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Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis’ first showdown at the Republican Summit in Florida

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The first major face-off between potential 2024 contenders Trump and DeSantis took place at last weekend’s Republican summit in Florida. As the governor, DeSantis likely hoped to gain an edge on his home turf. 

However, the gathering highlighted the ongoing power struggle between the former president and the Florida Governor. By the summit’s end, the balance of power in the Sunshine State GOP appeared to shift in Trump’s favor over DeSantis, underscoring the rising challenges the governor faces as he seeks to elevate his national profile. 

The clashes at the event set the stage for an intensifying rivalry in the lead-up to the next presidential primary season.

The much-awaited Florida showdown between Trump and DeSantis didn’t exactly go according to plan for Team Ron. Hopes were high that the governor could hold his own on his home turf against the former president. But scattered last-minute endorsements flipping to Trump made it clear who has the upper hand with Sunshine State Republicans.

The summit highlights the challenges DeSantis faces within his home state. Multiple state representatives, including Barnaby, Garcia, and Steele, swapped their DeSantis jerseys for Trump gear. Out with the new and in with the old? 

Team Trump stalwarts like Gruters kept their loyalties locked down tight. For DeSantis, losing high-profile in-state allies to the former president risks undermining his standing in a crucial early primary location.

It seems even the merchandise vendors at the event were feeling the temperature of the 2024 race. While Trump socks and rubber ducks were flying off the shelves, the DeSantis gear wasn’t quite so hot anymore. After slashing the price of the Florida governor’s shirts by a whopping 80%, even those bargains were barely moving.

It’s important to note that if either DeSantis or Trump emerges as the 2024 Republican nominee and subsequently wins the presidency, they would break new ground as the first Floridian to hold office, given that Trump is now a full-time Floridian.

In the past, prominent Sunshine State politicians like Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Bob Graham all sought but fell short in their White House bids despite Florida’s increasingly influential role in national politics.

Even Trump couldn’t defy the Floridan tradition, losing his reelection in 2020 after relocating to Florida that same year. While being a governor provides DeSantis home-field advantages, no candidate from Florida has yet proven able to parlay that into victory. As the primary battle unfolds, both men aim to achieve what no other Floridian has.

But do we really see DeSantis winning over Trump? Steve Avila, chapter president for the Log Cabin Republicans in Palm Beach County, says no, “He should get out,” he said, pointing to DeSantis’ early voting state polls. “He’s not going to win.”

Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, one of Trump’s biggest allies, seems to be excited that the legislators switching teams were feeling the energy of joining “Team Trump.” “There’s a certain energy that you get when you’re on Team Trump, and a few folks are feeling it for the first time,” he said. When asked who else he was working to flip, Gaetz proudly declared he was out to convert “everyone.”

Adding insult to injury, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, DeSantis’ predecessor as governor, announced his support for Trump, and without mentioning DeSantis, Scott proclaimed that “the one person running that can really bring strength back to our country.” is Trump.

While Trump is reveling in Florida love, DeSantis, on the other hand, is downplaying the endorsement flips off stage. “This happens in these things,” he told reporters, insisting that flips had occurred the other way in other states.

DeSantis seems to be waving off the efforts to turn Republicans against him, merely replying that “Politicians do what they’re going to do.” 

While DeSantis now controls Florida politics, Trump has been the dominant force in the Republican party since launching his first presidential bid in 2015. Trump helped boost DeSantis to victory in 2018 with his endorsement. Now, as their 2024 rivalry grows more personal, Trump sees DeSantis as disloyal. In his long speech at the summit, Trump took shots at DeSantis, mocking how the governor “begged” for his endorsement but is now like a “wounded falling bird.”

While Trump remains harshly critical of DeSantis, he is making a concerted effort to court Florida Republicans. Ahead of the summit, Trump offered grassroots supporters tickets to his pre-event rally, deliberately scheduled opposite a GOP debate he declined to attend. At another rally, Trump repeated how endorsing DeSantis in 2018’s primary helped secure his victory. In one moment, Trump dramatically impersonated DeSantis, breaking down and begging for his endorsement.

On the other hand, critical of his refusal to attend debates, DeSantis challenged Trump in a statement to Newsmax, “If Donald Trump can summon the balls to show up to the debate, I’ll wear a boot on my head.”, referencing the headlines Trump’s allies boosted about him, suggesting DeSantis wears lifts in his boots.

The Florida summit definitely highlights the uphill battle DeSantis faces against his once close ally turned top rival. Even other potential 2024 candidates like Nikki Haley seem to be overtaking DeSantis in public support at this stage. The governor’s job approval in his home state, usually his strongest asset, has started declining in recent months. 

Unless DeSantis can sharply change his trajectory, the events in Florida underscored how Trump’s power in the party remains supreme while DeSantis finds his support beginning to wane after what was meant to showcase his leadership backfired on his home turf.

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