Inside the final hours of Ron DeSantis' ill-fated campaign

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MANCHESTER, N.H. — On Sunday morning, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis summoned several of his closest advisers to the Governor's Mansion in Tallahassee for a final conversation about his presidential campaign's future, according to a person familiar with the discussion.

Then, DeSantis and his wife, Casey, left the advisers to have a private conversation in the upstairs residence. They decided he would pull the plug on a campaign that had no reasonable path forward. By the time they returned to the advisers, DeSantis had written down lines that would form part of the announcement that he was suspending the campaign.

The discussions at the Governor's Mansion were the culmination of nearly a week of conversations between DeSantis and his advisers that began last Monday night, shortly after he placed a distant second to former President Donald Trump in the Iowa caucuses.

Florida Governor and 2024 Republican presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis has dropped out of the US presidential race. (Christian Monterrosa / AFP - Getty Images)
Florida Governor and 2024 Republican presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis has dropped out of the US presidential race. (Christian Monterrosa / AFP - Getty Images)

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, one of DeSantis' most prominent backers, traveled to Tallahassee for the final round of discussions, helping DeSantis weigh the merits of exiting the race before the New Hampshire primary and the pros and cons of endorsing Trump, according to people familiar with his role.

Reached by phone Sunday night, Roy said he has been "continuously talking to the governor" during the campaign and thinks "he took the right step" in cutting the campaign short and endorsing Trump. He declined to detail his conversations with DeSantis.

DeSantis had hoped to carry his primary fight against Trump and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley past this week's New Hampshire primary and into South Carolina, where his advisers believed he would at least have a chance to gain some traction over the next month.

U.S. President Donald Trump holds a
U.S. President Donald Trump holds a

But money was drying up. His campaign and its allied super PACs couldn't raise enough to replenish the tens of millions of dollars that had been spent in a vain bid to win Iowa. DeSantis wanted to understand what had happened in Iowa and why — and what his outlook was in the coming states on the calendar. He peppered advisers with questions while he continued to campaign.

For several days, DeSantis caromed around the East Coast, dropping in and out of South Carolina, New Hampshire and Florida, without any discernible change in his fortunes. Apparent decisions to focus on South Carolina at the expense of New Hampshire were signaled to the media, taken back and then reshuffled again. All the while, polls showed him in single digits in New Hampshire, positioned to finish far behind both Trump and Haley, and South Carolina didn’t look much better.

By Thursday, "the information gaps were closed," said the person familiar with DeSantis' deliberations. But DeSantis wanted to visit with voters one more time, and he traveled to New Hampshire and South Carolina to get a last look at the electorate. After his last event in South Carolina on Saturday, he traveled home to Tallahassee, where he would make his final call.

In the hours before he announced his decision to suspend the campaign, he canceled planned appearances on Sunday television shows, including NBC's "Meet the Press," which led allies and adversaries alike to conclude he was on his way out.

“Everyone wanted to stay in until South Carolina, but raising money became so hard, and it was not going to get easier,” a DeSantis adviser said.

DeSantis announced his departure in a post on X, in which he also endorsed Trump.

"They have had obvious huge policy differences, but he sees Nikki as a corporate sellout and globalist and, outside of Covid, philosophically agrees with Trump,” the adviser said. “That decision needed to be made, as far as he is concerned.”

DeSantis had criticized Trump during the campaign for issuing federal guidelines on social distancing and masking and for promoting vaccines in response to the coronavirus pandemic. But there was consensus within his inner circle that endorsing Trump was the right move, said three people familiar with their views.

Until it was announced, the decision was kept to a close circle of advisers: A campaign surrogate, donor Dan Eberhart, was en route to New Hampshire when he found out the campaign had been ended. Several other aides to DeSantis' campaign and super PACs said they weren’t told in advance.

Neither DeSantis nor his advisers had any negotiation or discussion with Trump’s team, a senior Trump adviser said.

The denouement didn’t come as a surprise to DeSantis allies, but the timing did.

"I am not shocked," Eberhart said. “I thought he would have been the best president, but he wasn’t the best candidate.”

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Campaigns For President In New Hampshire (Brandon Bell / Getty Images)
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Campaigns For President In New Hampshire (Brandon Bell / Getty Images)

DeSantis, who at one point looked like a serious threat to Trump's third consecutive nomination, absorbed attacks from the former president for months before he entered the race in May. His early forays on the campaign trail included numerous awkward interactions with voters and the news media in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Trump's camp mocked him for a technological malfunction that undercut his campaign launch on what was then called Twitter Spaces, for reportedly eating pudding with his fingers and for wearing boots with heels that gave him an extra couple of inches of height.

Trump routinely ridiculed him as "Ron DeSanctimonious."

DeSantis' poll numbers began to slide amid the early attacks and as some Republican voters rallied to Trump after his indictment in a hush-money case in New York, which was followed by indictments in three other jurisdictions.

Though he was clearly more comfortable on the stump in the final phases of the campaign — as well as on the debate stage — DeSantis couldn't overcome a series of strategic, tactical and rhetorical blunders.

DeSantis’ campaign overspent in the summer and had to cut its staffing. He farmed out much of the work for his campaign to a super PAC called Never Back Down, to which he had transferred more than $80 million in leftover state-level campaign funds. Unable to coordinate legally, the campaign and the super PAC clashed. The cash-tight campaign ultimately replaced its original chief, Generra Peck, with James Uthmeier.

In the weeks before the Iowa caucuses, with Haley rising in polls nationally and in early states, DeSantis and his team began moving the goalposts. Where they had once declared he would win Iowa, the aim became a strong second-place finish and, ultimately, just avoiding an embarrassing third-place showing.

When DeSantis outperformed late polling to take second in Iowa, he vowed to soldier on — in the hope that he could shake Haley and get into a one-on-one contest with Trump himself. In the end, it would be Haley who would get a shot at Trump as his only serious rival.

Blaise Ingoglia, a Florida state senator who is among DeSantis’ closest allies there and campaigned for him down the stretch in Iowa, told NBC News that the timing of DeSantis’ departure Sunday afternoon surprised him. But the news itself didn’t.

Ingoglia said that he had a statement “prepared in advance” and that he quickly posted it to X. He then promptly endorsed Trump.

“Although this is not his time,” Ingoglia said in the statement, “I have all the confidence in his ability and his passion to continue fighting not only for Floridians, but for the greatness that is the United States of America.”

Many DeSantis allies believe he will be back in 2028, when they expect there won’t be an incumbent president or a force-of-nature, multi-time Republican nominee blocking his path.

In the meantime, a source familiar with DeSantis' schedule said, he is spending time with his family in Florida. There is no plan to campaign with Trump, the person said.

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