DeSantis made his comments during a interview with charlie kirkthe conservative founder of Turning Point USA who supports Dhillon.
DeSantis went on to criticize the GOP for losses in the 2022 midterm elections, when the political environment was “tailor-made for big wins in the House, Senate and state chambers across the country. And yet that didn’t happen.»
Following the 2022 midterm elections, Florida’s Republican governor drew praise from Republicans across the country after winning re-election by historic margins, including in the traditional blue stronghold of Miami-Dade County.
At a news conference in Miami later Thursday, DeSantis did not address his decision to make last-minute comments about the president’s race.
DeSantis’ endorsement of Dhillon is the most prominent yet. Dhillon counts Fox News stars who have significant influence in the conservative movement, including Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham, among his supporters. Approximately 30 RNC members have been listed on his official campaign website, but it is unclear if he has the kind of widespread support among voting members to win. McDaniel in November, before Dhillon announced his candidacy, had the support of 107 members.
Former President Donald Trump, who chose McDaniel to chair the RNC after his victory in 2016, and whom Dhillon represents in legal cases, has so far stayed out of the race, refusing to choose one over the other. But some of his top lieutenants, including Susie Wiles, have supported McDaniel.
After leaving a members-only breakfast at the Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach, where the RNC is meeting this week, Dhillon told reporters that he did not consider DeSantis’s praise an «endorsement.»
“That’s what I call answering a question and giving an opinion. An endorsement is something on someone’s stationery that says, ‘I wholeheartedly endorse this person.’”
Dhillon insisted that he will remain neutral in any 2024 primary and suggested that McDaniel would not. McDaniel has said that he will remain neutral.
«President Trump’s team is here winning votes for Ronna… so I think that speaks for itself.»
Dhillon’s team was caught off guard by DeSantis’s comments Thursday, but was delighted by his show of support, said Caroline Wren, Dhillon’s campaign adviser. Her allies believe she could further sway members to support Dhillon in the waning hours of the campaign.
Dhillon said as he left breakfast Thursday morning, he heard several members tell him they were changing their votes, but they declined to elaborate on their vote count.
Wren said DeSantis was among other influential figures in the conservative movement who called for a «change of leadership in the RNC» and «want to start winning elections.»
Shortly after DeSantis’ announcement, another leading Republican in Florida, Sen. Rick Scott, was quick to make his own comments about the RNC’s presidential race, praising McDaniel but stopping short of explicit endorsement. in a tweetScott praised McDaniel’s “significant role in helping to dye Florida red,” despite DeSantis asserting that the Republican gains in the state were not due to the efforts of the RNC.
McDaniel has boasted the overwhelming majority of RNC members’ support in his re-election bid, though Dhillon’s team argues that McDaniel’s support has been soft ahead of Friday’s secret ballot.
McDaniel was at the same closed-door breakfast as Dhillon when the DeSantis news broke, and the members were not immediately available to comment on the development.
DeSantis’ decision to sway the RNC race came hours after Trump endorsed not the contentious battle for the presidency, but the race for RNC treasurer. Trump endorsed Joe Gruters, a state senator and current chairman of the Florida Republican Party. Gruters is a sponsor of McDaniel and has not been close to DeSantis.
Last week Gruters was forced to call a meeting asking the party to consider a vote of no confidence in McDaniel. Ultimately, the vote was not considered because not enough members of the Florida Republican Party’s executive committee showed up. But a rally outside of the vote drew a large crowd of conservatives, including Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.).
Trump has also endorsed the co-presidential race, endorsing North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Michael Whatley.
Gary Fineout contributed to this report.