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Florida Sen. Rick Scott endorses Trump over home-state Gov. DeSantis

<i>Carlos Barria/Reuters/File</i><br/>In this 2018 file photo
Carlos Barria/Reuters/File
In this 2018 file photo

By Steve Contorno and Kate Sullivan, CNN

(CNN) — Florida Sen. Rick Scott endorsed former President Donald Trump on Thursday over his home-state governor, Ron DeSantis, as he called for Republicans to unite behind the party’s 2024 front-runner.

“I support my friend President Donald J. Trump to be the 47th president of the United States and encourage every Republican to unite behind his efforts to win back the White House,” Scott wrote in an op-ed published in Newsweek.

This is not the first time Scott has aligned himself with Trump over one of his state’s native sons. In 2016, with two Floridians, Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush, both seeking the GOP nomination for president, Scott, then Florida’s governor, wrote a glowing op-ed that heralded Trump as a figure who was “capturing the frustration of many Americans” and, like other former political outsiders, injecting the political scene with “new ideas and new energy.” He didn’t formally endorse Trump, but the intention was clear.

With his announcement Thursday, Scott joins most Republicans in Florida’s US House delegation in endorsing the former president over DeSantis. Like those previous congressional endorsements, which arrived as DeSantis was just about to formally enter the presidential race, this one comes at an opportune moment. The Florida GOP will host all the candidates on Saturday at an event that will test the respective strength of DeSantis and Trump among state Republicans.

In a statement to CNN, DeSantis spokesman Andrew Romeo did not directly address Scott’s rebuff but noted that the governor “has the support of almost all Florida elected officials because he worked with them to deliver historic results for the conservative movement.”

“The governor will win his home state because Floridians want to see a fighter who will bring the same type of results-oriented leadership to Washington that he has provided in the Sunshine State,” Romeo said.

While past endorsements of Trump by Florida Republicans caught DeSantis and his political operation off guard, this one came as little surprise to his allies. Scott and DeSantis have maintained an icy relationship dating back to 2018. After voters elected DeSantis governor and Scott to the US Senate, the incoming transition team clashed with the outgoing administration repeatedly over office space and moving schedules.

Scott then opted against joining the rest of the newly elected senators in Washington for their swearing-in, choosing instead to remain on as Florida governor until DeSantis’ inauguration. In his final days as governor, Scott made 84 appointments to various state boards, judgeships and committees, including some that were submitted just hours before the new governor was sworn, blindsiding his successor.

Then, at DeSantis’ inauguration, Scott left the festivities before DeSantis spoke to attend his own swearing-in ceremony in DC. By the time DeSantis praised his predecessor for his “laser-like focus” on job creation, Scott was already gone.

The friction continued into DeSantis’ first term. He quickly rescinded many of Scott’s appointments in one of his first acts as the new executive. When the state’s unemployment system collapsed in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, leaving tens of thousands of newly jobless without benefits for weeks, DeSantis blamed the previous administration, suggesting that the system was intentionally designed to discourage people from applying for aid.

Later, Scott declined to stand by DeSantis in his fight against Disney over the state’s controversial law to restrict classroom instruction of sexual orientation and gender identity, saying his interactions with the entertainment giant had been “positive.” He also was critical of efforts by DeSantis to unravel a law Scott championed that awarded in-state tuition to the children of undocumented migrants who grew up in the state.

Meanwhile, Scott has remained close to Trump. He was one of eight Republican senators to object to the certification of 2020 election results and has been a constant defender of the former president in the face of his legal troubles. Scott also has close ties to Trump’s political team, especially the former president’s top political operative, Susie Wiles, who orchestrated Scott’s unexpected win for governor in 2010.

In his Newsweek op-ed, Scott did not mention DeSantis by name. But he argued that any of the Republican 2024 candidates “would be a better president than Joe Biden.”

“But Republican voters are making their voices heard loud and clear,” Scott said. “They want to return to the leadership of Donald Trump.”

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Article Topic Follows: CNN - US Politics

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