Ron DeSantis: Chronicle of a failed campaign

Ron DeSantis, once thought to be the frontrunner to face Trump, has decided to resign his presidential campaign today amid low voting numbers.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis has announced that he is dropping out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination and throwing his support behind Donald Trump.

In a statement posted on X, he said: “I believe that most Republican primary voters want to give Donald Trump another opportunity to lead our country. He has my endorsement because we need to reject the old establishment Republicans who are represented by Nikki Haley, a former governor who offers nothing new but corporate interests.”

DeSantis made his decision after a poor performance in the Iowa caucus, where he came in second place but was far behind Donald Trump. He also faced low poll numbers in New Hampshire, where he was trailing both Trump and Haley.

Haley, who served as governor of South Carolina and ambassador to the United Nations, responded to DeSantis’ exit at a campaign event on Sunday. She said: “He has done a good job as governor and I wish him all the best. But now it’s down to one man and one woman.”

DeSantis’ announcement marked the end of a long and painful decline for his campaign. He was once considered the frontrunner to challenge Trump for the nomination, as he tried to appeal to the same base of voters with similar policies but less controversy.

He won re-election as governor of Florida in November 2022, and in his victory speech, he boasted: “We have defended freedom. We have upheld law and order. We have safeguarded the rights of parents. We have honored our taxpayers and we reject ‘woke’ ideology.”

He invoked Winston Churchill, a revered figure among conservatives, and said: “We fight the woke in the legislature. We fight the woke in the schools, we fight the woke in the corporations. We will never ever surrender to the woke mob. Florida is where woke goes to die.”

He received a enthusiastic reception, with supporters chanting “two more years” and the New York Post calling him “DeFuture”, as rumors circulated that Rupert Murdoch was ready to abandon Trump.

But his campaign failed to live up to the expectations, despite having strong fundraising, a solid campaign team, high poll numbers and a popular wife, Casey DeSantis.

DeSantis’ hard-right agenda faced backlash as he clashed with Disney, a major employer in Florida, over its opposition to his policy that banned LGBTQ+ topics in schools. He also faced criticism, lawsuits and scandals over banning books in school libraries, an issue that haunted his campaign.

His campaign launch in May, a Twitter Spaces session with Elon Musk, turned into a disaster as the platform malfunctioned and crashed. The event host, the donor David Sacks, said: “We have so many people here that we are kind of melting the servers, which is a good sign.” Many disagreed.

In the following months, DeSantis appeared stiff and uncomfortable on the campaign trail. His campaign relied on social media and influencers, but it backfired as he became the target of ridicule and mockery online.

His campaign image suffered another blow in the summer, when he posted strange campaign videos on social media that featured far-right, white supremacist, Nazi and possibly homoerotic symbols. He fired the person responsible, but the damage was done, and his fundraising suffered.

He also faced controversy over his attempt to change history education in state schools, regarding the role of slavery in Florida’s history. He tried to provoke Democrats on immigration, by sending undocumented migrants to Democratic states by bus or plane. That policy ended up in the courts as well.

As Trump widened his lead in the polls, and as former governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley gained momentum, DeSantis tried to find ways to regain his edge.

In November, he surprised many by agreeing to debate a Democrat other than Joe Biden. The debate with Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, hosted by Fox News, was a flop. DeSantis showed a map that he claimed depicted the distribution of “human feces” on the streets of San Francisco, but he only generated more “poop map” jokes online.

DeSantis and Haley started to criticize Trump more openly as the first vote approached, but they still avoided direct confrontation, even on Trump’s claim that he lost the 2020 election due to fraud.

In Iowa, DeSantis secured some endorsements from the governor, Kim Reynolds, and some evangelical leaders and came in second. But that was not enough to boost his campaign in New Hampshire, and he quit before the results could show how far behind he was. He also had to deal with rumors about whether he wore height-enhancing shoes.

Democrats welcomed the news on Sunday. “As Democrats, we have been saying loud and clear that his strategy of creating culture wars at the expense of hardworking Floridians just to advance his own ambitions was wrong for the state and would be disastrous for the nation,” said Fentrice Driskell, the top Democrat in the Florida state legislature on Twitter/X.

Sarafina Chitika, spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee, said: “Like Trump, DeSantis ran a campaign promising to ban abortion nationwide, take away health care access, and cut Social Security and Medicare, while siding with election deniers and downplaying January 6. Whoever wins the race for the Maga base will have to run on the same harmful and unpopular anti-freedom agenda that voters will reject in November.”

The New Hampshire voters did not seem too bothered by his last-minute announcement. Two hours before an event he had scheduled in New Hampshire, there was no sign of the DeSantis campaign or his supporters at The Farm Bar and Grille.

A staff member said they learned from the news that DeSantis was not coming and said he had not paid for the space in advance.

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