When Ron DeSantis’ campaign press secretary called me on Saturday night to cancel our “Media Buzz” interview for the next morning, I had no idea it would trigger a sequence of events that would lead to him dropping out less than 24 hours later.
I was disappointed, and somewhat annoyed, because we had gone to considerable lengths to accommodate the Florida governor.
But it was explained to me that DeSantis was dropping all his Sunday show interviews (including “Meet the Press” and “State of the Union”) so the next morning he could fly to New Hampshire, where he was mired in single digits, for a last stand before Tuesday’s primary.
And I thought to myself, of course he’s got to do what’s best for his campaign. No candidate can, or should, put the media first. Shaking hands with actual voters takes precedence.
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I tweeted that the governor had canceled our interview, since we had touted it, and figured that was that. I had no clue how his decision would blow up into the day’s top story.
“DeSANTIS DOOMED,” screamed the banner headline on Drudge.
Was blowing off several Sunday programs really a seismic event? Would the average voter care, as opposed to the self-absorbed media community?
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But DeSantis never took off for New Hampshire yesterday morning. And that led me to believe the whole thing had been a head fake.
Here’s what knowledgeable sources say actually happened. The plan was to go to New Hampshire when the DeSantis spokesman was apologetically canceling those interviews with me and others.
But the next morning, with the governor back in Florida, he held a series of conversations with his family and top staff members. A consensus was gradually reached that, as so many pundits had said, DeSantis had no path to victory. It was over. DeSantis started notifying his top donors. Trump had predicted his exit in an interview, that I aired, with Fox’s Bret Baier.
A couple of hours later, DeSantis posted a video saying “we prayed and deliberated” on the decision to get out. He said “a majority of Republican primary voters want to give Donald Trump another chance,” and while he’s had “disagreements” with the former president, “he has my endorsement because we can’t go back to the old Republican guard of yesteryear.”
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That, in case you were wondering, is a clear shot at Nikki Haley. After debates in which they called each other liars, they can’t stand each other. And DeSantis had pledged to back the nominee.
Ironically, his bailing out could help Haley a bit in New Hampshire now that it’s a two-person race.
The former South Carolina governor, pressed by CNN’s Dana Bash as to whether she would eventually back Trump, deflected by saying “I’m going to finish this so Joe Biden and Donald Trump aren’t an issue at all.”
After months of pummeling the man the candidate called DeSanctimonious, the Trump campaign said “we are honored by the endorsement from Governor Ron DeSantis.” Trump’s two top campaign officials, Chris LaCivita and Susie Wiles, put out a memo titled “Nikki Haley Must Win in New Hampshire. Just Listen to Her Own Supporters,” with lots of quotes.”
Now there’s little question that DeSantis and his campaign made many mistakes, somehow blowing through $130 million or so with little to show for it. There was overspending, endless resets and shakeups, and a perpetual tug of war with his Never Back Down Super PAC. Toward the end, some days were managed by the campaign and others by the PAC.
Perhaps the biggest mistake, and I told DeSantis this in a previous Fox interview, was staying in the conservative cocoon too long. From the moment he got in the race, he should have been making the mainstream media rounds, rather than waiting until the last month or two. By that time, DeSantis was way down in the polls.
And he finally acknowledged in a Hugh Hewitt radio interview that he regrets that decision and should have been talking to CNN, MSNBC and other outlets far earlier.
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DeSantis was also very restrained in his criticism of Trump, a little tougher toward the end, but that made media analysts wonder how he could beat the front-runner while pulling his punches.
DeSantis worked his butt off in Iowa, finishing a distant second, but it was too little too late.