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- About 300 pro-Trump supporters gathered outside Mar-a-Lago on the anniversary of the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
- They told me they wanted Trump to run again in 2024.
- But they also picked a very close second favorite: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
I woke up on the morning of the one-year anniversary of the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol expecting to spend my whole day covering former President Donald Trump.
I didn’t expect to get an earful about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Yet that is exactly what happened.
It all started when I woke up that morning to an email from DeSantis’ office alerting reporters that he would be holding a press conference in West Palm Beach, not far from where I was planning to cover a pro-Trump rally for Insider outside Mar-a-Lago later that day.
Just two days earlier, Trump abruptly canceled a press conference he was going to host at his private club in Palm Beach where he lives, but his most fervent supporters were still planning to gather at a rally down the road in a Publix supermarket parking lot.
I recently relocated from Washington, DC, to South Florida to cover the 2022 midterms, DeSantis’ re-election, and the lead-up to the 2024 election. This would be my first in-person press conference with DeSantis, so I decided to attend and see if I could ask the Republican governor a few questions.
The DeSantis press conference was about how Florida was making more at-home COVID-19 tests available to seniors, but the governor took questions on other topics, too
I asked DeSantis about whether he, as a former US House member from January 2013 to September 2017, wanted to comment on the January 6 anniversary riot.
In response, DeSantis railed against DC and New York-based journalists, saying they were “obsessed” with covering the attack.
“January 6 allows them to create narratives that are negative about people that supported Donald Trump,” he said, adding that he wouldn’t be watching the coverage and that he thought Florida voters were focused on other issues.
I had also asked DeSantis whether he planned to talk to Trump — who would sometimes host DeSantis at the White House when he was president — but he didn’t answer that part of the question.
After the press conference, I drove to Palm Beach to cover the pro-Trump ‘Freedom Rally’
I spent many hours speaking to supporters down the road from Mar-a-Lago. Many of them had even been in DC on January 6, but everyone I spoke with said they weren’t part of the mob that broke into the Capitol.
Organizers told me earlier in the day that as many as 1,000 people could be attending; I would estimate that roughly 300 showed up by the time nightfall arrived, not counting pro-Trump trucks that drove by the rally. The rally started around 4 p.m. with a few people and gradually grew by 6 p.m. local time.
Trump supporters waited for hours to spot the former president
A photographer for the New York Post told me that Trump did drive by the rally before it officially started — he even caught an exclusive of Trump giving a thumbs up — but only a couple of supporters had gathered at that point and actually said they saw Trump.
Alan Metser, a leader of the group America’s First Responders and one of the organizers of the rally, told me that he thought the event was a success anyway. I ended up interviewing about 20 people throughout the day.
I talked to supporters while we waited to catch a glimpse of Trump
The pro-Trump supporters were unwavering in their support for Trump and want him to run again in 2024.
“And if he doesn’t? Who would you hope would be the Republican nominee?” I asked.
Everyone I asked had the same answer: DeSantis.
DeSantis 2024 T-shirts were even for sale at the event
DeSantis is running for re-election as governor of Florida and has not said he’s running for president, but his name keeps coming up as a possible 2024 contender for the White House in my interviews with establishment Republicans and outside groups.
So it was interesting to see that same support coming from some of the most enthusiastic Trump voters.
One artist told me he had Trump-DeSantis 2024 hats made.
Maga Jackson, who records songs about Trump, told me he wanted Trump and DeSantis to run together. He said he had hats in his car to give out.
“I would love to meet him,” Jackson said of DeSantis.
Others were also in favor of Trump and DeSantis running on the same ticket
Danny Hamilton, the owner and president of Star Coaches, Inc., which has a pro-Trump design on a bus he had parked in the Publix parking lot, told me he thought a Trump-DeSantis ticket would result in “the biggest blow-out of all time.”
Trump voters see similarities and differences in their styles
Edward Manak, an Army veteran, told me that he wanted Trump to run again but would love to see DeSantis become president someday, saying the two had “the same energy.” He said that while Trump could be “down and dirty” in his interactions, and “DeSantis is a little cooler.”
The interviews suggested that DeSantis can get the enthusiasm of Trump voters
Luis Carabetti, who’d come up from Coral Gables, Florida, said he also hoped Trump would run for president again, adding, unprompted: “He or Ron DeSantis.”
“I want them both to be on that ticket,” he said.