By Aaron NavarroJacob Rosen,22 hours ago
Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott endorsed former President Donald Trump over his home state’s governor Ron DeSantis, as polling continues to show Trump as the clear front-runner in the GOP presidential primary.
Scott wrote in an op-ed for Newsweek published Thursday morning that he encourages “every Republican to unite behind” Trump.
“I know most of the candidates running for president, and I respect their decision to put themselves through this very difficult process,” Scott wrote. “Make no mistake: every single one of them would be a better president than Joe Biden. But Republican voters are making their voices heard loud and clear. They want to return to the leadership of Donald Trump.”
In a separate statement, Scott referred to Trump as the “strongest candidate.” News of Scott’s endorsement was first reported by The Messenger .
While no votes will be cast in the presidential primary until Jan. 15, 2024, Trump has maintained a healthy lead in recent polls in the early states. A Des Moines-Register/NBC poll released Monday showed 43% of likely Iowa GOP caucus-goers picked Trump as their first choice, while DeSantis was tied with former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley at 16%.
A different October poll commissioned by a nonprofit with ties to DeSantis showed Trump at 46% in Iowa, with DeSantis at 20% and Haley at 12%.
Scott and DeSantis’ icy relationship
Scott and DeSantis have had a contentious relationship, in part stemming from the transition at the end of Scott’s own term as governor in 2019, when he handed the reins to DeSantis. Scott made more than 80 state appointments in his last days in the governor’s mansion and missed DeSantis’ inauguration speech, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
In February, DeSantis pushed back on Scott’s suggestion that unspent federal funds from COVID-19 aid should be sent back to pay off national debt.
“I appreciate when federal folks are concerned about how we’re managing this. Why don’t they get their house in order? Why don’t they stop spending so much of our money?” DeSantis said at a press conference that month.
And when President Biden visited Florida after Hurricane Idalia in September, Scott was there , while DeSantis skipped a meeting with his potential general election opponent.
The DeSantis campaign dismissed Scott’s endorsement of Trump, pointing to the governor’s support among lawmakers and GOP officials in early primary states and in Florida.
“Ron DeSantis has more endorsements from state legislators than the former president in Iowa (41), New Hampshire (62), and South Carolina (16). He also has the support of almost all Florida elected officials because he worked with them to deliver historic results for the conservative movement,” DeSantis campaign spokesperson Andrew Romeo said in response to Scott’s endorsement. More than 90 Florida GOP state legislators have backed the governor.
“The governor will win his home state because Floridians want to see a fighter who will bring the same type of results-oriented leadership to Washington that he has provided in the Sunshine State,” Romeo added.
CBS News has reached out to the Trump campaign for comment on Scott’s endorsement.
One Florida GOP strategist who has worked on past presidential campaigns questioned the impact Scott’s endorsement would have in states like Iowa and New Hampshire. “How many Iowa and NH voters are devotees of Rick Scott?” they said.
Scott’s move to an endorsement
Scott said in April he wouldn’t endorse in the presidential primary, and cited a focus on his own reelection bid in 2024. But he teased a potential break from that stance during his speech at the Republican Jewish Coalition summit in Las Vegas over the weekend.
“Just think what we had with the last president — the most pro-Israel president in the history of this country,” Scott said to donors in Las Vegas. “Some people have different opinions about Donald Trump, but he did more for Israel than any president in the country.”
Scott touted an airstrike Trump ordered in January 2020 that killed Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard. He also cited the Trump administration’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which upset much of the Arab world but won praise from many Israelis.
“I am optimistic that we can return America to its rightful position of economic and military strength and the undisputed moral leader of the free world, but only with strong leadership in the White House. That is why I support my friend President Donald J. Trump to be the 47th president of the United States,” Scott wrote in his op-ed Thursday.
Scott was the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee in the 2022 midterm cycle and took a hands-off approach in GOP Senate primary races, a decision that earned him considerable blame when Democrats defeated several Trump-endorsed nominees and retained control of the upper chamber.