Trump receives raucous welcome for speech in DeSantis' backyard

November 5, 2023

With his path to the 2024 Republican nomination looking more certain than ever, former President Donald Trump took what felt to many like a victory lap over the weekend, speaking at the Florida GOP's Freedom Summit event -- right in rival Ron DeSantis' backyard, as NBC News reports.

The enthusiastic reception that greeted Trump at the Kissimmee venue was viewed by many as one of the strongest signals yet that DeSantis' campaign -- which has had serious trouble gaining traction -- is flagging to a potentially insurmountable degree.

Trump touts surging Florida support

Addressing a crowd filled with raucous boosters, the former president projected nothing but confidence regarding his 2024 prospects.

“We're going to win the Florida primary for the third straight time, and we're going to win the state by a landslide next November,” he said.

Though he did not mention DeSantis until well into his speech, Trump eventually let loose on his onetime ally, as the New York Post explained.

“I endorsed him, and he became a rocket ship in 24 hours,” Trump recalled of DeSantis' first gubernatorial campaign. “Now he's like a wounded falling bird from the sky.”

Merchandise sales tell the tale

As the Associated Press noted, sentiments among conference-goers could be easily deduced not just by the way they greeted event speakers, but also by the way they spent their money.

Peter Crotty, a vendor at the conference who was selling merchandise bearing the names of Republican hopefuls, left no doubt about who had the lion's share of support.

Trump merchandise was selling like hotcakes, Crotty revealed, while he admitted having difficulty moving anything related to the DeSantis campaign.

DeSantis t-shirts, for example, were priced at $25 at the start of the conference, but markdowns of 80% were required by the event's end, according to the vendor, a sign of anemic interest among the conservative crowd in attendance.

Key endorsements roll in

It was not just the crowd's excitement over Trump's speech that sent ominous signals to the DeSantis campaign, but also news that the former president had garnered a series of endorsements from key players inside Florida's political landscape.

Trump's campaign announced a new spate of endorsements from top names in the Florida GOP just days after Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) made news by declaring his support of the former president over his own state's governor.

When addressing the conference himself, Scott made a sly reference to that particular development, saying, “You might have seen that I endorsed President Trump” and receiving showers of unabashed cheers in response.

Speaking to the strategy at play was Republican strategist Alex Conant, who explained, “Weakening DeSantis' standing in Florida is a clear objective of the Trump campaign. His entire message is built on the idea that he is a terrific governor. When Republican officials in Florida are choosing Trump over DeSantis, it really weakens the core of DeSantis' pitch,” and just how much longer the Florida chief executive can continue on his current path, only time will tell.

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