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Exclusive: Florida GOP Congressman Backs Trump for President, as More Prepare to Follow Suit

5 minute read

As Republicans in Congress mull whether to back a candidate in next year’s presidential race, the choice facing Florida’s delegation is particularly fraught. The battleground state is home to both Donald Trump and his most formidable potential rival, Gov. Ron DeSantis. But since news broke last month of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s criminal prosecution of Trump, more of the Sunshine State’s federal lawmakers are abandoning their positions of neutrality.

In recent weeks, both Reps. Anna Paulina Luna and Byron Donalds have endorsed Trump, joining Rep. Matt Gaetz in supporting the former president over DeSantis, who has not yet declared his candidacy but has been laying the groundwork for a run.

Now, another member of Florida’s Republican House delegation, Rep. Cory Mills, is going all-in on Trump’s quest to take back the White House. “I think that what’s happening in New York is a very unifying event,” Mills tells TIME. “We need to stop the infighting and come together and unify. And I think right now the person that we need to be unifying behind is President Trump.”

Mills, a freshman member who represents a Central Florida district, will likely soon be accompanied by more of his colleagues. Other GOP Florida House lawmakers have told associates that they will endorse Trump in the coming days or weeks, including Reps. Kat Cammack, Brian Mast, Vern Buchanan, and Greg Steube, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter. None of those legislators returned requests for comment.

Trump endorsed Mills for his House seat in October, after Mills won a crowded Republican primary. Luna, also a freshman, was one one of the few GOP candidates to draw endorsements from both Trump and DeSantis last year. She announced her support for a second Trump term last month, shortly after Bragg invited Trump to testify before a grand jury and the former president claimed on social media that he was going to be arrested that Tuesday.

“To be clear, I love them both. He’s my governor, and I’m going to support him every step of the way as governor,” Luna tells TIME, referring to DeSantis, but she says she endorsed Trump in part because she believes the indictment reveals that Democrats see him as a threat. “I think we need someone who will be aggressive on foreign policy—and that’s Trump. You know, this is politics, you’ve got to pick your sides. I think that he’s the person that we need right now for this country.”

Donalds, a longtime DeSantis ally, stunned the Florida political community last week when he endorsed Trump. Donalds and the governor have been close for years, with Donalds playing the role of DeSantis’ 2018 gubernatorial rival Andrew Gillum in debate prep five years ago and introducing him at his election night victory party last year. He’s also been exploring his own bid for governor after DeSantis leaves office. Taking Trump’s side this early, Florida insiders say, may complicate his ability to secure DeSantis’ endorsement down the road, should Donalds seek to succeed him.

Most of Florida’s 22 Republicans in Congress have yet to take a side in the presidential race. Yet the delegation’s expanding embrace of Trump this early marks a shift from the 2016 presidential election. In that race, a plurality of the state’s GOP House members backed former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at the outset of the primary cycle. Most didn’t warm up to Trump until after he had effectively clinched the nomination.

Despite not having formally launched a campaign for president, DeSantis already has the endorsements of two Republicans in Congress: Reps. Chip Roy of Texas and Thomas Massie of Kentucky. He is widely expected to formally declare his candidacy this spring, after Florida’s current legislative session ends.

A recent poll of Florida Republicans shows DeSantis ahead of Trump by a five point margin, but the governor’s numbers in his home state have been slipping since Trump ramped up his attacks on him. National polls have Trump leading by double digits. A Fox News survey released last week found Trump garnering 54% of Republican voters nationwide, with just 24% going for DeSantis.

DeSantis did not respond to a request for comment for this report.

Mills thinks that a growing list of Florida Republicans rallying behind Trump could dissuade DeSantis from challenging him this cycle, and instead wait until 2028 to mount a bid for the White House.

Six weeks ago, Mills says, he spoke with Trump and the two discussed holding an event at either Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach or the Trump National Doral Golf Club in Miami to roll out the endorsements of multiple Florida lawmakers and other elected officials. Such an event may still happen, adds Mills, an Army veteran who worked in the Department of Defense during the Trump Administration, but Bragg’s indictment is prompting those endorsements to come at a more rapid clip.

The Florida gathering, which may turn into a full-on Trump rally, would “hopefully encourage our governor to keep being an amazing governor and running our state,” Mills says. “And then later, after the president finishes his four-year term, step up to keep the tiller in the right direction for the next eight years. America needs 12 years of leadership—not four and not eight.”

Mills is not the only one to suggest that DeSantis should hold off. “I do think that DeSantis, if he waits, has a really bright future,” Luna says. “But I think right now, with what we need for the country, I think it’s Trump.”

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