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Republican Presidential Primary Down to Two
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Republican Presidential Primary Down to Two

Ron DeSantis suspends his campaign just two days before voters in New Hampshire go to the polls.

Happy Monday! We hate to start the week on a sour note, but we have unfortunate news for those of you who, like us, do not enjoy having large bugs land on you when you’re walking the dogs or taking out the trash: Not one, but two broods of cicadas will emerge at the same time this spring across the eastern United States. The last time these two groups of cicadas woke up simultaneously was in 1803. Lucky us. 

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) announced Sunday evening that the two Navy SEALs who went missing off the coast of Somalia earlier this month while attempting to board a boat carrying Iranian weapons bound for Yemen have been presumed dead. The U.S. military ended the 10-day search-and-rescue mission it was conducting with the help of Spain and Japan, switching now to efforts to recover the two sailors. 
  • The U.S. launched its sixth and seventh rounds of strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen on Friday and Saturday, going after the Iran-backed militia’s missiles and launchers. The series of strikes began earlier this month in response to the Houthis’ ongoing attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea—an important global shipping chokepoint—but maritime assaults by the group have continued regardless. Meanwhile, CENTCOM said an Iranian-backed militia in Iraq launched a missile attack Saturday on Al-Asad Air Base, which hosts U.S. troops. Though most of the ballistic missiles were intercepted by the base’s air defense systems, some did manage to break through, wounding an unspecified number of U.S. military personnel, who are being evaluated for traumatic brain injuries.
  • A suspected Israeli strike on a building used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in Damascus, Syria, on Saturday killed at least five IRGC commanders, Syrian and Iranian state media reported. One of the victims, Sadegh Omidzadeh, was reportedly one of the architects behind an Iranian plot last year to ramp up attacks against U.S. troops in Syria. The Israeli military has not commented on the strike. 
  • At least 25 people were killed in the shelling of a market in Russian-occupied Donetsk in eastern Ukraine on Sunday, the pro-Moscow leader of the region claimed, pointing the finger at the Ukrainian military—which in turn denied responsibility for the attack on a civilian area. Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces reportedly launched a long-range drone strike on Sunday against a Russian fuel terminal on the Baltic Sea near St. Petersburg, Russia. The attack, using domestically produced drones, ignited a blaze that caused the suspension of the plant’s operations and represents the latest effort by Ukraine to damage logistical networks fueling Russia’s war.
  • A Uvalde, Texas, district attorney has reportedly convened a grand jury to determine whether any law enforcement officials will face charges for their handling of the May 2022 school shooting at Robb Elementary School, which left 19 students and two teachers dead after officers waited 77 minutes to enter the school while the gunman was still inside. The report from the Uvalde Leader-News about the grand jury comes just one day after the Justice Department released its report condemning law enforcement’s handling of the shooting. The grand jury will likely hear evidence over the course of several months before deciding whether to issue an indictment. 
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended his campaign for the Republican nomination for president on Sunday, offering former President Donald Trump his endorsement ahead of Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary. “It’s clear to me that a majority of Republican primary voters want to give Donald Trump another chance,” he said in a video. “He has my endorsement because we can’t go back to the old Republican guard of yesteryear, a repackaged form of warmed-over corporatism that [former U.N. Ambassador] Nikki Haley represents.” Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina on Friday also announced he would be supporting the former president after suspending his own campaign in November. Meanwhile, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson—who dropped out of the race last week—endorsed Haley on Saturday, as did New Hampshire’s largest newspaper, the Union Leader.    

DeSantis Backs Down

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' podium at his caucus night event on January 15, 2024, in West Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' podium at his caucus night event on January 15, 2024, in West Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

On Sunday, just minutes before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 3 p.m. kickoff, Gov. Ron DeSantis released a major video announcement. While most Floridians were surely busy watching their football team’s heartbreaking playoff loss to the Detroit Lions, the Florida governor was admitting his own defeat in the 2024 GOP primary cycle.

DeSantis suspended his campaign for president yesterday after months of campaign turmoil and an ultimate failure to break through with GOP primary voters led to a disappointing second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, 30 points behind former President Donald Trump. The Florida governor—who was, at one time, viewed by many as Trump’s heir apparent—threw his support behind the frontrunner, calling former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley a relic of a past Republican party. With the DeSantis campaign canceling a number of interviews and events in recent days, the decision was somewhat expected—but it comes just days before the New Hampshire primary, where all eyes will be on Haley as she faces Trump in what is now, finally, a two-person race.

In a video announcement posted to the website formerly known as Twitter—the very site where he fumbled the launch of his presidential campaign almost eight months ago—DeSantis delivered the news straight to camera, announcing that, without “a clear path to victory,” he was suspending his campaign. He thanked his supporters and his family, touted his record as governor, and promised to “continue to show the country how to lead” from Florida. He also offered a sober—if not obvious—observation of the Republican electorate. “It’s clear to me that a majority of Republican primary voters want to give Donald Trump another chance,” he said, ultimately endorsing the man who has mercilessly mocked him for months.

It’s worth noting the details involved in “suspending” a run rather than “ending” it. The former allows a candidate to continue fundraising to help pay off accumulated campaign debts, pay contractors or consultants, and, crucially, keep any accumulated delegates for the party’s nominating convention. If there was to be a floor fight over a nominating contest, for example, candidates who still held delegates would have some skin in the game.

Following a dominant 2022 reelection victory in Florida—alongside a string of losses by Trump-backed candidates—DeSantis seemed poised to overtake the man whose endorsement initially catapulted him to the governor’s office in 2018. Indeed, the cover of the Murdoch-owned New York Post on November 9, 2022, featured DeSantis and his family with “DeFUTURE” in big, bold letters. He picked high-profile culture war fights with corporations, including Florida’s Walt Disney Company, and became one of the loudest voices combating perceived “wokeness” in American life. In December 2022, a USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll found that two-thirds of Republican voters preferred DeSantis to Trump as the party standard-bearer.

But DeSantis never lived up to those expectations, and from the start his presidential run failed to match the hype surrounding the once-ascendant governor. His campaign launch fell flat, and multiple campaign resets over the summer couldn’t right the ship. Massive fundraising hauls—and spending numbers—by his super PAC, Never Back Down, didn’t translate to momentum or votes. Stories of dysfunction and high staff turnover within the campaign apparatus plagued the governor until the final days of his run.

The slow-motion spiral culminated in a distant second-place finish for DeSantis in the Iowa caucuses. Despite a slate of high-profile endorsements—including Kim Reynolds, the state’s governor, and Bob Vander Plaats, the evangelical leader—DeSantis ran behind Trump by nearly 30 points. The governor claimed victory that night—but less than a week later, he was heading back to Florida. “You can’t run for president if you have no pathway to the nomination,” said Alex Conant, a founding partner at Firehouse Strategies who served as the communications director for Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign and Tim Pawlenty’s 2012 presidential campaign. “And he didn’t have one after getting crushed in Iowa.”

In addition to multiple missteps by the campaign apparatus, some GOP operatives believe a lack of a coherent strategy doomed the DeSantis campaign from the start. “The DeSantis campaign should have defined their candidate as Trump-plus, something like the former president but better,” Curt Anderson, former political director of the Republican National Committee, and Alex Castellanos, a founder of Purple Strategies, wrote for Politico. “Instead, they offered the voters Trump-minus. DeSantis pretended to be just like Trump but in a less bombastic and less entertaining package. To be fair, many self-appointed Republican strategists believed that’s what voters wanted, though the voters, inconveniently, kept rejecting it.”

DeSantis attempted to differentiate himself from the former president with his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, support for the pro-life cause, and no-nonsense approach to governing, but, until the final weeks of his campaign, he rarely made those distinctions forcefully. “He never had a message that contrasted with Trump,” Conant told TMD. “He was running against Trump but was afraid to utter his name. Never told voters why he would be a better nominee than Trump. To this day, I don’t know how he answered the question why [he would] be better than Trump.”

DeSantis’ endorsement of Trump is perhaps not surprising, given the contours of the Republican Party. And while he noted his disagreements with the former president again yesterday—pandemic policy chief among them—he ultimately offered the frontrunner his support. Trump, in turn, praised DeSantis at a rally in Rochester, New Hampshire, calling the governor “very gracious” and saying he ran a “really good campaign.”

Haley—who DeSantis criticized on his way out—also reacted to the news in real time at a campaign stop in Seabrook, New Hampshire. “He ran a great race, he’s been a good governor, and we wish him well,” she said. “Having said that, it’s now one fella and one lady left.”

Trump has continuously run ahead of Haley in polling of Granite State, with RealClearPolitics’ New Hampshire polling average still putting the former president about 17 points ahead of the former South Carolina governor. What’s more, polling by CNN and the University of New Hampshire shows that DeSantis supporters choose Trump as their second choice over Haley by a near 2-to-1 margin. 

But with two days of campaigning left and a history of surprising outcomes, the New Hampshire contest still poses an opportunity for a Haley upset—which could upend the race. “It’ll be fascinating to watch because [if Haley wins New Hampshire], she’s going to have the best couple of news cycles anyone’s ever had in America,” Conant said. “She’s gonna raise unbelievable amounts of money and just have a lot of momentum, and momentum matters a lot in politics.”

New Hampshire represents a bit of a do-or-die situation for Haley—after a convincing Trump victory in Iowa, a repeat performance could all but cement the former president as the next Republican nominee. “If Trump wins the first two contests,” Conant said, “there’s no reason I think he won’t win the next 48.”

Worth Your Time 

  • After decades of Chinese infrastructure-as-diplomacy projects in Africa, the U.S. may be making inroads with an unexpected partner: the historically leftist nation of Angola. “In 2012, a Chinese state company finished building the train station in this central Angolan town and installed an illuminated computer-controlled board to show departure times and ticket prices,” Michael M. Phillips reported for the Wall Street Journal. “Then the contractors decamped for China and, according to Angolan railway employees, neglected to tell anyone the computer password. So for more than a decade, the departure board has stubbornly displayed 2012 train times and 2012 ticket prices. ‘Over the years we’ve told clients that the information is wrong, so they’ve stopped paying attention to it,’ said ticket-collector Cahilo Yilinga. China’s missteps along the vital rail corridor have helped create a surprise opening for the U.S., which finds itself suddenly challenging Beijing’s commercial dominance in the unlikeliest of places: Angola, a southern African country once solidly embedded in the Communist bloc and the continent’s largest recipient of Chinese infrastructure loans. For the past decade, the U.S. has watched as China’s Belt and Road infrastructure campaign expanded Beijing’s influence across resource-rich Africa.” A U.S.-backed European consortium recently won a bid to rehabilitate the freight route. “The Biden administration has made improved commercial ties with Africa a foreign-policy priority. The railway win, along with several other recent Western business coups, shows the U.S. and its allies can hold their own in the elbowing for economic position and political sway in Africa, according to American officials.”

Presented Without Comment 

NBC News: Trump Confuses Nikki Haley With Nancy Pelosi When Talking About Jan. 6

“Nikki Haley, you know they, do you know they destroyed all of the information, all of the evidence, everything, deleted and destroyed all of it. All of it, because of lots of things like Nikki Haley is in charge of security. We offered her 10,000 people, soldiers, National Guard, whatever they want. They turned it down. They don’t want to talk about that. These are very dishonest people.”

Also Presented Without Comment 

Gov. Ron DeSantis, on November 6, 2023: “With Donald Trump, if you don’t kiss the ring, you could be the best governor ever and he’ll trash you. You could be a terrible, corrupt politician, but if you kiss his ring then all the sudden he’ll praise you.”

Toeing the Company Line 

  • In the newsletters: Sarah and Mike explored why Trump’s indictments have been a non-issue for his primary opponents in The Collision, the Dispatch Politics crew checked in from the campaign trail in New Hampshire, Nick searched (🔒) for the upside of a short primary, Jonah argued that there’s no secret Democratic plan to elevate Trump to the Republican nomination, and Chris analyzed (🔒) Team Trump’s campaign to crush Haley.
  • On the podcasts: Sarah was joined on the Dispatch Podcast by Steve, Jonah, Mike, and John to debate whether Americans ever cared about policy, and Jonah criticized Sen. Rand Paul’s ironic response to Trump’s claim of presidential immunity on The Remnant. On today’s episode of The Dispatch Podcast, Jamie is joined by Democratic strategist David Axelrod to discuss the GOP primary and Joe Biden’s chances in November.
  • On the site over the weekend: Louis Petrich reviewed The Hollow Crown: Shakespeare on How Leaders Rise, Rule, and Fall, Sean Keeley remembered the Emmy-snubbed series Better Call Saul, and Daniel Darling explored the pro-life movement’s aspirational moment. 
  • On the site today: Drucker and Mike write about the fun Haley seems to be having on the campaign trail in New Hampshire, and Charlotte reports from Jerusalem on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political future. 

Let Us Know

Do you think Ron DeSantis’ suspension of his campaign hurts or helps Nikki Haley’s chances in New Hampshire?

James Scimecca works on editorial partnerships for The Dispatch, and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he served as the director of communications at the Empire Center for Public Policy. When James is not promoting the work of his Dispatch colleagues, he can usually be found running along the Potomac River, cooking up a new recipe, or rooting for a beleaguered New York sports team.

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.