Ron DeSantis drops out of Republican presidential race

Ron DeSantis, the hard-right governor of Florida, has ended his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination and endorsed Donald Trump.

“It’s clear to me that a majority of Republican primary voters want to give Donald Trump another chance,” he said in a statement posted on X. “He has my endorsement because we can’t go back to the old Republican guard of yesteryear, a repackaged form of warmed over corporatism that Nikki Haley represents.”

DeSantis’s withdrawal in the days ahead of the New Hampshire primary follows a disappointing result in the Iowa caucus, where he finished second place but trailed Donald Trump by a large margin. In New Hampshire, his numbers were far behind former South Carolina governor Haley and Trump.

The withdrawal was the culmination of a long, agonising decline.

Related: His debate with Gavin Newsom showed Ron DeSantis will never be president | Lloyd Green

As recently as spring 2023, the former navy lawyer and rightwing congressman was widely seen as the Republican most likely to stop Trump becoming the nominee for a third election running, in large part by attempting to offer harsh Trumpist policies without the attendant drama.

In November 2022, DeSantis cruised past the Democrat Charlie Crist to win a second term in Tallahassee. In his victory speech, he crowed: “We have embraced freedom. We have maintained law and order. We have protected the rights of parents. We have respected our taxpayers and we reject ‘woke’ ideology.”

Referencing Winston Churchill, a near-mythic figure on the American right, he went on: “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 rapturous reception, supporters with an eye on 2024 chanting “two more years” and the New York Post branding him “DeFuture”, as speculation abounded that Rupert Murdoch was finally set to move on from Trump.

But despite formidable fundraising, a seemingly strong campaign structure, strong polling and a rising Republican star in his wife, Casey DeSantis, after a long run-in to a formal campaign declaration, little went right from the off.

DeSantis’s hard-right agenda ran into trouble as he chose to take on Disney, a dominant employer in Florida, over its opposition to his “don’t say gay” policy regarding LGBTQ+ issues in schools. Generating a string of stories, scandals and lawsuits over book bans in school libraries, the subject continued to dog the campaign.

In May the launch of that campaign, a Twitter Spaces session with Elon Musk, descended into farce as the platform glitched and buckled. The event host, the donor David Sacks, claimed: “We got so many people here that we are kind of melting the servers, which is a good sign.” Few observers agreed.

On the campaign trail in the months that followed, the governor came across as stilted and awkward. For a campaign focused on social media and the influencers who lurk there, the resultant string of mocking memes and threads could not have been in the plan.

Nor could a summer fiasco over bizarre campaign videos, posted to social media and featuring far-right, white supremacist, Nazi and arguably homoerotic imagery. A firing followed but the campaign’s image had taken another big blow, reports of fundraising problems appearing.

There was a scandal over an attempt to change history teaching in state schools, regarding the place of slavery in Florida’s past. There were attempts to troll Democrats on immigration, including sending undocumented migrants to Democratic-run states by bus or plane. That policy ended up in the courts as well.

As the polling gap to Trump grew, and as the former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley steadily moved through the field, DeSantis sought ways to fight back.

In November he took the unexpected step of debating a Democrat other than Joe Biden. The Fox News-hosted contest with Gavin Newsom, the California governor, proved little more than a sideshow. Brandishing a map he said showed the spread of “human faeces” on the streets of San Francisco, DeSantis succeeded only in feeding more “poop map” memes.

DeSantis and Haley became more willing to attack Trump as the first vote neared, if still with the gloves kept on, even Trump’s lie about a stolen election in 2020 proving hard to simply disown. In Iowa, DeSantis picked up key nominations from the governor, Kim Reynolds, and evangelical leaders. But other than Trump, the dominant force in the field, only Haley moved up in the polls, with DeSantis stuck fending off speculation about whether he wore lifts in his shoes.

DeSantis again shared a Churchill quote upon ending his bid. “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts,” he posted on X.

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