MANCHESTER, NH — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, once the strongest challenger to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, plans to drop out of the race on Sunday, four sources confirmed to NBC News.
The move comes two days before the New Hampshire primary, which is expected to take place in Manchester before its scheduled 5 p.m.
DeSantis has sought to position himself as an alternative to Trump, portraying himself as a politically successful successor to the MAGA movement and its favored policies without Trump’s baggage. But in order to court Trump’s supporters, DeSantis has been slow to meaningfully criticize the former president and has failed to garner enough of his support. DeSantis’ embrace of hard-right politics has also led moderate Republicans and independents to look elsewhere for a candidate to steer the GOP in a different direction than Trump.
In the end, DeSantis could only finish second in the Iowa caucuses.
DeSantis entered the Republican presidential race with an impressive political operation and widespread popularity in the party after winning a landslide 2022 re-election victory in Florida, one of the nation’s most closely divided states in decades.
But DeSantis’ initial momentum quickly dissipated after he made his candidacy official amid relentless attacks from the Trump machine and missteps of his own. MAGA Inc., a pro-Trump super PAC, spent more than $10 million attacking DeSantis before he even announced his candidacy, according to campaign finance records.
The initial advertising campaign was interrupted by television channels criticizing the Florida governor’s votes in Congress on Social Security, Medicare and taxes, and did not allow it. MAGA Inc. has spent more than $23 million on anti-DeSantis advertising, campaign finance records show — and the super PAC, which supports former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, hit DeSantis harder when the Iowa caucus in the fall.
When DeSantis formally applied to the White House in May, A wrong Twitter Spaces event with Elon Musk It has become emblematic of a campaign often overshadowed by infighting, financial woes and a complicated partnership with the super PAC Never Back Down.
At the heart of DeSantis’ campaign message was a pitch to deliver the Florida plan to the nation. The governor has vowed to dismantle the federal government’s “administrative state,” finish the southern border wall, and limit Chinese influence in the United States and abroad.
The fiery conservative issues that became anchors of his administration in Florida also found their way into the campaign. He wove a signature war to “wake up” the federal government with several policy proposals, including ending diversity, equity and inclusion programs, banning transgender service members from the military, and banning gender-affirming medical care for minors.
DeSantis, one of the only sitting executives in the race, has at times parlayed the power of his Tallahassee office into campaign rhetoric. After the October 7 Hamas attacks in Israel, DeSantis mobilized the Florida Department of Emergency Management to organize evacuation flights as the war raged, an effort that evacuated nearly 700 American citizens from the Middle East.
Even before appealing to the White House, DeSantis sent Florida law enforcement and members of the National Guard to the southern border to support the efforts of Texas officials. (The state’s governor, Greg Abbott, eventually endorsed Trump.)
Trump always posed a difficult hurdle for the governor to overcome, especially early on in his bid. The two candidates’ trajectories have intertwined for years — Trump boosted DeSantis’ career with an endorsement that helped the then-congressman win the 2018 Republican nomination for governor in Florida. is ready to abandon its fiery populist leader.
While Trump’s candidacy has often been overshadowed by his legal troubles and post-term baggage, DeSantis has often refused to criticize the front-runner as he tries to win over voters in the early months of the campaign. In rarer moments, DeSantis has made headlines with comments about Trump’s lackluster response during the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol or the political failures of election denial..
At the end of his run, DeSantis regularly attacked Trump in his stump speech, blasting the former president for failing to follow through on his 2016 campaign promises, such as building a border wall, refusing to engage in primary debate and his handling of Covid-19. pandemic.
Despite the criticism, DeSantis, as president, would pardon Trump if convicted of any of the federal charges he faces.
Meanwhile, the campaign’s messaging was often overshadowed by internal personnel and financial struggles within DeSantis’ team.
Just two months after DeSantis’s run, the governor’s campaign ran into financial trouble and laid off about a dozen mid-level employees as a cost-cutting measure—and then a week later, about two more were fired. Not long ago, the governor campaign manager Generra replaced Peck with longtime loyalist James Uthmeier, the governor’s chief of staff. As financial woes plagued the campaign, DeSantis relied heavily on support from the Never Back Down organization, allowing the PAC to finance most of its television ads and events.
Super PACs have also had their fair share of internal drama.
Leaked debate strategy memo He suggested that DeSantis should defend Trump and attack Vivek Ramaswamy caused the candidate a headache.
In the weeks leading up to the caucuses, the PAC lost its CEO, fired his replacement days later, and its chief strategist resigned shortly after. Before departures, A PAC meeting about the budget almost turned into a physical confrontation Over disagreements over how to handle Haley’s rise in the polls.
Prior to the DeSantis campaign, the first presidential contest in Iowa, With the help of PAC, investing significant time and effort there, building a massive ground game operation in the Hawkeye State. The governor visited all 99 Iowa counties, super PAC workers knocked on hundreds of thousands of doors, and the governor received endorsements from Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds and influential evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats.
In the final weeks of his campaign, DeSantis not only tried to close the polling gap between himself and the former president, but also spent considerable time and money trying to block Haley, who was surging in Iowa. He accused Haley of lacking conservative credentials, seizing on missteps such as misnaming a University of Iowa basketball star and saying the New Hampshire primary served as a fix for the Iowa caucuses.
But the traditional Iowa playbook— One that works for past caucus winners like Ted Cruz — Not effective enough against Trump’s pseudo-responsibility and solid support within the Republican electorate. DeSantis finished well ahead of Trump and could only hold off Haley for second place.
After celebrating second place as a victory, DeSantis opted to visit South Carolina first instead of making the traditional overnight trip to Des Moines, Iowa, Manchester, New Hampshire for presidential candidates. The move, which DeSantis and his allies hope, will signal the governor’s campaign is set for the long haul, including March’s Super Tuesday election.
These hopes did not come true.
DeSantis has two years left in his second and final term as Florida governor.