Calling DeSantis’ campaign the « clear underdog, » he added, « In the top four states that count tremendously, the polls are much tighter, we’re still clearly down. We are in double figures, we have work to do ”.
The remarks amounted to a remarkably candid admission of vulnerability within the ranks of a major presidential operation, in contrast to the projection of confidence other DeSantis aides often adopt. Cortes said he believes the gap between Trump and DeSantis could be closed once DeSantis’ personal and political story is shared more widely during the campaign. But he also rationalized a failed primary campaign by DeSantis by predicting that healthy competition could benefit Trump in a general election.
« If we don’t prevail — and I have every intention of winning, I didn’t sign up for this to finish second — but if we don’t prevail I’ll tell you this, we’re going to make President Trump better to have this type of primary, » Cortes said.
Cortes’ comment came in a conversation with @CryptoLawyerz, an anonymous Twitter account popular with conservatives.
When asked about his comments, Cortes replied in an email that Trump “has discussed two successive presidential cycles, so he obviously has a lot of experience in that arena. But I am confident that Governor DeSantis will exceed expectations and educate a wide audience about his remarkable life, political achievements and winning agenda for the presidency.”
He said: “Taking on an incumbent president or a former president in the primaries always presents a significant challenge. I gladly embraced that reality by joining the team. All of us at Team DeSantis remain convinced that the governor has a strong path to the nomination and the best chance for any Republican to defeat Biden in the general election.”
In a statement, DeSantis campaign spokesman Bryan Griffin said, “Ron Desantis has been underrated in every race he has won, and this time will be no different. Donald Trump must explain to Republican voters why he hasn’t done the things he now promises in his first term as president. Governor Ron DeSantis has delivered on his promises as governor and has the national vision we need to restore our country, clean up DC, and lead our great American comeback. This campaign is a marathon, not a sprint; we will be victorious. »
Cortes endorsed DeSantis for president in May after working on the Trump campaign in 2016 and 2020. He joined super PAC Never Back Down as an adviser and spokesperson that same month. While discussing Twitter Spaces, Cortes called DeSantis the « next natural evolution » of the America First movement and said he doesn’t believe Trump is the « most conservative, patriotic, populist candidate who can win the general election. »
« I’m convinced that he hasn’t gained voters since 2020, but he has lost quite a few, » Cortes said of Trump.
In national polls, Trump has maintained a steady double-digit lead over his 2024 rivals, neither of which have managed to capture the same kind of attraction or enthusiasm as the former president. His grip on the Republican electorate has strengthened in the aftermath of two indictments: one for an alleged payment of secret money to a pornographic actress, the other for alleged mishandling of confidential documents. And although DeSantis is seen as Trump’s biggest threat, the Florida governor has trailed Trump in national and state polls, with the exception of a recent state survey in Wisconsin which showed the two practically bonded.
Next month, the 2024 Republican camp will have the opportunity to square off in a debate hosted by the Republican National Committee and moderated by Fox News. But Trump has made it clear that he is unlikely to join. Cortes said it would be a « great disservice » if Trump did not argue. But he also hinted that DeSantis might benefit from his absence.
« Is Ron the debater that Trump is? » he said. « No, no, he’s not. »
“Absolutely Donald Trump is the right, no doubt, right master of it. When he gets on the debate stage, you know, and standing, in front of a microphone, debating like Jack Nicklaus is playing golf, there’s no doubt about it,” Cortes said.
In addition to providing some of the more candid race observations from inside the DeSantis court, Cortes opened up about some of the personal attacks and backlash he’s faced for choosing to back the Florida governor over Trump.
“I was honored to work for [Trump],” he said.
But he added: « I think we can be reasonable about where it has failed and what path it is going on. »