WASHINGTON — Don’t say former President Donald Trump didn’t warn him.
Trump tried to persuade Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis not to seek the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
Trump said he would hammer DeSantis on a personal level. He said a brutal fight would divide the party, anger the conservative base and render DeSantis “never… able to successfully run for office again.”
While DeSantis stood on the sidelines, absorbing attacks from Trump, the former president racked up endorsements from lawmakers — including more than half the House members from their shared home state of Florida.
Trump highlighted DeSantis’ missteps and flagging poll numbers.
None of it worked.
DeSantis plans to make his candidacy official this week, when federal campaign finance rules will force him to file paperwork for a presidential run. Trump advisers say they’re not surprised, that they’ve expected DeSantis to mount a campaign — the former president’s public efforts to deter him notwithstanding.
And though they are keeping the specifics of their plans to welcome DeSantis to the race close to the vest, they say the thrust of their strategy won’t change much at a time when support for Trump’s top rival has fallen.
“We’re not going to telegraph everything we’re going to do — we don’t generally do that — but suffice to say, it’ll be more of the same,” said Chris LaCivita, one of Trump’s co-campaign managers. “I don’t know of anything that’s changed in our approach and in the way that we will pursue the narrative.”
DeSantis allies say he’s in a strong position on the eve of his entry into the race.
“The Republican primary is already a two-man race, and Gov. DeSantis isn’t even a candidate,” said Erin Perrine, spokeswoman for the pro-DeSantis SuperPAC Never Back Down. “As we saw at his recent visits to Iowa and New Hampshire, there is growing momentum behind the governor because he is the only Republican who doesn’t just talk the talk, he follows through on the hard fights like taking on woke corporations.”
Trump led DeSantis 56.3% to 19.4% in the Real Clear Politics average of recent national multicandidate polls on Monday. That represents a significant shift from the first few months of the year, when most surveys showed Trump below the 50% threshold and DeSantis often checking in between one-quarter and one-third of GOP primary voters. In one CNN survey in early March, DeSantis edged Trump 39% to 37%.
DeSantis’ shadow campaign, which included a book tour and visits to early primary states over the past three months, did nothing to arrest or reverse his slide. And though DeSantis allies have framed the race as a two-man contest, neither his fundraising prowess nor his performance on the stump are dissuading other hopefuls.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., launched his campaign Monday, and Trump applauded him while taking a shot at DeSantis.
“Tim is a big step up from Ron DeSanctimonious, who is totally unelectable,” Trump said, using his nickname for the Florida governor.
Steve Bannon, host of “The War Room” podcast and the CEO of Trump’s 2016 campaign, said the polls suggest Trump shouldn’t even bother with DeSantis.
“The numbers are simple and the numbers are brutal: the more the American people see of Gov. DeSantis, the less they think he is presidential material,” Bannon said. “President Trump should focus exclusively on Biden and his inevitable replacement.”
The biggest turning point in polling was precipitated by an external force. When Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg indicted Trump on charges related to alleged hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels in March, many Republicans rallied to Trump’s defense.
DeSantis was slow to respond, eventually taking a swipe at Trump that didn’t sit well with some in the GOP. But he has also alienated some potential supporters by questioning U.S. aid to Ukraine and by signing Florida’s new six-week abortion ban, which could turn swing voters against him in a general election.
Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who ran unsuccessfully against Trump in 2016, said the recent rough patch for DeSantis is proof that the political arena is dynamic.
“What’s true today isn’t necessarily true tomorrow — one point DeSantis was rising, and then, look how everything has changed,” he said. “You don’t know.”
Perrine, the spokeswoman for Never Back Down, said Republicans will ultimately pick DeSantis.
“The choice couldn’t be clearer for primary voters — while Donald Trump may talk a big game, DeSantis actually fights and wins,” she said. “Not only do voters know DeSantis will beat Joe Biden, but they know, while Trump backs down from battles, DeSantis will always fight for our values, country, children, families and future.”
But despite Trump’s efforts to keep DeSantis out of the race, his advisers say they knew this day would come — and that they have long since laid the groundwork for it.
“We’ve always treated him as if he were a candidate,” LaCivita said.
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com