Trump strengthens grip on the GOP as Ron DeSantis triumphs in Florida governor primary

Key Points
  • Rep. Ron DeSantis is projected to win Florida's Republican primary for governor after receiving President Donald Trump's endorsement.
  • It marks the latest example in this year's midterms of Trump's massive sway within the GOP.
  • DeSantis is projected to beat the establishment Republican choice in Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
Upsets in Florida primaries

President Donald Trump's domination of the Republican Party showed once again on Tuesday.

Rep. Ron DeSantis, whom the president endorsed several times, will win Florida's GOP gubernatorial primary, NBC News projects. The conservative who proudly highlighted Trump's support seemed to have little trouble. He led the establishment Republican choice, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, by nearly 20 percentage points with most of the votes counted.

On Monday, Trump called the 39-year-old DeSantis a "special person who has done an incredible job." After the representative's primary win, the president said DeSantis "will be a fantastic governor."

Trump tweet

In November's election, he will face 39-year-old Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, NBC News projects. Gillum has the backing of Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont and a leading voice on the political left, as well as major Democratic donor Tom Steyer.

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In a separate tweet Wednesday morning, Trump contended that Gillum is a "failed socialist mayor" and DeSantis' "biggest dream" as an opponent. "This is not what Florida wants or needs!" Trump wrote of Gillum.

Trump tweet

The Tallahassee mayor responded to the president's tweet, saying that "what our state and country needs is decency, hope and leadership."

Gillum tweet

DeSantis' triumph marks only the latest example this year of Trump's massive pull with his party base in primary elections. Since the president brought a more bare knuckles, nationalist approach to the top of his party, candidates who have criticized Trump or run as more muted conservatives have had a tougher time getting elected. Republicans candidates across the country — including those running in Tuesday's Arizona Senate primary — have tried to tie themselves closely to the president.

This year's primaries are filled with examples of Trump's sway. He put his weight behind Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the immigration hawk who narrowly defeated incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer earlier this month.

In another notable instance, Trump endorsed the primary opponent of Rep. Mark Sanford, a South Carolina Republican who has criticized the president. Sanford lost the the election in June.

Still, the Trump effect may not prove fruitful for the party. Election analysts have said that Kobach's win in Kansas or DeSantis' victory in Florida could benefit Democrats in November's general election.

Candidates who run as Trump allies in order to court GOP primary voters could have a tougher time shifting their strategies statewide. Trump's approval rating has been relatively poor in swing states such as Florida.