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Trump is Aiming to Take Over Ron Desantis’ Base of Power in the Florida GOP

The former president’s allies are trying to flip lawmakers who previously endorsed Gov. Ron DeSantis, and Trump will host state GOP leaders at Mar-a-Lago next week.

The Republican Party of Florida that Ron DeSantis built is now turning Donald Trump’s way.

Trump allies in the state are organizing an effort to flip Republican lawmakers from DeSantis endorsers to Trump. Two sources familiar with the effort said as many as six could come out for Trump as early as next week.

The move is scheduled to coincide with this Saturday’s Florida Freedom Summit, which will feature all of the major Republican presidential candidates and shine a national spotlight on the state. 

The sources said that details are still being finalized but that they’re aiming for an announcement about Florida state-level elected Republicans’ moving away from DeSantis for next week. In addition to the summit, the third Republican presidential debate (hosted by NBC News) is being held in Miami next Wednesday.

“It’s coming,” the source familiar with the changes said. “Exact number not yet said, but it will be close to 10.” 

A Florida Republican lobbyist who has heard about the effort but isn’t involved said he expects “at least five” to move to Trump.

“There is no doubt that there are more coming next week,” he said.

The DeSantis campaign declined to comment.

Trump is also hosting a reception at Mar-a-Lago “honoring” Florida GOP leaders the day after the debate, according to sources familiar with the event and an invitation obtained by NBC News.

It is a continuation of the Florida GOP’s shift to Trump as he has taken a commanding lead in the 2024 Republican primary campaign.

Trump quickly secured the endorsements of most of the state’s Republican members of Congress; then, in September, party leaders voted to get rid of a requirement that GOP presidential candidates support the eventual nominee. The move was supported by Trump — who wouldn’t commit to support the GOP nominee if it’s not him — but not supported by DeSantis, whose teams actively lobbied his home state party to keep the oath in place. 

Ahead of that vote, Trump similarly invited Florida Republican leaders to Mar-a-Lago. At the time, the move was seen as a lobbying technique to sway them to get rid of the loyalty oath. Trump’s decision to once again host a similar gathering is being seen in Republican circles as Trump’s putting the finishing touches on his takeover of DeSantis’ home state party.

“In the lead-up to the repeal of the loyalty oath, state executive committee members were invited to a Mar-a-Lago event,” a longtime Florida Republican said. “It seems like a solid approach to win over grassroots leaders that have been largely ignored by the DeSantis operation during the re-elect and the presidential campaign to this point.”

The speaking schedule for this weekend’s summit is itself seen as further indication of both Trump’s dominance of the party and potentially a sign that Florida GOP Chairman Christian Ziegler — who during his race for chairman of the party was perceived as the pro-Trump candidate — is putting his finger on the scale for Trump.

“I get it, there is a lot of intrigue with such a contentious party primary,” Ziegler said in a statement. It happens every couple years. … And instead of accepting the neutrality position, the media and public try to guess which corner you are in by making assumptions based on what color tie you are wearing or if they spot you throwing a baseball. Externally that consumes the headlines, but internally we are laser focused on getting the Republican Party ready to take whomever our nominee is and ensure that they beat the Democrat.”

DeSantis will be speaking midday Saturday at the Florida GOP summit, which is being held in Orlando. It’s a contrast with Trump, who secured the slot as the keynote speaker.

DeSantis’ midafternoon slot is notable not just because it’s at an event hosted by his home state party, but also because he has spent so much money beefing up the party during his five years in office. He has raised $4 million alone for voter registration, an effort that helped Republicans not just overtake Democrats’ long-held voter registration advantage in the state, but also quickly build a more than 500,000-person registration advantage.

DeSantis continues to be endorsed by 99 Republicans in the Legislature — a vast majority of the GOP caucus — but even there, signs of an eroding base of support have become evident.

State Rep. Randy Fine, the lone Jewish Republican in the Legislature, last month flipped his endorsement from DeSantis to Trump, citing DeSantis’ response to the terrorist attacks in Israel. That flip was first reported by The Messenger.

“I think members are beginning to see the writing on the wall,” state Rep. Juan Carlos Porras said. “Donald Trump is going to be our Republican nominee for president in 2024, and no amount of polling and data can prove otherwise at the moment. I was proud to endorse him back in June when he visited the Versailles Restaurant in Miami, and I will continue to work to make sure he will be the 47th president of the United States.”

Trump is also set to suck attention away from next week’s third GOP debate, in Miami, one of the last opportunities for his opponents to try to regain momentum. He is skipping it — as he did the first two — and holding a counterprogramming event in nearby Hialeah.

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