The group of Ron DeSantis’ top donors and supporters gathering in Palm Beach, Fla., this weekend includes some longtime backers of former President Donald Trump.
The Florida governor’s three-day retreat at the Four Seasons hotel — just four miles down the road from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate — kicked off Friday evening with a cocktail reception and dinner for the approximately 150 attendees. The event, billed as a celebration of the “Florida blueprint,” precedes a likely DeSantis presidential bid that would pit him against Trump. And the roster of people there shows that the governor is appealing to major GOP figures who’ve previously aligned themselves with the former president.
People spotted at the opening night of the conference included Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, who on Friday evening participated in a panel discussion DeSantis moderated on the “medical establishment.” Johnson has long been a staunch Trump ally: On Jan. 6, 2021, Johnson tried to arrange for a list of fake electors backing Trump to be handed to then-Vice President Mike Pence.
A Johnson spokesperson, however, said Johnson did not intend to endorse in the primary.
“Sen. Johnson historically does not endorse in primaries and plans to continue this trend and remain impartial in 2024,” said Corinne Day, a Johnson spokesperson.
Also seen was Arizona Republican Jim Lamon, a solar energy executive and Trump donor who aggressively aligned himself with the former president during his unsuccessful 2022 Senate bid. Lamon was also involved in efforts to overturn the 2020 election results showing President Joe Biden defeated Trump. Lamon was one of 11 GOP electors who signed a document claiming to be Arizona’s legitimate electors, which was mailed to the Senate and the National Archives.
Another attendee is Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, who was once seen as a potential Trump pick to be CIA director. Cotton, who passed on a 2024 presidential bid after laying the groundwork for a prospective campaign, on Saturday evening appeared on a DeSantis-moderated panel with conservative commentator Ann Coulter and Texas Rep. Chip Roy. Cotton, who like DeSantis entered Congress in 2013, long allied himself with Trump but broke with him when he voted to certify the 2020 election.
Mick Mulvaney, who was Trump’s acting White House chief of staff, was also seen at the DeSantis retreat. Mulvaney left the administration following the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, and he has harshly criticized the former president over his decision to wage a 2024 comeback, saying Trump is “the only Republican who could lose” the election.
And among the major figures in the Republican donor world who attended DeSantis’ event: Roy Bailey, a longtime Texas fundraiser who helped lead Trump’s campaign finance committee. The event also included several of DeSantis’ fellow governors, including Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, who benefited from a Trump-hosted fundraiser during his reelection bid last year, and Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, who was also backed by Trump in his 2022 reelection campaign.
“Gov. Stitt believes Ron DeSantis has done an excellent job leading as Florida’s governor, especially through COVID, supporting law enforcement, reforming education and supporting parental rights,” said Carly Atchison, a spokesperson for Stitt, who met with Trump at Mar-a-Lago last year.
The retreat comes as DeSantis is increasing his national profile. The governor is set to publish a new book on Tuesday, and this past week, he appeared before law enforcement officers in Philadelphia, New York City and Chicago. DeSantis is also benefiting from a newly launched nonprofit group that could promote his policies. Those present at the conference said DeSantis made no mention of whether he planned to run for president, though many of those in attendance said they were eager to see him do so.
On Saturday, DeSantis is to hold another panel discussion with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, whose home state hosts the GOP’s first presidential nominating contest. A person close to Reynolds, however, said the governor did not plan to endorse in the primary. Reynolds, who chairs the Republican Governors Association, has also appeared with former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott in Iowa.
Other attendees spotted in the crowd included Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie, Utah Sen. Mike Lee and 2022 Nevada Senate candidate Adam Laxalt, a longtime DeSantis friend. Conservative commentators Coulter and Dana Loesch were also present.
The retreat caps off a major week in the Republican donor world. On Thursday evening, Trump hosted a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago, and on Friday, several prospective presidential candidates gathered in Austin, Texas, for a donor conference organized by longtime GOP strategist Karl Rove.
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