The Slatest

Embracing Trump Pays Off Big for Ron DeSantis in Florida’s Republican Gubernatorial Primary

Ron DeSantis speaking at a lectern while Donald Trump watches from the side of the stage
Florida GOP gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis speaks under Trump’s gaze at a Make America Great Again rally in July. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

If there was any doubt as to the true value of a Donald Trump endorsement in a Republican primary—and there was, by me—GOP voters in Florida put it largely to rest on Tuesday.

Trump-endorsed Ron DeSantis, a three-term congressman, sailed to victory in the state’s Republican gubernatorial primary, easily defeating Adam Putnam, a former congressman turned state agriculture commissioner and the one-time favorite in the race. The Associated Press called the race with about half of the vote in and DeSantis up nearly 20 percentage points on Putnam, who left a House leadership post in 2008 with his sights set squarely on the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee.

There remains good reason to doubt whether Trump deserved the title of kingmaker in several previous high-profile GOP primaries in which he endorsed—his win-loss record is a bit misleading on that front—but in Florida, Trump has the right to gloat. DeSantis branded himself a “pitbull Trump defender” and appeared on Fox News more than 100 times during the campaign, much of which he spent attacking the FBI and Robert Mueller on the president’s behalf. For DeSantis to tie himself any closer to Trump, he would have had to give him his first-born child. As it is, DeSantis aired a campaign ad in which he taught his young daughter how to “build the wall” out of her toy blocks and read The Art of the Deal to his newborn son.

Trump rewarded DeSantis’ loyalty early and often, and the president openly boasted about his impact on the race. After catching DeSantis on Fox News in December, Trump offered his praise via Twitter, declaring he “would make a GREAT Governor of Florida.” Mike Pence and other Republicans reportedly tried to convince him to leave it at that, believing Putnam was the better bet to win this November. But Trump wasn’t having it. He offered his “full Endorsement” in June, and followed that up with a rally in Tampa. During that time, DeSantis went from long shot to favorite to now the nominee.

DeSantis’ nomination is good news for Trump, who watched last week as one of his endorsees lost a GOP primary for the first time this year, but one Republican who’s surely not celebrating the landslide is Gov. Rick Scott, who is now running for Senate.

DeSantis will now face off against Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a Bernie Sanders-endorsed progressive who won the Democratic nomination on Tuesday. Gillum will be all too happy to wield Trump as a weapon. DeSantis is more likely to lean into those punches than away from them, and as a result will drag every other Florida Republican into each and every Trump-related controversy between now and Election Day, whether they like it or not.

Scott would clearly not. The term-limited governor is running to unseat Sen. Bill Nelson in a race that is key to Democrats’ hopes of retaking the upper chamber. Scott was an early backer of Trump in 2016 but has since tried to distance himself as much possible from the man he helped send to the White House. He avoided mentioning the president entirely at his official Senate campaign kick-off in April, and likewise sat out Trump’s MAGA rally in Tampa in July. That absence was difficult to explain this summer, but future absences will become even more awkward if and when Trump returns to the state to stump for DeSantis.