Former President Donald Trump kicked off his 2024 Presidential campaign with a rally in Waco, Texas, drawing a massive estimated crowd of 18,000, which was initially reported by the Waco police. During his 90-minute speech, he touched on key topics that resonate with his base, such as the border, President Biden, China, energy, Russia, Ukraine, and ongoing federal investigations. Trump’s speech was filled with passion and enthusiasm, presenting the former president, who is currently under multiple investigations, in a favorable light. This marks the official launch of Trump’s 2024 Presidential bid.
In case the mainstream media tries to tell you no one showed up to Pres. Donald Trump’s Waco rally.
— Daniel Baldwin (@baldwin_daniel_) March 25, 2023
News largely circulated following the rally due to a reference Trump made about the 2018 primary for Florida’s Gubernatorial race. Trump would go on to target Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, claiming that his 2018 victory was owed solely to Trump’s endorsement, a disputed but largely accurate claim. Trump also ridiculed DeSantis, alleging that he pleaded for his support in a conversation that Trump impersonated, saying:
“You couldn’t win without my endorsement. How could you win?'” Trump continued to mimic a voice begging and crying, saying, “‘Sir, please endorse me. If you endorse me, I’ll win. Please, sir.'”
Although some have disputed Trump’s assertion of helping DeSantis, early news coverage and statements from Florida Republicans indicate that Trump’s support played a significant role in DeSantis’s victory in the 2018 Florida Gubernatorial election. In 2018, Rep. Ron DeSantis had opened up a 12-point lead in Florida’s Republican race for governor, according to a new independent poll. The poll suggested that President Donald Trump was the key to DeSantis’ success, as the congressman had built his campaign around Trump’s support. Trump had endorsed DeSantis in December and then again in June, which slighted the establishment front-runner, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who had criticized Trump on the campaign trail in 2016.
DeSantis featured Trump’s endorsement in his mail and TV ads, which he began running in the past month. DeSantis led Putnam 42 percent to 30 percent among likely voters who have a history of going to the polls. DeSantis was strongest with older voters, as voters between the ages of 55 and 64 supported DeSantis by 11 points; those 65 and older backed him by 25 points; and those 75 and older preferred DeSantis by 19 points.
“It’s clear this is all about Trump and this is bad for Adam Putnam,” Fabrizio told POLITICO. “Absentee ballots start dropping, when? In eight days. Putnam is down by 12 points. What can he do to change that dynamic?”
“Usually, if people have seen your ads, they support you. And if they see your opponent’s ads, they support him,” Fabrizio said. “The problem for Adam is people in both groups like DeSantis. And he’s winning those who have seen both.”
DeSantis would go on to win the Florida Gubernatorial election, and many Florida Republicans linked his chances of winning the governor’s race in Florida to President Trump’s support. DeSantis frequently appeared on Fox News to defend Trump and his policies.
In July of that year, Trump held an endorsement rally in Tampa that helped DeSantis defeat Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who had more funding and higher name recognition, in the Republican primary by a margin of 20 percentage points.
Trump continued to play a significant role in the general election by attending rallies with DeSantis in Lee County and Pensacola in the campaign’s final week. The President also took to Twitter to attack DeSantis’s opponent, Andrew Gillum, then-mayor of Tallahassee, calling him a “thief” and accusing him of poorly running the city. Meanwhile, DeSantis repeatedly emphasized on the campaign trail that he was the only candidate who wasn’t the subject of an FBI investigation.
DeSantis is seen as Trump’s biggest rival in the Republican primary field, having just won reelection in Florida in a landslide. His growing national profile and popularity in the key swing state have made him a legitimate challenger to Trump in the 2024 election. Trump has been targeting DeSantis for criticism in recent weeks, including his handling of COVID-19 and his record on Social Security benefits.
“Remember one thing: Florida has been tremendously successful for many years, long before this guy became governor,” Trump said. “Florida was tremendously successful under Rick Scott … whether you like him or not, Charlie Crist was very successful, he was a Republican at the time. But Florida has been successful for decades, in fact, probably as or more successful than it is now.”
WATCH: At the Trump Rally in Waco, @MattGaetz calls on Ron DeSantis and Ted Cruz to stand with MAGA and endorse Donald Trump for President.
Crowd erupts in a standing ovation. pic.twitter.com/APcdVwpZ6S
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) March 25, 2023