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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis ended his flagging presidential campaign on Sunday, two days before the New Hampshire primary in which polling showed he was likely to come in a distant third behind former President Donald Trump and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.
“I can’t ask our supporters to volunteer their time and donate their resources when we don’t have a clear path to victory,” DeSantis said in a video posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “Accordingly, I am today suspending my campaign.”
By dropping out, DeSantis effectively ceded the MAGA lane to its creator. His effective exit puts Trump closer to a third nomination in eight years and perhaps within striking distance of another four years in the White House.
To say that DeSantis’ campaign is one of the worst in history is a stunning statement, but one that isn’t easily proven false. His launch via a glitchy Twitter rally—replete with server meltdowns, hard-right rhetoric, dodgy facts, and a cameo from Elon Musk himself—proved that the executive competence aura around DeSantis might be more hallucination than halo. Once officially a candidate, DeSantis proved an awkward fit for the hagiography that preceded him. Yes, DeSantis crushed his re-election bid months earlier, but what worked in Destin didn’t always translate to Des Moines.
The campaign itself oozed inauthenticity, and it was evident at every put-your-finger-in-the-air moment. DeSantis went to war on fronts as varied as inclusive corporate policies, diversity-focused coursework, college free speech, bathrooms and locker rooms, even Mickey Mouse’s self-governance at the Magic Kingdom. Availing himself as the quartermaster of the culture wars seemed like a good choice—until it wasn’t.
By the time DeSantis pulled up his anchor from Iowa on Jan. 15, it was pretty clear to anyone watching that the Florida Governor may have been enjoying the high-water mark of his bid for the White House. Sure, he came in second place in the lead-off caucuses. But he started the year in first, had the backing of the state’s popular Governor, and boasted the top money haul of anyone running for the GOP nomination. Ultimately, though, DeSantis trailed ex-President Donald Trump by 30 points on Caucus Day despite heavy spending: the DeSantis campaign spent about $3 million on ads and his super PAC dumped $35 million, essentially burning about $1,500 per eventual supporter in the state.
From there, the path forward seemed even less plausible. DeSantis left Iowa with about 21% of the caucus-going universe behind him. Next-up New Hampshire was even more grim, offering him mid-single digits in the public polling. Things were only slightly better in South Carolina, but it’s tough to ignore that DeSantis watched his support drop by more than half over the last year. Even in their shared state of Florida, Trump lapped DeSantis by a 3-to-1 margin in the polling.
Put simply: there weren’t a whole lot of reasons for DeSantis to summon optimism as he wrapped his work in Iowa, a legitimate operation that saw him visit every one of the state’s 99 counties and win not one of them.
The Trump, But Less Bad pitch went only so far. His team never effectively crafted him as Trump, But Better. The candidate being sold didn’t match the hype, and voters knew it instantly. Money woes, staff infighting, strategy brawls, even wardrobe choices befell DeSantis’ orbit. While counting on Trump’s supporters to transfer their loyalty to him, DeSantis was careful not to lay too tough a case at his former ally’s feet. Somehow, he expected defections to happen automatically without any effort at persuasion. DeSantis understood Trump’s ability to turn on former friends without any compunction. DeSantis knew loyalty was not in Trump’s toolbox, so he didn’t count on lingering familiarity for any protection.
Ultimately, DeSantis couldn’t make the case why MAGA-styled Republicans would line up behind his facsimile when the original article was just as viable—at least for now. Polls showed an utter indifference to Trump’s looming legal challenges among Republicans, and Trump is not incorrect when he says every case and lawsuit brought against him only hardens his supporters’ resolve to have his back. From that reality, DeSantis never was able to ding Trump for realities that would have disqualified other candidates, those who are beholden to the rules of political gravity.
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