Ron DeSantis repeatedly pledged to “never back down.” His campaign even recently released a song from country singer Billy Dean entitled, “Never Back Down.” But now, the Florida governor is doing just that.
On Sunday afternoon, DeSantis announced he is suspending his 2024 campaign and endorsed former President Donald Trump, who spent the last year humiliating him. DeSantis’ decision to exit the race comes two days before the New Hampshire primary, in which polls indicate he would finish third. The GOP primary is now a two-person race between Trump and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.
It’s a stunning outcome for DeSantis: The two-term governor, who has been at the vanguard of conservatives’ culture wars, was previously seen as a top-tier challenger to Trump. That perception was based on both DeSantis’ electoral success in Florida and the staggering amount of cash he carried into the presidential race, stored in a super PAC called Never Back Down.
While the super PAC was supposed to be DeSantis’ biggest asset, the outside group has instead been blamed for his failure to launch — though the candidate’s lack of charisma, his unsettling mannerisms, and the vicious attacks lobbed at him by Trump surely contributed.
Now, if DeSantis wants to rebuild his stature in the Republican Party and lay down a path to run again in 2028, his only choice may be to come crawling back to Trump. According to sources close to Trump and others familiar with the situation, the former president has for months discussed his desire to detonate DeSantis’ future prospects on the national Republican stage — unless the Florida governor moved to shutter his 2024 headquarters and start pleading for forgiveness.
Aside from privately stating the necessity of DeSantis kissing “a lot” of Trump’s “ass,” the 2024 GOP presidential frontrunner has told some close associates that if DeSantis is “smart,” he will speedily endorse Trump and then beg the ex-president for absolution “like he’s never begged for anything before in his life,” according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter.
Further, a person close to Trump tells Rolling Stone that as the GOP presidential primary debates (which Trump shunned) were getting underway last year, the former president began joking that one way DeSantis could earn his forgiveness would be for DeSantis to quit the race and publicly admit that he does, in fact, wear high heels.
It’s a brutal end for a candidate who entered the 2024 campaign with high hopes and an unprecedented bag of cash, but failed to match that early fundraising prowess with appeal to voters. In late May, DeSantis seeded his allied super PAC, Never Back Down, with $82 million from a political committee he ran in Florida — in open defiance of longstanding federal election rules. By the end of June, the organization had reported raising more than $130 million.
Never Back Down pledged to “do things no other super PAC has done before,” testing the boundaries of campaign finance laws meant to ensure that outside groups operate independently from candidates. Despite that prohibition, DeSantis outsourced major campaign operations to Never Back Down — the group invested tens of millions on a robust field program, hosted and staffed events for the candidate, and helped share the costs of private planes that ferried him around the country. The super PAC also sought to raise donations for DeSantis online and via text messages, in an effort to use its soft money to build a small-dollar, recurring donor program for the campaign.
DeSantis’ reliance on Never Back Down for support only grew as he struggled to gain traction in the race, and donations to his campaign began to dry up. Internally, the organization was rife with conflict — some of which spilled out into public view. In November, NBC News reported that two of the organization’s top advisors nearly came to blows while arguing about a strategy for taking on Haley, who was beginning to surge. Many of the organization’s top officials resigned or were forced out.
In late December, Never Back Down canceled its TV advertising in Iowa and New Hampshire — just weeks before Iowa was set to hold its first-in-the-nation nominating contest. The group told reporters that ad spending would fall to a new super PAC, Fight Right.
“Never Back Down is laser focused on its core mission — running the most advanced grassroots and political caucus operation in this race and helping deliver the GOP nomination for Governor DeSantis,” said Never Back Down Chairman Scott Wagner.
That didn’t happen: DeSantis finished a distant second in the Iowa caucuses, roughly 30 points behind Trump. It’s been clear for some time that DeSantis will not be the Republican nominee. Now, he’s officially backed down.
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