against the 77-year-old former president.

DeSantis’s decision comes less than two days before the New Hampshire primary, in which polls showed him far behind frontrunner Trump and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley.

“It’s clear to me that a majority of Republican primary voters want to give Donald Trump another chance,” the 45-year-old said in a video posted on X on Sunday.

In the video, DeSantis went on to attack Haley, long his closest rival for second place in the primary race, saying Republicans “can’t go back to the old Republican guard of yesteryear, a repackaged form of warmed-over corporatism that Nikki Haley represents”.

At a Sunday evening rally in Rochester, New Hampshire, Trump set aside months of criticism and mockery of DeSantis to praise the governor, saying he was looking forward to working together to defeat President Joe Biden, the probable Democratic nominee.

“I just want to thank Ron and congratulate him on doing a very good job,” Trump said at the outset of his remarks. “He was very gracious, and he endorsed me. I appreciate that, and I also look forward to working with Ron.” Trump described DeSantis as “a really terrific person”.

Donald Trump waving his hands in the air at a campaign rally
Trump appeared more conciliatory towards DeSantis as he campaigned in New Hampshire [Mike Segar/Reuters]

Trump accused Haley of forming an “unholy alliance” with liberals, never-Trumpers and so-called RINOs, or Republicans in Name Only, to try and win the New Hampshire primary.

When DeSantis entered the 2024 presidential contest, early primary polls suggested he was in a strong position to beat Trump, who faces multiple court cases including for interference in the 2020 presidential election.

The Florida governor built a campaign war chest well in excess of $100m supported by a significant legislative record on issues important to many conservatives such as abortion and the teaching of race and gender issues in schools.

But he failed to make headway and connect with voters.

From a high-profile announcement on X that was plagued by technical glitches to constant upheavals in his staff and campaign strategy, DeSantis struggled to find his footing in the primary. He lost the Iowa caucuses – which he had vowed to win – by 30 percentage points to Trump, just ahead of Haley.

DeSantis and Haley frequently attacked each other in debates and in advertising, often more directly than they did Trump.

David Kochel, a Republican strategist who has worked on five presidential campaigns, said DeSantis’s exit was unlikely to change the basic contours of the campaign, given that his support had cratered.

“The race needs a big dynamic shift, and I don’t feel that DeSantis dropping out is that big a deal as he didn’t have that much going on in New Hampshire, and he didn’t even have that much going on in South Carolina,” he said.

Trump vs Haley

Trump holds a double-digit lead over Haley in New Hampshire, according to polls, and his campaign team hopes a second consecutive win will make his eventual nomination all but inevitable.

The one-time reality TV star’s campaign urged Republicans to rally behind him, dismissing Haley as “the candidate of the globalists and Democrats”.

“It’s time to choose wisely,” the statement said.

Trump also has a commanding lead in South Carolina, which votes on February 24. A Haley loss in her home state – where she was governor from 2011 to 2017 – would probably mean the end of her campaign.

At a campaign event in Seabrook, New Hampshire, Haley drew cheers when she announced that DeSantis had dropped out.

“For now, I’ll leave you with this: May the best woman win,” she said.

Nikki Haley speaking at a campaign rally.
With DeSantis’s departure, Nikki Haley is the challenger to Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination [Matt Rourke/AP]

With time running short, Haley has sharpened her attacks on Trump, blaming the former president for Republican electoral losses in 2020 and 2022 and criticising his praise for authoritarian leaders.

In a statement, Haley said the US was “not a country of coronations.”

“So far, only one state has voted. Half of its votes went to Donald Trump, and half did not … Voters deserve a say in whether we go down the road of Trump and Biden again, or we go down a new conservative road,” she said.

DeSantis’s withdrawal from the race for the presidential nominee also leaves his political future in question. The 45-year-old can only serve two terms as Florida’s governor.

His latest term ends in January 2027.

Source: The Associated Press