The vote came after a somewhat contentious closed-door session held by the party’s executive committee at an Orlando hotel. Loyal Trump supporters, who were not board members, attempted to sit in on the meeting but were asked to leave. So they remained outside the room where members were voting, anxiously awaiting a final decision.
State Sen. Joe Gruters, a former chairman of the Florida Republican Party and a Trump supporter, made the decision at the meeting to remove the requirement, arguing that the rules should not have been changed right before the primary.
“It’s not about the commitment,” Gruters said. “It’s about creating unnecessary obstacles at the end of the game that make it seem like it’s anti-President Trump.”
He warned that if the change was not made, it would be detrimental to the Florida party because Trump supporters would be unhappy – adding that “the Republican Party of Florida would cease to exist.”
“People will be pissed if we keep Trump off the ballot,” Ed Shoemaker of the Polk County GOP said at the meeting to applause from the group.
DeSantis and Trump did not attend the Orlando conference and were in Washington, D.C., at the Family Research Council’s annual Pray, Vote, Stand conference while members voted.
Trump and DeSantis are the most powerful Republicans in Florida, raising the stakes for party members who dare contradict them or even fail to offer wholehearted support. Some risk seeing their political aspirations collapse by voting for or against engagement, while others risk seeing valuable policy goals perish.
Both men demonstrated punitive tendencies. Trump has aggressively criticized his critics or called them out in deeply sardonic and personal terms on social media, while the governor has demonstrated he is not afraid to veto legislative spending priorities, even by the members of his own party — or take actions such as suspending liberal prosecutors or doubling down on a dispute with Walt Disney World.
DeSantis and Trump also enjoyed enormous support among Florida voters and donors. About 70 people gathered outside Friday’s meeting, many wearing Trump hats and at one point chanting, “We want Trump!”
Vic Baker, a Volusia County Republican on the party’s executive committee, said after the vote that the loyalty oath, which also required candidates to pledge not to run as independents, would have been a “imposition on Donald Trump” and would have “put the MAGA Nation into an absolute fury.” But Donald Trump is not just a candidate. He is part of a movement.
“We don’t really want to be in a position where we have to choose sides, but we want to do what’s right,” he said. “It won’t hurt Ron DeSantis if Donald Trump is on the ballot in Florida. It will be up to Ron DeSantis to win the Florida primary or Donald Trump. It’s on them. It’s not our fault. »
Bryan Griffin, press secretary for DeSantis’ campaign, said in a statement that “anyone interested in running for president as a Republican should be prepared to pledge their support to our eventual nominee.”
Trump’s campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Trump won Florida twice, making greater progress in 2020 than in 2016, and has the support of the state’s congressional delegation. Technically, he has made his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach his permanent post-presidential residence – although he spends his summers in Bedminster, New Jersey, during the sweltering, hurricane-prone summer months from South Florida.
Mar-a-Lago itself has become a rallying symbol for the GOP base following accusations against Trump over alleged mishandling of classified documents. Trump is also using his lavish club to woo Republicans, even going so far as to invite the executive committee of the Republican Party of Florida for a dinner in November.
Friday’s proceedings were closed to the public and press but open to party members, some of whom relayed details of what happened in the room to POLITICO. A motion to prohibit recordings at the start of the meeting passed, and another motion to proceed with a secret ballot vote failed by a vote of 19 to 16.
The loyalty pledge has been in effect since May, when the Florida Republican Party adopted it without much fanfare. This is similar to the Republican National Committee’s requirement that participants in the first and second national debates support the eventual Republican nominee. Trump did not participate in the first debate and is not expected to participate in the second in Simi Valley, California, on September 27.
Trump, who has defied the RNC and has not promised to support another Republican, is well ahead of his opponents, including DeSantis.
Christian Ziegler, party chairman, and Evan Power, vice chairman, told POLITICO this summer that there was little resistance to the loyalty pledge at the May meeting and that the change was discussed with both campaigns. But Gruters argued that some Republicans who voted earlier this year did not fully understand the change and that some were “shocked” when the news was made public.
Ziegler did not vote on the motion, saying after the meeting that it was a “member-driven process.”
“I’m just facilitating the meeting,” he said, adding that there was support for both Trump and DeSantis within the party.
Miami-Dade Vice President Alex Rizo, Jr. dissented in the vote, preferring to keep the loyalty pledge in place in order to maintain party unity.
“I just think it’s important and it didn’t stop any of the candidates from signing it and saying we’re all going to be together,” he said. “I think the most important thing here is that we need to be united as the Republican Party. And I think ultimately we will be.