ROCHESTER, N.H. — Former president Donald Trump sped toward clinching the 2024 GOP nomination on Sunday as the endorsement of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signaled further consolidation behind him and a rising sense of resignation among Republicans who hoped to stop him.
Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), head of the Senate GOP’s campaign arm, reacted to DeSantis’s announcement that he was dropping out of the race by calling Trump “the presumptive nominee” and urging Republicans to unite behind him. Trump also picked up the support of Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), who had previously endorsed DeSantis.
Trump himself did not immediately respond to the news online or in person as he prepared to speak here tonight, while a rowdy crowd of his supporters lined up around the block outside in the 2o-degree weather chanting his name at passing cars. Trump’s campaign, which has spent the past year delighting in viciously thrashing DeSantis, released an unsigned statement on Sunday calling his endorsement an honor and attacking his sole remaining challenger, former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, as opposed to Trump’s “America First movement.”
“She represents the views of Democrats more than the views of Republicans,” the statement said. “It is now time for all Republicans to rally behind President Trump to defeat Crooked Joe Biden and end his disastrous presidency.” Steven Cheung, a Trump campaign spokesman, said the campaign is “eyes on the prize on Tuesday.”
New Hampshire Republican strategist Mike Dennehy said DeSantis’s departure from the race “makes it virtually impossible for Nikki Haley to keep Trump under 50 percent. And there’s a chance that Trump could hit 60 percent on Tuesday,” he said. “From every indication anecdotally and from polling, DeSantis voters are Trump voters through and through.”
The former president has been topping 50 percent support in the latest polls of the first-in-the-nation primary on Tuesday, and his campaign has been taunting Haley by trotting out surrogates from her home state of South Carolina, whose Republicans are scheduled to vote next month.
Trump’s team invited several prominent South Carolina lawmakers to New Hampshire, including Gov. Henry McMaster and Lt. Gov Pamela Evette, and found the elected officials willing to travel. A senior adviser described their goal as ending the primary quickly.
Trump’s top advisers on Sunday released a memo reminding reporters of Haley’s and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu’s bullish predictions about her performance here, arguing she set herself an impossible task of winning outright. The advisers, Chris LaCivita and Susie Wiles, dared her to drop out and back Trump or else “be absolutely DEMOLISHED and EMBARASSED in her home state.”
Trump’s team is having a major fundraiser at his club in Florida next month, according to an invite reviewed by The Washington Post, and has told donors who have not given in the past that they should get on board now, people familiar with the invite said.
Haley, who was campaigning at Brown’s Lobster Pound in Seabrook, N.H., congratulated DeSantis and wished him well, while welcoming the one-on-one showdown with Trump.
“May the best one win,” she said to cheers.
The rising sense of Trump’s inevitability contributed to DeSantis’s decision to withdraw, according to a person who spoke with him about the decision. The person said DeSantis determined that many Republicans, as well as right-wing media, started treating his nomination as a foregone conclusion.
One longtime Florida ally of DeSantis said it was a mistake to endorse so quickly. “You have no leverage now,” this person said. But the person said DeSantis also did not want to further invoke the ire of Trump and his team and realized the run had been bruising for his once-strong brand.
After focusing primarily on DeSantis through the Iowa caucuses, Trump’s campaign has turned its fire on Haley here, attacking her for past positions on taxes, Social Security and Medicare benefits, immigration and foreign intervention. At the same time, the super PAC supporting Trump has worked to discourage independent turnout for Haley with mail-pieces portraying her as “MAGA.”
The Democratic National Committee attempted to downplay the space between the Republican candidates on Sunday.
“Ron DeSantis pinned his entire campaign’s hopes on the same extreme MAGA agenda that both Donald Trump and Nikki Haley are still running on, and now he is the latest member of the GOP to fall in line behind the original MAGA brand,” DNC press secretary Sarafina Chitika said in a statement. “Whichever candidate wins the race for the MAGA base will be left running on the same dangerous and unpopular anti-freedom agenda that voters will reject in November.”
Longtime New Hampshire operatives described DeSantis’s exit from the race as the latest hurdle for Haley that will make it virtually impossible for Haley to beat Trump in New Hampshire. About two-thirds of DeSantis supporters have consistently said that Trump was their second choice, according to recent polling by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.
“The second choice for DeSantis has been Trump throughout this election, so if anything it’s going to boost Trump’s support,” the center’s director, Andrew Smith, said. While Haley still leads with anti-Trump voters and independents who lean Democratic but who are going to vote in the Republican primary, “there just typically aren’t enough of them.”
Dylan Wells, Marianne LeVine and Hannah Knowles contributed reporting.