Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP
The Republican presidential field continues to narrow, with former President Donald Trump clinging to a commanding lead ahead of primary contests. That includes a sizable lead in Florida — where one of his leading opponents, Ron DeSantis, is governor.
Despite winning a landslide election in the state two years ago, DeSantis has been unable to win over enough base GOP voters there. That includes Victor Alvarez and Sally Maltais — who attended Trump’s recent rally in Hialeah, Fla. Both said they believe Trump has all but locked up next year’s election.
“I think Trump is going to win in ’24 and it’s not going to be a question of somebody else running,” Alvarez said. “He’s ahead in the polls right now, and he hasn’t participated in any of the Republican debates. Think about that.”
Some of the Republican candidates running against Trump are getting close to 1 percent in polls, which Maltais said she doesn’t see changing
“They should drop out … and support Trump,” she said confidently, “because Trump — Trump has it.”
Maltais says that includes her governor. She said she supported and voted for DeSantis when he first ran for state leadership a few years ago.
“I’m kind of upset that he’s out running for president because I voted for him to do a job here as governor,” she explained. “And while he’s out campaigning, he’s not doing his job as governor. And I’m not the only Floridian who feels that way. And we need him back here to govern. That’s what we elected him for to.”
Alvarez said he agrees. Ultimately, he likes the job DeSantis has done as governor. He said he’s been a “good governor” but shouldn’t have jumped into the presidential race when Trump was already in the running.
Maltais said DeSantis’ decision is particularly egregious because Trump helped DeSantis win the first time he ran for Florida governor.
“He stabbed our president in the back,” she said. “And now I have no respect for DeSantis. I’m sorry. I don’t.”
“I will not vote for him again.”
Trump currently has a more than 30-point lead over DeSantis in his home state. That lead hasn’t changed significantly since the governor jumped into the race for president.
Republican state representative Randy Fine has been one of DeSantis’ most vocal supporters in the Florida Legislature. But recently he announced that he is endorsing Trump in the GOP primary.
Fine is the only Jewish Republican in the Legislature, and he says he has been unimpressed with DeSantis’ response to the Hamas attack on Israel last month, which was a sticking point for him. He says he just can’t support DeSantis’ presidential run anymore.
“I don’t think he’s been a bad governor,” Fine told NPR. “I think he’s done well overall. It’s just on a lot of these issues related to Jewish Floridians that he’s broken my heart.
“I don’t see him winning,” he added.
In a statement, Bryan Griffin — a spokesman for the DeSantis campaign — said the governor “has near-universal support in the Florida Legislature, where they have worked with him firsthand and know he can offer the same record of accomplishments to the country. “
Republican state Rep. Mike Caruso echoed that, saying most of his Republican colleagues stand by DeSantis.
“He’s led the way from day one,” he said. “And I’m a little disappointed that the few colleagues, the few members that have gone over to Trump’s campaign.”
Caruso says he also believes DeSantis has a strong record of supporting Jewish Floridians. And, he says, he thinks more voters in Florida — and across the country — will soon start supporting his governor, too.
After all, he said, it’s still too early in the primary to completely rule out DeSantis.
“I think when other candidates drop out, I think those votes will go to Governor DeSantis,” he predicted. “He just has to wait and continue to work hard and fight hard.”
Ultimately, Fine says, he doesn’t have a big problem with DeSantis spending time running for president. In fact, he said it makes sense if you look at the political reality that Florida’s governor finds himself in.
DeSantis is currently in his second and final term as governor. He can’t run again because Florida has term limits.
“I think that’s part of the reason he ran,” Fine explained. “He wanted to run for president as the governor of Florida and not as the former governor of Florida.”
DeSantis has already served as a member of Congress, and Fine said a US Senate bid is a long shot.
“I mean, Rick Scott is our senator,” he said. “Marco Rubio is our senator. I don’t see either of them going anywhere. And so there’s no kind of obvious off ramp for him to go when his term as governor is done.”