Ron DeSantis ends presidential campaign before New Hampshire primary

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who was hailed for much of last year as a rising Republican star, is ending his presidential campaign after he failed to overtake rival Donald Trump in polling or in the early vote of the 2024 race.

DeSantis made his announcement in a four-and-a-half-minute video posted to X on Sunday with less than 48 hours until voting in New Hampshire's primary, the second state in the nominating race.

"We don't have a clear path to victory," he said in the video, which he said was filmed in Florida.

His exit now leaves the primary battle as essentially a one-on-one contest between Trump and Trump's former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who continues to trail Trump in polling and placed a distant third in the Iowa caucuses where DeSantis came in second (with 21%) to Trump's first-place finish with 51%.

According to polls, Haley has her best chance at beating Trump in New Hampshire on Tuesday.

DeSantis on Sunday quickly endorsed Trump, a primary opponent whom he has increasingly criticized on the trail.

"It's clear to me that a majority of Republican primary voters want to give Donald Trump another chance. ... While I've had disagreements with Donald Trump, such as on the coronavirus pandemic and his elevation of [COVID-19 adviser] Anthony Fauci, Trump is superior to the current incumbent, Joe Biden. That is clear," DeSantis said in his video. "I signed a pledge to support the Republican nominee and I will honor that pledge."

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at a campaign event at Jethro's BBQ, on Jan. 11, 2024, in Ames, Iowa.  (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at a campaign event at Jethro's BBQ, on Jan. 11, 2024, in Ames, Iowa. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

DeSantis begins 2024 as a failed challenger to Trump, but he entered 2023 as the Republican seen as the most likely alternative to win the party's presidential nomination.

After a dominant reelection to the Florida governor's mansion in November 2022, winning by double digits in a famous swing state that had only barely elected him in 2018, DeSantis was buoyed through March 2023 by poll numbers that showed him less than 15 points behind Trump, according to 538.

DeSantis also often boasted of his track record of conservative victories in his state, where Republicans have increasingly won a number of local elections even as Trump-aligned candidates struggled in high-profile races elsewhere in the country.

Among his achievements in Florida, he said, was his opposition to abortion access, his high-profile resistance to federal health authorities' recommendations during the height of COVID-19 -- which he likened to bureaucratic overreach -- and his view that many K-12 students shouldn't receive public school instruction on LGBTQ issues because it was not age-appropriate.

The latter position, enacted through the Parental Rights in Education Act and widely condemned as prejudiced by LGBTQ advocates, helped solidify DeSantis' national profile as a Republican warrior but sparked a lengthy feud with The Walt Disney Company, one of the largest private employers in Florida. (Disney also owns ABC News.)

Disney sued, claiming DeSantis and his allies retaliated against the company because it spoke out against the Parental Rights in Education Act, which critics call the "Don't Say Gay" law, a label the law's supporters reject.

As the legal battle with Disney wore on, DeSantis, who denied politically motivated retaliation, said the state had "basically moved on." Disney's suit remains pending as are separate, dueling suits between Disney and a new board of DeSantis appointees overseeing the area around the company's theme parks.

In early 2023, before officially entering the presidential race, DeSantis used a new book -- "The Courage to be Free" -- to tout his wins in Florida while teasing that he would launch a White House bid only after "the most productive legislative session" ever seen in his state.

At that point, both Haley and Trump had already been campaigning.

DeSantis' official kickoff in May 2023, hosted by Elon Musk on X, formerly known as Twitter, received a rush of anticipatory coverage but was marred by glitches and soon evolved into a dense, non-televised discussion on policy and culture war issues, the very things also came to define DeSantis' campaign.

His stump speech on the trail was frequently heavy with base-friendly buzz words like "woke" and "indoctrination" and acronyms like "DEI," referring to diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives that many conservatives oppose as unnecessarily race-focused.

DeSantis' wife, Casey, a former TV journalist and a trusted adviser, at times joined her husband on the trail, seeking to provide a personal touch that the governor was often said to lack.

But her appearances were brief and eventually the couple spent most days on the opposite ends of Iowa, with Florida's first lady holding her own intimate events with voters while her husband rallied larger groups.

The couple, who share three kids, turned some campaign stops into family affairs, as when they visited the famed "Field of Dreams" baseball diamond in Dyersville, Iowa, in August.

In recent weeks, the DeSantises told voters about their children's first experience with snow, during a December visit to Iowa.

On Sunday, Ron DeSantis looked back on some of those experiences as he thanked staff, supporters and his family for backing his campaign.

During the summer months soon after launching his bid, DeSantis ran an insular operation, keeping his distance from the mainstream press -- just as he often did while running for reelection as governor -- and holding his fire on Trump, the front-runner, only taking Trump on directly when asked by reporters or voters.

The strategy led to some awkward moments, as in New Hampshire in June, when he responded to a voter who asked him about Jan. 6 by saying, "I wasn't anywhere near Washington that day."

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to supporters during a campaign rally at the Cara Irish Pub & Restaurant on Jan. 19, 2024 in Dover. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to supporters during a campaign rally at the Cara Irish Pub & Restaurant on Jan. 19, 2024 in Dover. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

In the closing days and weeks of his campaign, DeSantis vocally criticized Trump's record but was unable to build up much momentum in polls of Republican voters.

DeSantis also repeatedly endured cycles of negative headlines over staffing layoffs; infighting with his allied super PAC, which organized much of his campaigning; and his high rate of spending that saw him burn through a significant amount of his huge fundraising.

By the time the governor appeared to find his footing on the trail in the fall, his earlier strength in the polls had badly eroded and he was hearing Haley's footsteps.

The former South Carolina governor delivered multiple well-received debate performances in the summer and fall and saw a steady uptick in the polls, even surpassing DeSantis in many surveys by the winter months as both sought to pitch themselves as the stronger Trump alternative.

DeSantis, responding to Haley's rise, labeled her as less conservative -- needing to prop up her campaign with anti-Trump voters outside the GOP base.

Haley on Sunday responded to the end of DeSantis' campaign by praising him.

"I want to say to Ron: He ran a great race, he's been a good governor and we wish him well," she said.

"Having said that," she added, "it's now one fella and one lady left. ... May the best woman win."

The Trump campaign, in their own statement, said they were "honored" to have DeSantis' endorsement. "It is now time for all Republicans to rally behind President Trump to defeat Crooked Joe Biden and end his disastrous presidency," the campaign said.

Trump told reporters later Sunday that his preferred nickname to mock DeSantis -- DeSanctimonious -- was "officially retired."

An intense campaign schedule, and a bet on Iowa

DeSantis pitched himself to voters as the hardest-working candidate and often had the receipts to prove it.

In late summer, he began campaigning intensely across Iowa, which held the first contest of the nominating race, by ticking off counties big and small as he sought to visit all 99 by the time of January's caucuses (he accomplished the feat by early December).

The tours through Iowa were led primarily by Never Back Down, the deep-pocketed super PAC supporting the governor.

Staff from the group guided DeSantis through each crevice of the state in a red-and-blue bus with his name stamped on each side.

The stops ranged from meeting the owners of a meat locker in rural Wright County, near the Minnesota border, to rallying in front of hundreds of supporters near the banks of the Mississippi River.

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a campaign event at Wally's bar, on Jan. 17, 2024, in Hampton, N.H.  (Michael Dwyer/AP)
PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a campaign event at Wally's bar, on Jan. 17, 2024, in Hampton, N.H. (Michael Dwyer/AP)

Along the way, DeSantis consistently chided Trump for not exerting the same effort, accusing the former president of taking voters for granted.

The governor's problem, though, was that many voters didn't seem to care. The more DeSantis campaigned, the more his numbers weakened -- a pattern, according to 538, that suggests DeSantis' approach was turning off more voters than he was winning over.

By the end of the fall, DeSantis' best chance at the nomination had shrunk to one clear, if distant, scenario: notch a stellar result in Iowa's caucuses in January, where evangelical Republicans were seen as more aligned with his deep social conservatism, and hope that it would shatter Trump's aura of invincibility.

With the backing of the state's popular Republican governor, Kim Reynolds, and a prominent evangelical leader, Bob Vander Plaats, DeSantis sounded confident in his chances -- for a while, at least.

Several times, he pledged to win the state, even as recently as December.

An underwhelming caucus night

Not only did he not win the caucuses, DeSantis finished 30 points behind Trump and only just ahead of Haley, who had devoted much less attention to the state.

"Donald Trump posted the victory [in Iowa], so I think he's benefiting from momentum here," DeSantis acknowledged in a Fox News interview on Friday from New Hampshire, where his polling significantly trailed Haley.

To keep his campaign busy, DeSantis and his aides said after Iowa that instead he would spend more time in South Carolina -- insisting publicly that he could undercut Haley in her home state by the time of the Feb. 24 Republican primary and push her out of the race.

DeSantis was in South Carolina for three events on Saturday. It was his final full day of campaigning.

PHOTO: A volunteer plunges campaign signs for Republican Presidential Candidate, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis into deep snow outside the Chrome Horse Saloon one day before the Iowa caucuses, Jan. 14, 2024, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
PHOTO: A volunteer plunges campaign signs for Republican Presidential Candidate, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis into deep snow outside the Chrome Horse Saloon one day before the Iowa caucuses, Jan. 14, 2024, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

'Next time'

In his final few days on the trail, DeSantis appeared resigned to the fate of his 2024 bid.

Speaking to NBC News on Tuesday in Greenville, South Carolina, he spoke of meeting people who were excited about the prospect of him running again in 2028.

"I had people come up to me saying, 'I love you, man. I'm going to do Trump this time and you next time.' That's not what I wanted to hear, but being there we did make an impression and it's important," he said.

He was reflective in other interviews, telling Hugh Hewitt, for example, that he erred by staying away from traditional media early on in his campaign.

"I should have gone on everything," he said, adding, "We had an opportunity, I think, to come out of the gate and do that and reach a much broader folk."

Speaking with Fox News' Neil Cavuto last week, DeSantis said voters who were open to a non-Trump Republican had nonetheless been turned off by the appearance of his "inevitability."

"What I do think we saw in Iowa, and what you're probably going to see on Tuesday in New Hampshire and beyond, is there are a lot of voters that were resigned, that we were targeting, that were interested in another choice but they did kind of buy into the inevitability argument," he said.

Privately, DeSantis was weighing whether to continue forward. In the shadow of the Iowa result, he was at a loss for how to pull Trump's base from the former president and faced an uphill battle to fundraise.

Over the weekend, he and his staff huddled to make decisions, a set of conversations that led eventually to suspending the campaign on Sunday, according to a person familiar with the decision.

Speaking to reporters on Saturday in South Carolina, DeSantis appeared tired, though he did make a case for himself.

"I think, clearly, if you look at this constituency, this is a great constituency for me. Being the only veteran is huge. It's a veteran-heavy state, military-heavy state, a conservative state," he said.

In closing his video announcement about the end of his campaign on Sunday, DeSantis sought to invoke Winston Churchill, who famously led the U.K. through World War II.

However, the quote DeSantis cited -- "Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts" -- appears never to have been spoken by Churchill.

Instead, according to the International Churchill Society, the late prime minister had this to say about winning tough battles: "No one can guarantee success in war, but only deserve it."

ABC News' Libby Cathey, Abby Cruz, Lalee Ibssa, Nicholas Kerr, Soo Rin Kim, Mike Pappano, Rachel Scott and Will Steakin contributed to this report.

Ron DeSantis ends presidential campaign before New Hampshire primary originally appeared on abcnews.go.com