Florida GOP scraps planned loyalty oath in win for Trump over DeSantis

Sep 16, 2023, 8:54 PM

FILE - Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to reporters at U.S. Rep....

FILE - Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to reporters at U.S. Rep. Zach Nunn's Annual BBQ, Saturday, July 15, 2023, in Ankeny, Iowa. DeSantis is cutting campaign staff as he struggles to catch former President Donald Trump in the GOP’s crowded primary contest while facing sudden financial pressure. DeSantis let go fewer than 10 paid staffers late last week. That's according to a DeSantis aide granted anonymity to discuss internal campaign strategy. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

(CNN) — The Republican Party of Florida on Friday night scrapped plans to require presidential candidates to sign a loyalty oath, siding with former President Donald Trump over Gov. Ron DeSantis in a proxy war that tested the strength of the two rivals’ support in their home state.

The party had quietly agreed in May to institute a pledge, mandating candidates promise to endorse the GOP nominee in order to make next year’s primary ballot – a move seen by Trump allies as a maneuver intended to boost DeSantis. Pro-Trump forces in the party, led by state Sen. Joe Gruters, pushed to reverse course Friday, arguing that the state GOP violated national party rules that bar such changes to candidate eligibility requirements within two years of an election.

Gruters, a former chairman of the Florida GOP, made a motion to remove the language and won out in a voice vote by an “overwhelming” margin, he told CNN.

“Common sense prevailed at the Republican Party of Florida tonight,” Gruters said.

The vote by the state GOP’s executive committee took place during the organization’s quarterly meeting in Orlando, an event that should have been a celebration of the party’s recent electoral successes and a chance to lay the groundwork for the campaign to keep Florida red in 2024.

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Instead, the meeting exposed deepening divisions in the state party over its two presidential candidates. The outcome suggests that Trump maintains the upper hand over DeSantis in their shared home state.

Republican Party of Florida Chairman Christian Ziegler did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a statement to CNN after the vote, DeSantis spokesman Bryan Griffin said, “Once Ron DeSantis secures the party’s nomination, we hope everyone in the field will join him in that fight.”

“We believe anyone who wants to run for president as a Republican should be willing to pledge their support for our eventual nominee,” Griffin said. “It is surprising that anyone interested in seeing the defeat of Joe Biden in 2024 would disagree.”

On Friday night, the two 2024 rivals had dueling speeches in Washington, DC, about two miles from each other at separate Christian conservative events. DeSantis at the Pray Vote Stand Summit hosted by the Family Research Council and Trump at the Concerned Women for America Summit, where DeSantis made remarks earlier in the afternoon. The former president later spoke at the Pray Vote Stand Summit as well.

In August, DeSantis signed the Republican National Committee’s loyalty pledge to support the party’s eventual nominee, one of the requirements to appear on the debate stage. Trump has not signed the RNC’s loyalty pledge.

On Thursday, Trump told conservative host Megyn Kelly he does not plan to debate his fellow Republicans, pointing to his commanding lead over the 2024 primary field.

“I don’t see it,” Trump told Kelly. “Why would I do it?”

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Florida GOP scraps planned loyalty oath in win for Trump over DeSantis