Florida Republicans scrapped a loyalty pledge Friday that was required for candidates to get on the presidential primary ballot, a move requested by allies of former President Donald Trump that demonstrated his continued dominance of the party – even in a state led by his top GOP rival.
Trump’s ability to exert his will on Florida Republican leaders is an embarrassment for Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose allies worked unsuccessfully to keep the loyalty pledge.
Joe Gruters, a state senator from Sarasota and former Florida GOP chair who has endorsed Trump, led the push to rescind the loyalty pledge.
Gruters said it passed on an “overwhelming voice vote.”
The Republican Party of Florida adopted a requirement this year that GOP presidential contenders pledge to support the party’s eventual nominee in order to appear on the March 19 primary ballot.
Trump rejected a similar pledge that was put forward by the Republican National Committee as a requirement for participating in the primary debates.
“Why would I sign it?” Trump said on Newsmax. “I can name three or four people that I wouldn’t support for president. So right there, there’s a problem.”
Winning the loyalty pledge fight is another sign that Trump holds more sway with many Florida Republicans than DeSantis, despite the governor leading the state since 2019.
While DeSantis has the backing of many Republicans in the Legislature, most of the state’s GOP congressional delegation has endorsed Trump and a July poll from Florida Atlantic University shows Trump leading DeSantis in Florida among GOP voters by 20 percentage points.
“This persistent support continues to bolster Trump’s strong and steady position within the party,” FAU political science professor Kevin Wagner said in July.
Gruters said there would be an outcry if the Florida GOP tried to keep Trump off the ballot because he refused to sign the loyalty pledge.
“I think the party did the right thing,” Gruters said. “We do not want to create unnecessary road blocks for qualified candidates for president, and I think once again this shows the Republican Party of Florida and the base loves the former president.”
“The president is battling a lot of different fights on a lot of fronts, certainly it shouldn’t be with the party,” he added.
Hyped as the strongest potential GOP challenger to Trump, DeSantis has dropped in the polls and experienced significant turmoil in his campaign since launching in May. National polling has DeSantis in a distant second place, far behind Trump, in the GOP primary and he also trails by big margins in early voting states.
Trump’s dominance in Florida is particularly notable, though, because it’s the state where GOP voters know DeSantis best. Losing Florida likely would end his presidential campaign.
Having party activists buck him on the loyalty pledge could be viewed as a sign that there are cracks in DeSantis’ Florida base of support.
This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Donald Trump convinces Florida Republicans to ditch loyalty pledge