I understood this to be Ron DeSantis’s campaign strategy all along:
Some in DeSantis’ early political orbit did press him to attack Trump from the get-go because they thought there was no way to beat him without engaging, but DeSantis’ inner circle had other ideas. There was a continued belief at the time that support for Trump was “soft,” and if DeSantis did not anger Republican primary voters who previously supported Trump, those supporters would come over to him.
But there’s a second part of the strategy. For Trump’s ‘soft’ support to come over to DeSantis, he has to remain in the race.
Consider what Ankush Khardori wrote in Politico Magazine.
Nearly a third of Republican caucusgoers [in Iowa] told pollsters that Trump would not be “fit” for the presidency if he is convicted of a crime — a sizable defection that, if it held, would likely doom Trump’s general election chances.
For a long time now it has been clear that Trump would win the Iowa caucuses, and DeSantis has been aiming for a strong second place finish. He put all his resources into that project, and he basically met expectations. True, his second place was more distant than he would have liked but it should have been enough to stay the course.
Now the experts are arguing that DeSantis had to win Iowa and having lost it he has nowhere to go. He’s certain to come in third behind Trump and Haley on Tuesday in New Hampshire, and then the contest moves to Haley’s home state of South Carolina where Trump is heavily favored. My guess is that DeSantis just doesn’t have the stomach to fight on with a lean budget and a vastly diminished staff, but the game here was always to stay alive until verdicts start coming in on Trump. It makes no sense to drop out before the verdicts.
Some might argue that the verdicts are too far in the future and may not come at all, but honestly there was never any other strategy that could work. Absent weakness from legal humiliations and convictions, Trump was always destined to arrive in Milwaukee for the Republican National Convention with the most delegates, and almost definitely an outright majority of them. The key, then, was to position yourself as the one to pick up the pieces if it turns out Trump is going to prison for a very long time.
Maybe DeSantis thinks dropping out now and endorsing Trump is the best way to position himself for the convention. I disagree. He looks like a weakling and a punk, and he’s giving up the chance to build at least a rump of delegate support. If the Republicans go to a second ballot in a contested convention, DeSantis just hurt his chances of coming out on top. It would have been far better to try to wait Haley out to see if she would drop out of the race at some point. After all, his Super PAC was called Never Back Down. And then he took one punch in the nose and backed down.
He not only backed down, but he endorsed Trump at the critical moment, thereby forfeiting any high ground later.
Just a shameful performance on the Florida governor’s part.