Score one for former President Donald Trump over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, as the two combatants for 2024 Republican presidential nomination mixed it up in a test of their home turf strength and clout among supporters in the state they both call home.
The Republican Party of Florida’s executive board, under pressure from Trump supporters, voted on Friday evening to nix a provision in its bylaws that required any candidate seeking to be on the March 19 presidential primary ballot to sign a pledge of loyalty to the eventual GOP nominee.
The meeting, held at an Orlando, Florida hotel, was described by sources with knowledge of the gathering as contentious.
The pledge was adopted with little fanfare back in May, and DeSantis supporters, including state House Speaker Paul Renner, urged the board members to keep the pledge.
State Sen. Joe Gruters, a former Florida GOP chairman and a top Trump supporter in the Sunshine State, made the motion to drop the pledge, arguing that rules should not have changed in the first place less than a year before the primary.
According to reports, Polk County GOP member Ed Shoemaker warned during the meeting that “people will be pissed if we keep Trump off the ballot.”
The vote was not only a show of force for Trump in his adopted home state but is also a sign that DeSantis’ once iron grip over the Florida state party may be slipping.
Neither Trump nor DeSantis attended the meeting, as they were both giving speeches in Washington D.C. at the Family Research Council’s annual Pray, Vote, Stand conference around the same time the vote was taking place.
DeSantis campaign press secretary Bryan Griffin said in a statement that “anyone who wants to run for president as a Republican should be willing to pledge their support for our eventual nominee.”
Trump’s campaign did not immediately release a comment regarding the vote.
The pldege in Florida that was nixed is similar to the one the Republican National Committee is mandating GOP presidential candidates sign in order to make the presidential nomination debate state. Trump refused to sign the RNC’s pledge, skipped the first debate, and is likely to not attend the second one as well.
Trump, who’s making his third straight White House run, remains the commanding front-runner over DeSantis and the rest of the large field of contenders seeking to be the party’s 2024 standard-bearer.