Why Trump Is Beating DeSantis Among D.C. Republicans

Last year, Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, who, in November, was reëlected in a landslide, emerged as the only viable challenger to Donald Trump in the 2024 Republican Presidential primary. Six months later, DeSantis has yet to announce his candidacy, while Trump has been garnering a wide range of endorsements from elected officials, and has expanded what was once a somewhat narrow lead in primary polls. Reports suggest that Trump is doing a good job winning over Republican élites, whereas DeSantis has struggled, especially in small-group settings with other politicians and donors.

Last week, DeSantis went to Washington, D.C., where he met with a group of Republican lawmakers to try to shore up support. One of them, Representative Lance Gooden, of Texas, made an endorsement shortly afterward—for Trump. Gooden is in his third term representing Texas’s Fifth District; he voted against certifying electors from Arizona and Pennsylvania in 2020. Gooden and I recently spoke by phone about his endorsement, the G.O.P.’s concerns about DeSantis, and whether abortion could hurt the Republican Party next year.

Can you talk a little bit about your endorsement of the former President Trump and how you came to that decision?

I was a strong supporter of Donald Trump during his term in office. I was a big, strong ally. When he left office, a period of time went by where we did not know who the standard-bearer of the Party would be. Different profiles have been raised, such as Ron DeSantis’s, since Trump left office. I told myself that I was going to get behind the candidate I thought was best, who I thought could win. I suspected that that candidate could and would be Donald Trump. But I did not want to endorse him out of loyalty and friendship. I wanted to endorse him because I really believed that he was the right one. I made a promise to myself and my constituents that I would do my due diligence and take my time and not rush into something. I did that.

You set aside the personal friendship and said, “I’m going to make this decision on the merits.”

Yes, and it was very difficult because Donald Trump came to my state about a month ago and had a rally. The day of his rally, he put out a list of all the elected members of Congress and state officials that were part of his Texas leadership team. I wasn’t on the list, and it felt very strange not to be, but I thought it was too early. I also had not even met Ron DeSantis. I wanted to at least visit with him. Then either I would make a different decision or, if I stuck with Trump, it would be an even stronger show of support, because I could actually say I’m doing this after quite a bit of extra work.

You’ve done the homework. You’ve looked at the policies.

That was my goal. Yeah.

What did you make of DeSantis before you met him?

I’ll be very candid. I don’t want to sound critical. I’ll just report back.


A lot of the information I have learned about Ron DeSantis has come from some of my colleagues who served with him. DeSantis left Congress as I was entering Congress, so I did not know him as a colleague. I spoke with some members who said he was a nice guy, but instead of going and having a beer after work he would go home and get on FaceTime with his wife and kids for an hour or two, which is admirable.

As a father myself, it is very difficult to be going back and forth across the country every week. A lot of times, I will call it a night early, have a quick bite, and then I’ll jump on the phone and talk to my kids while they’re doing their homework. I get that. I respect that. But every time I say no to a dinner invitation, or no to a social activity with a colleague, then I am turning down an opportunity to grow my list of allies.

Washington is very much a back-slapping, cigar-smoking, beer-drinking-type city. Because he did not do that, and because he was also in the Freedom Caucus, where they inevitably annoy some folks from time to time, I don’t know that he had those close relationships. When he got to Florida—I think he’s done a fantastic job, but I don’t know that he has the personal touch that perhaps Donald Trump has or that I understand his wife, Mrs. DeSantis, has. He has struggled with that. He has certainly been very late to the game. He probably should have come to Washington and started requesting meetings with members eight to ten months ago.

In this dichotomy between going out and having a beer with people and staying home and talking on the phone to your kids about their homework, which do you think is more Trump?

Well, Trump is in his seventies with grown children.

Right, maybe helping his grandkids with homework.

Yeah. One of my very best friends in Congress—he raises a ton of money, and he is having dinner with a colleague or a member of the Washington circuit every single night. He’s not married, and he doesn’t have children, so he’s able to do that. I could do that, but it would come at a cost that I’m not willing to pay. I suspect DeSantis was in that same boat many years ago.

Back to DeSantis. I reached out to a couple of his emissaries starting back in the fall and basically told them, “I’ve been a supporter of Trump. I am undecided. I want to really do my due diligence.” And I remember one of them saying, “Well, he’s going to start taking meetings probably in December or January.” And that really rubbed me the wrong way. I thought, Is he a king? Meanwhile, President Trump—I hear from him, he texts, he calls, he says, “If you’re in South Florida, let me know. Stop by. I want to see you.” He’s very warm, and he’s very accessible.

He doesn’t act like a king, you’re saying.

He does not act like a king. He acts like your friend, your father, your grandfather. The DeSantis orbit gave me flashbacks to when I was a state legislator, and the Rick Perry ensemble of protectors and higher-ups felt a bit exclusive. I think the Trump organization has always been very inclusive. This aggravates some of his advisers, because he is so accessible. One of the complaints when he was in the White House was that he was too accessible.

I think Trump’s defenders might say that he was trying to get all the different opinions so that he could find the best one. It was a management style.

It was a management style, but I think that some of the people that are on his campaigns now are saying, “Thank God he was so accessible then, because that has paid dividends now that he is racking up endorsements every single day.”

Tell me about the meeting with DeSantis on Capitol Hill.

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