ORLANDO, Fla. — After a weeks-long lobbying fight, the Republican Party of Florida voted Friday night to get rid of a loyalty pledge that was backed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis but opposed by former President Donald Trump. It would have required GOP presidential candidates to support the eventual party nominee in order to get on the state’s March 19 primary ballot.
The oath language was approved by the party in May, but has since received pushback from Trump and his supporters. Trump is leading by wide margins in every public poll, so his team has opposed doing things like signing loyalty oaths that would require him to support the Republican nominee for president.
“Common sense prevailed at the Republican Party of Florida tonight,” said Florida Sen. Joe Gruters, a former party chair who made the motion to do away with the loyalty pledge.
The meeting was closed to the public, but Gruters said the voice vote was an “overwhelming win.”
DeSantis’ campaign spokesman Bryan Griffin blasted the vote.
“We believe anyone who wanted to run for president as a Republican should be willing to pledge their support for our eventual nominee,” he said. “It is surprising that anyone interested in seeing the defeat of Joe Biden in 2024 would disagree.”
“Once Ron DeSantis secures the party’s nomination, we hope everyone in the field will join him in that fight,” he added.
DeSantis’ political team was engaged in a protracted lobbying fight with Trump as they sought to get their candidate’s home-state party to support the governor’s political wishes.
Since DeSantis has risen to national fame within Republican circles over the past few years, he has generally received what he wanted from Florida GOP leaders — making the loyalty oath vote a notable loss.
The vote was taken during a quarterly party meeting here in Orlando, and was the subject of much speculation during the two-day event. The gathering also featured the party’s annual Statesman’s Dinner, a large rally and fundraising event that this year had conservative commentator Ben Shapiro and Florida Sen. Rick Scott as speakers.
But the pending vote on a party loyalty vote was the headliner and was the subject of weeks of intense lobbying from supporters of both Trump and DeSantis. The vote was the final act of an all-day party board meeting that went past 8 p.m.
As part of Trump’s lobbying effort, during the day Friday, he sent invites to Florida GOP officials for a dinner on Nov. 9 at Mar-a-Lago — an event seen as his team flexing on DeSantis supporters who appeared to be losing ground in their efforts to convince their home-state party to back the governor.
The Republican Party of Florida, whose leaders have pledged to stay neutral in the presidential primary, also did not respond to a request seeking comment.
The hours leading up to the vote were defined by political pageantry as Trump supporters led by Laura Loomer, a conservative rabble rouser, tried to flood the room where the vote was to be taken. Party leaders, however, had warned for days that the meeting would not be open to the press or public.
Loomer and the group of Trump supporters were removed from the conference room where the vote was taken, leading her to cry foul.
“Prior to the motion being made, the room was packed with Trump supporters who were quietly sitting in their chairs to support the removal of the rule change to revoke the loyalty oath,” she posted on the social media site X just before being removed.
The vote is another in a long line of losses on the presidential campaign trail for DeSantis to Trump, who leads him by wide margins in all public polling.
But the vote by DeSantis’ own Republican Party made this one stand out.
“In a state that was supposed to be known for standing your ground, DeSantis just got steamrolled,” said a veteran Florida Republican operative. “In his own home.”
Matt Dixon is a senior national politics reporter for NBC News, based in Florida.