Trump mocks DeSantis on stage at Turning Point action conference

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In the land of his main Republican rival and in his adopted state, former President Donald J. Trump told a conservative gathering in Florida on Saturday night that it was pointless for Gov. Ron DeSantis to continue to fight him for the party’s presidential nomination.

In a prime-time speech at the Turning Point Action Conference in West Palm Beach, Florida, Mr. Trump claimed his lead in the polls over Mr. DeSantis and all the other Republican candidates were insurmountable, suggesting that the Florida governor should resign for the good of the party.

Mr. Trump, who leads Mr. DeSantis for approximately 30 percentage points in national polls, he dismissed Mr. DeSantis before he officially entered the race in May as a mirage.

“By the way, it was never that close,” said Mr. Trump to about 6,000 grassroots activists at the Palm Beach County Convention Center. Turning Point Action is a political arm of Turning Point USA, a pro-Trump grassroots group focused on millennial conservatives that was founded by Charlie Kirk.

Mr. Trump took advantage of his rival’s absence at the two-day event, which drew about a third of the Republican presidential field as speakers.

“I don’t know why it’s not here,” he said. “He should be here representing himself.”

In a statement Saturday, Bryan Griffin, the campaign press secretary for Mr. DeSantis, dismissed criticism from Mr. trump

“Governor DeSantis spent the day with Iowans and spoke to a packed house at the Tennessee GOP Statesman Dinner later that evening,” he said. “This was a day after he delivered the strongest interview at the Family Leadership Summit, which Donald Trump notably skipped. Ron DeSantis is campaigning to win.”

Mr. Trump was greeted on stage with pyrotechnics and a nearly three-minute video montage of the former president. As organizers set the stage for his entrance, Trump supporters, many wearing their ubiquitous red beanies, watched musical performances by Elvis and Pavarotti on giant screens.

Mr. DeSantis declined an invitation to speak at the end of the conference Sunday, according to organizers, who noted that he had worked closely with Turning Point Action during last year’s midterm elections and participated in several rallies supporting to Trump-backed candidates. .

But the same day that Mr. DeSantis announced his campaign in May, the conservative group announced that Mr. Trump would headline his conference in Florida, perhaps upsetting the host governor.

Saturday’s lineup of speakers may have given Mr. DeSantis. It included three Republican members of the Florida House who have supported Mr. Trump: Reps. Byron Donalds, Anna Paulina Luna and Matt Gaetz.

In turn, each professed their allegiance to the former president as booming subwoofers and smoke machines added to the theatrical effect.

Mr. Gaetz, the provocateur who appointed Mr. Trump as speaker of the House earlier this year during the long GOP leadership battle, drew a roar from the crowd when he said allies of Mr. Trump were adamant.

“Of course we ride or die with President Donald John Trump,” he said.

And when Megyn Kelly, the former Fox News commentator, dared to suggest at the event that the Republican nomination contest was likely a two-candidate race between Mr. Trump and Mr. DeSantis, several thousand activists booed.

Ms. Kelly, who tangled with Mr. Trump in a 2015 GOP debate, relented.

“The vast majority of the Republican Party wants Trump,” he said, adding that Mr. Trump had only polished his actions with conservative voters. “We all know who the best middle finger candidate is.”

In a speech of almost 100 minutes, Mr. Trump noted that Mr. DeSantis had once been his ally and sought his endorsement in his first run for governor in 2018.

“I made him choose,” he said. “He was dead. He begged me to endorse him.”

Mr. Trump said he was surprised when Mr. DeSantis later declined to say whether he might challenge him for the Republican nomination, using an expletive to refer to the Florida governor.

Tucker Carlson, who was fired from Fox News in April, whipped the audience into a frenzy with an immediate appearance before the former president.

“I don’t think most unemployed people get a reception like this,” said Mr. Carlson.

Carlson played down his baseless claims that voting machines had been rigged during the 2020 election and expressed sympathy for the Capitol rioters, saying a country that squashes discussions about the electoral process was not a democracy.

Vivek Ramaswamy, the billionaire businessman running for the Republican nomination, also spoke on Saturday. Three longest-running candidates: Asa Hutchinson, the former governor of Arkansas; Francis X. Suarez, Mayor of Miami; and Perry Johnson, a wealthy Michigan businessman, are scheduled to speak Sunday.

So is Stephen K. Bannon, the former chief strategist of Mr. Trump who was found guilty of contempt of Congress; and Roger J. Stone Jr., the pro-Trump operative who was convicted of obstruction but whom Mr. Trump commuted his sentence. In the lobby of the convention center, Mr. Stone took selfies with Trump supporters.

“All the great people are here,” said Mr. Carlson.

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