While watching the results of the Iowa caucus from the waiting room on the night of January 15, the former president Donald Trump decided to delete four pages of prepared comments about what would happen brilliant victory — outpacing its nearest competitor by more than 30 percent.
Sons Don Jr. and Eric, as well as his senior staff, took the gist of what Trump had to say and made a few remarks “on the theme of unity,” according to one person present. and described the event to NBC News.
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When he took the stage at a victory party that night, Trump didn’t mention the opponents who wanted to upset him a week later in New Hampshire. Instead, he focused his agenda on contradicting the record of his one-time and likely future general election opponent, President Joe Biden. He used the word “we” in nearly every sentence, including one that epitomized his message to Republicans: “We will come together.”
One Republican who doesn’t quite get it: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Trump has good reasons to worry about party consolidation.
He is running for the third consecutive Republican presidential nomination, but he is unable to win the large majority common for incumbents. If Nikki Haley keeps her promise keep campaigning for at least a month, it will expose any reluctance about Trump within the GOP. It also costs Trump to continue fighting in the primaries. And he’s trying to derail his candidacy before the criminal trials begin in earnest — political wildcards unprecedented in American history.
Trump’s ability to try to unify the party — and to what extent possible — will likely be tested most with DeSantis, a onetime ally who has become his arch-enemy.
When DeSantis withdrew his presidential bid last week, he immediately endorsed Trump. The former president greeted him with kind words, a sign that despite the personal nature of their feud, he might be willing to forgive and forget in a spirit of unity.
“I want to thank Ron and congratulate him on a job well done,” Trump said at a rally in New Hampshire on Sunday. “He was very kind and supported me. I appreciate it and I look forward to working with Ron.”
DeSantis has an open invitation to appear with Trump on the campaign trail when he is ready to do so, according to a Trump campaign official.
The Trump campaign reached DeSantis’ world through “high-level channels” with an invitation to appear at a campaign stop on Sunday. Another Trump adviser confirmed the help and said they never heard back.
“I understand, it was still new at the time,” said the consultant. “We haven’t heard back from them.”
“I think you’re going to continue to see President Trump and his team show favoritism toward DeSantis, but you don’t expect their relationship to be the same as it was before Ron decided to go against him,” said a person close to Trump. he added.
Republicans could be forgiven for being skeptical of Trump’s message of unity. Not only has he refused to pledge support for the GOP nominee if he isn’t — threatening to bring the party to its knees if he doesn’t win — but Trump has trouble sticking to his message when he gets angry.
On Tuesday night, Trump called Haley a “dreamer” on social media as he vowed to keep fighting after his New Hampshire loss. It was a 180-degree turn in his demeanor just eight days ago when he watched the Iowa caucus count. When it was Trump’s turn to speak Tuesday night, he focused on airing his grievances with Haley.
After a brutal GOP primary, attempts to reconcile with DeSantis didn’t even last long.
On Monday night, DeSantis announced on the social media site X that he would veto Florida legislation that would have earmarked $5 million in taxpayer dollars for politicians who live in Florida and are “politically discriminated against to pay legal fees.” State Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis floated the idea; DeSantis didn’t endorse Trump until after the primary, but spoke highly of him.
The move angered the Trump campaign, which had been trying to compromise with DeSantis for days.
“Big Ron 1 couldn’t hold a union for a full day. Once a meatball, always a meatball,” far-right online activist and Trump supporter Jack Posobiec he saidreferring to his nickname, the former president once swam for DeSantis.
The Trump campaign never requested the bill, and in fact, his top campaign advisers tried to send signals that it wasn’t something they wanted, according to a second Trump adviser. They opposed formalizing the idea into legislation because it would focus the conversation on Trump’s legal troubles rather than any campaign message they wanted to build about the general election.
“We told them … we didn’t think it was good public policy or good legislation, and we thought it was bad policy,” a Trump adviser said. “We are not talking about the future, we are talking about bills.”
Patronis, a Florida Republican, “didn’t even support him after Iowa,” the consultant noted.
Patronis’ office also said the idea was its own and was not written “in association with other campaigns.”
He said he would pursue the idea in the future, but that “the current environment just isn’t right for this year.”
In other words, the bill wasn’t going anywhere, so DeSantis didn’t really have to think. It was just another blow to Trump.
DeSantis’ press secretary, Jeremy Redfern, said that although Trump is not named in the bill, under the current circumstances it will only apply to him.
“It would be a Trump legal fund paid for by taxpayers,” he said.
A longtime DeSantis supporter said the governor now publicly supports Trump’s presidential bid, but that doesn’t mean he’ll do his bidding.
“She supported Trump and supports him for president, but she will not be his assistant like some Republican lawmakers desperate for attention,” the person said in a text message.
Trump told NBC News on Tuesday night that he “did not ask” DeSantis to drop out.
The threat of a DeSantis veto could complicate any path toward a union for both DeSantis and his biggest supporters, who may now want to get back into Trump’s good graces.
Eight months ago, DeSantis supporter Steve Cortes, who works on the super PAC Never Back Down, said he saw DeSantis as the “next, natural phase” of Trump’s political movement and said he was taking a “personal risk” by calling in Florida. He was now “defending a diminished, political renegade, an outsider” to enter the race for governor.
“We’ve seen this movie before,” Cortes said. “Biden vs. Trump, nobody likes it.”
Weeks later, Cortes he asked In X, “A very serious question: Who will work for Trump?”
But now Cortes returned with a different feeling, pronounces Trump has called DeSantis the “undeniable warrior leader” of the Republican Party, and polls show DeSantis is on track for single digits in New Hampshire.
“Those of us who support Ron DeSantis or other Republican candidates should read the room,” Cortes wrote. op-ed It came as part of a wave of obituaries by DeSantis’ supporters agreeing with the governors who collapsed the fortunes. “Trump narrowly won the field and then swept the remaining three candidates in Iowa. He is leading in the polls everywhere. It is time for the people of the GOP to come together and unite behind their clear preferences.
The question is whether Trump and his allies will re-admit the defectors who are now eager to return.
Over at Truth Social, longtime Trump political adviser Dan Scavino reposted Cortes’ final speech with screenshots of his apparent run to DeSantis last year.
Susie Wiles, Trump’s senior adviser who formerly worked for DeSantis and now has a famous rivalry with the Florida governor, wrote “Bye” At X, the DeSantis campaign began to unfold.
“Many of these pundits want to live to see another day,” said Alex Bruesewitz, CEO and GOP consultant at X Strategies, a Trump-linked political firm. “Will they be in the same position as our movement at the beginning of the primer?” I’m not sure. But the days of me attacking these people are over, because the first place is over.”
At a campaign event for his father in New Hampshire on Monday, Trump’s son Don Jr. said he hoped DeSantis and the former president could “move along” together soon, in response to a question from NBC News.
He recalled that he was able to butt heads with Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Mike Lee, R-Utah, in the 2016 primary, noting that he and Lee nearly fought at the Republican convention that year and are now good friends.
“And I can sort of split primal realities, can’t I?” he said. “It’s a game. It’s sad to call it that, I wish it wasn’t a game, but it is.”
At a campaign stop in New Hampshire surrounded by former rivals on Monday, Trump made party unity a theme of his pitch, even extending an olive branch to DeSantis and telling him it’s time to ditch the unflattering nicknames.
It’s a combination that could prove available to Trump as he begins to turn toward a general election in which polls show most voters hold him in a strongly negative light.
But while DeSantis backed Trump when he dropped out of the race, he didn’t take back the attacks, he told conservative radio host Steve Deace on Tuesday, blaming “checked-out” GOP voters for the former president’s success.
Asked if he intends to run again in 2028, DeSantis Deace said, “We’ll see if we have a country left by 2028.”
Although Trump won both Iowa and New Hampshire and has a lead in most states, his share of the vote has not been huge. He got it Just over 50% Still at 54% in Iowa’s four-way caucus, which includes DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy, and in New Hampshire’s two-way race with Haley, this suggests a large bloc of primary voters still undecided about supporting Trump.
“I think he’s going to spend a lot of time defending himself, arguing, fighting — there are so many problems in the country and people just leave them behind,” said Scott Brock, 61, of New Hampshire. supported Trump in the past, but voted for Haley in 2024.
Some Trump skeptics in the party point to his argument that the 2020 election was rigged without any evidence.
“I voted for him twice,” said New Hampshire resident Steve Hansen. “But after everything that happened… I just couldn’t vote for him.
When asked if this comment was made with 2020 in mind, Hansen replied, “Yes. Yes, this is a fair statement.”
CORRECTION (January 24, 2024, 3:15 p.m.): An earlier version of this article misspelled the last name of the GOP consultant and CEO of X Strategies. He is Alex Bruesewitz, not Brusewitz.