ORLANDO — Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson was loudly booed by a crowd of GOP activists in Orlando Saturday after criticizing Donald Trump, further demonstrating the former president’s popularity with the GOP base.
“As a party we must support the rule of law, we can not win as a country without integrity… ” Hutchinson said. “And while some will ignore the destructive behavior of the former president, I assure you we ignore it at our peril. The next generation will not look favorably…”
Hutchinson’s comment were drowned out by boos. Somebody shouted “go home!”
The moment highlighted the tension within the GOP as the presidential primary enters a critical phase, with two months to go before voting begins in Iowa. Trump is dominating that field, and his opponents, including Florida Gov. , have struggled to find a way to take him on without angering the GOP base.
Trump quickly turned the Orlando gathering into a show of strength against DeSantis on his home turf, with five lawmakers who previously endorsed DeSantis flipping their endorsements to Trump.
Trump and DeSantis are both scheduled to speak Saturday at the Florida Freedom Summit, an event organized by the Republican Party of Florida. DeSantis takes the stage at 1:30 p.m., while Trump is closing out the event as the keynote speaker at 6 p.m..
Florida has been DeSantis’ base of support, providing much of his fundraising and campaign talking points as he touts his conservative governing record in the state. Many GOP members of the Florida Legislature have endorsed DeSantis.
Yet DeSantis has struggled to turn his popularity with Florida Republicans – he won reelection by nearly 20 percentage points – into a national campaign.
Trump is well ahead in national polls, and in key early states. He also has been keen to show DeSantis that he is the dominant GOP figure in a state they both call home, which could further deflate his struggling campaign.
Last month Florida state Rep. Randy Fine, a prominent Jewish Republican, flipped his endorsement from DeSantis to Trump, saying the governor hasn’t come out strong enough against antisemitism.
Then last week Florida U.S. Sen. Rick Scott endorsed Trump over DeSantis, another example of DeSantis being spurned by a key figure at home, although the two have long had a strained relationship.
The Trump campaign unveiled seven more Florida endorsements on Saturday in a move first reported by The Messenger. The lawmakers flipping from DeSantis to Trump are state Sen. Debbie Mayfield and state Representatives Jessica Baker, Webster Barnaby, Alina Garcia and Kevin Steele. State Representatives Mike Beltran and David Borrero also endorsed Trump Saturday.
“I think there are many legislators who never wanted to be behind the governor but they made the calculation he signs their bills and appropriations,” Fine told the USA TODAY NETWORK – Florida.
Fine said he would’ve switched his endorsement to Trump even if he was losing, because he thinks Trump has been stronger in protecting the Jewish people, but he believes Trump will win by a large margin and has more support than DeSantis in Florida.
“The grassroots seem to be with Trump,” he said. “And it’s not that they’re overwhelmingly anti-DeSantis, it’s you gotta choose.”
This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Donald Trump popular at Orlando GOP summit with Ron DeSantis
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