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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis drops out of the presidential race, endorses Trump

Republican presidential candidate Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at a campaign stop at Pub 52 on January 15, 2024 in Sergeant Bluff, Iowa.
Anna Moneymaker
/
Getty Images
Republican presidential candidate Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at a campaign stop at Pub 52 on January 15, 2024 in Sergeant Bluff, Iowa.

Updated January 21, 2024 at 3:38 PM ET

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose hardline right-wing policies in his state garnered much public attention and made him an early favorite for the 2024 presidential race, suspended his bid for the Republican nomination on Sunday in a video posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

DeSantis also endorsed former President Donald Trump, the frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination.

"If there was anything I could do to produce a more favorable outcome — more campaign stops, more interviews — I would do it," he said. "But I can't ask our volunteers to volunteer their time and donate their resources if we don't have a clear path to victory."

DeSantis then proceeded to urge voters to support Trump, arguing that he is "superior" to President Biden.

"He [Trump] has my endorsement because we can't go back to the old Republican guard of yesteryear, a repackaged form or warmed over corporatism that Nikki Haley represents."

DeSantis' exit from the Republican presidential nomination field creates a path for former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley as the only conservative alternative to Trump's candidacy left in the race. Trump and Haley will square off in the New Hampshire GOP primary on Tuesday.

At an event of her own in New Hampshire on Sunday, Haley announced the news of DeSantis' decision to cheering supporters.

"He ran a great race," she said. "He's been a good governor and we wish him well."

But Haley quickly pivoted the focus back to the race on Tuesday. "It's now one fella and one lady left," she said, referring to the race between herself and Trump for the GOP nomination. "All the fellas are out except for this one, and this comes down to what do you want."

DeSantis came in second place in the Iowa GOP caucuses, according to results from The Associated Press, garnering 21.2% of votes, behind Trump, who won 51.0% of the vote. Haley placed third, at 19.1%.

There have been real questions about DeSantis' campaign after his distant second-place finish in Iowa. He pledged to continue and focus on South Carolina, but his campaign and super PAC supporting him, which had spent tens of millions supporting him, has spent nothing on campaign ads since Iowa.

A balancing act that failed to produce results

DeSantis' main campaign message was that he would be better at delivering the same kinds of policies that Trump would be in favor of, because he doesn't have the same baggage that Trump carries from his numerous indictments and federal charges. He vowed to rid the country of "wokeism," a term he often used to criticize liberal policies, win the presidency by a wide margin, and deliver on issues that Republicans care about — much like how he says he has in Florida.

"Donald Trump is running for his issues, Nikki Haley is running for her donors' issues, I'm running for your issues, your family's issues, and solely to turn this country around," DeSantis said in a video posted shortly before the Iowa caucuses began on Jan. 15. "I'm the only one that's beaten the left on issue, after issue, after issue."

DeSantis was elected to Congress in 2012, to represent Florida's 6th Congressional District, and came to national focus in recent years — namely, for how he's governed Florida. He became a favorite among conservatives for his policies in the state, ranging from attacks on gender-affirming care, to banning diversity and equity initiatives in public colleges, resisting public health measures during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and sending migrants who had crossed the border illegally to progressive states.

While DeSantis tried to carry his conservative record as governor into his presidential campaign, there were two things standing in his way: Trump, whose broad support among conservatives across the country remains unmatched; and DeSantis himself.

From the start, the DeSantis campaign was plagued with complications and personnel issues. DeSantis announced his campaign on a livestream with Elon Musk on X, formerly known as Twitter, only for the event to be riddled with embarrassing technical malfunctions.

More recently, a watchdog group filed a legal complaint about the structure of the Florida governor's super PAC, which had already gone through a series of leadership resignations. A top strategist in the super PAC also resigned following a Washington Post piece that detailed the PAC's internal troubles.

DeSantis looked to establish strong momentum in the early contests in the nation, campaigning in all of Iowa's 99 counties. He picked up the endorsement of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and evangelical Christian leader Bob Vander Plaats, who had a record of endorsing past candidates who went on to win the Iowa GOP caucuses.

But after the caucuses in the Hawkeye state concluded, DeSantis split his focus between the first-in-the-nation primary in New Hampshire, and the upcoming contest in South Carolina.

Toward the end of his campaign, DeSantis began to throw harder jabs at Trump himself. During a visit to New Hampshire in December, DeSantis said he thought Trump wouldn't accept the results of the contests.

"If Trump loses, he will say it's stolen no matter what, absolutely," he told reporters. "He will try to delegitimize the results."

NPR's Domenico Montanaro contributed to this report. contributed to this story

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Jeongyoon Han