WASHINGTON – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis scored his first congressional endorsement for president, as Texas Rep. Chip Roy, a leader in the far-right Freedom Caucus, urged conservatives Wednesday to look past Donald Trump in 2024.
Trump has notched dozens of endorsements in the House and Senate for his comeback bid, including a number of Texans.
DeSantis has yet to say for sure that he’s running. But he’s been fueling the speculation as he barnstorms the country in a sort of shadow campaign. He spoke earlier this month at Dallas and Houston Republican dinners, though he’d insisted on keeping out news media.
Roy’s pitch, that DeSantis is “a vibrant and energetic leader” who has “proven his ability to win at the ballot box time and time again,” was laced with pokes at Trump.
“It’s time for younger, but proven, leadership” to take on President Joe Biden next year, the Austin Republican told supporters in an email blast.
Roy, elected in 2018, was a central player in the prolonged 14-ballot drama that eventually led to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s election in January.
The three-term Austin Republican was a key negotiator on behalf of right-wing holdouts who used their leverage to win a host of concessions, from committee assignments to rules making it easier to debate and amend bills and remove the speaker.
The Democratic National Committee tweaked both Roy and DeSantis by noting that the governor’s first endorsement came from a lawmaker “whose most recent claim to fame is holding McCarthy’s speakership hostage, calling for government shutdowns to repeal caps for prescription drug costs, and advocating for cuts to Social Security and Medicare.”
“Roy’s rush to endorse DeSantis is a match made in MAGA heaven – both Republicans have been hellbent on cutting Social Security and Medicare, too,” the DNC said.
DeSantis is now tied at one House endorsement with Nikki Haley, Trump’s United Nations ambassador and a former South Carolina governor.
Trump’s support runs deep in the Freedom Caucus, and among Texas Republicans.
Rep. Troy Nehls declared his “complete and total endorsement” on Nov. 15, the day Trump announced his comeback bid. Another Houston-area lawmaker, Rep. Wesley Hunt, called Trump “exactly the man American needs to save our nation from its rapid decline.”
Rep. Ronny Jackson of Amarillo, Trump’s White House physician, called him “the ONLY PERSON who can save America in 2024!!!”
But Roy, among other Republicans, argues that the party would fare better by moving on.
On Saturday night, Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, issued a blistering rebuke at the annual white tie Gridiron dinner, at which members of the Washington press corps lampoon politicians.
“History will hold Donald Trump accountable for Jan. 6,” Pence said.
It was his toughest condemnation since a mob invaded the U.S. Capitol, some calling for his murder.
Roy has likewise distanced himself from Trump. He was one of just four Texas Republicans in the House who voted to affirm all of Biden’s electoral victories the day of the riot.
Trump sought payback last May, backing New York Rep. Elise Stefanik over Roy to replace then-Rep. Liz Cheney as the No. 3 GOP leader.
“Can’t imagine Republican House Members would go with Chip Roy — he has not done a great job, and will probably be successfully primaried in his own district,” Trump said at the time, two months after Roy sailed through a four-way primary with 83%.
Roy touted DeSantis’ “non-politically correct” stances, referring to his scuffle with Disney – his state’s largest private employer – over the so-called “don’t say gay” law that limits discussion in schools of sexual orientation and gender identity.
DeSantis managed to upstage Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who’d been sending migrants to Washington on busses, by flying migrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard, a Massachusetts resort island.
“He stared down woke corporate America and higher education. And he stood with Texas in defense of our border,” Roy said.
The Texan alluded in his endorsement to the fact that Trump, for all his bluster and popularity among the GOP base, has a mediocre record in elections.
Strategists in both parties say Trump was a huge drag on other Republicans in 2018, when Roy won his seat, and again in 2020 and 2022.
DeSantis has openly questioned U.S. support for helping Ukraine repel the Russian invasion.
He told Fox News host Tucker Carlson this week that the United States has no vital national security interest at stake in that war.
That appalled national security hawks in the party of Ronald Reagan.
Roy didn’t address the controversy head-on, but said the governor has the “resolve and sober strength” needed, and as a veteran, “he recognizes that a military is best when it is strong, non-politically correct, and lethal – while being sparingly but decisively used and not mired in endless, protracted military engagements all around the globe.”