Leaders of the Republican Party of Florida voted to eliminate a loyalty oath requirement for participation in the state's primary, marking a victory for former President Donald Trump in his campaign against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other challengers for the 2024 nomination.
The former commander-in-chief said he wouldn't sign such a pledge, which was added to the party bylaws just months ago. Now, he won't be disqualified as he gears up to compete in the delegate-rich state.
A spokesperson for Gov. DeSantis told The Epoch Times that the opposition to the pledge was surprising.
"We believe anyone who wants to run for president as a Republican should be willing to pledge their support for our eventual nominee. It is surprising that anyone interested in seeing the defeat of Joe Biden in 2024 would disagree," Bryan Griffin, campaign press secretary for Mr. DeSantis, said.
"Once Ron DeSantis secures the party’s nomination, we hope everyone in the field will join him in that fight," Mr. Griffin said.
An official who was inside the party's executive board meeting on Sept. 15 confirmed to The Epoch Times that the loyalty oath language was removed.
The vote played out behind closed doors in a small meeting room at the Rosen Centre Hotel in Orlando on the evening of Sept. 15. The executive board meeting was part of the party's larger fall quarterly meeting.
Just after the meeting started, about 50–60 state party members who weren't permitted to vote were sent out of the room.
They and about as many others, mostly Trump supporters, milled around a nearby hallway as members of the state party's executive committee deliberated.
The atmosphere was tense. Trump supporters, concerned that the loyalty pledge would hurt their candidate of choice, stood out because of their attire among the business suits. One woman wore a T-shirt reading, "Donald Trump Did Nothing Wrong!"
"If it wasn't for Trump, [DeSantis] wouldn't be governor right now," another Trump supporter, Debi Stolte of Altamonte Springs told The Epoch Times.
"The reason why I'm here is because I need Trump on the ballot," she continued.
Ms. Stolte said she thinks Mr. DeSantis has been "a fantastic governor." She told The Epoch Times she volunteered for him during his first run for governor and his successful reelection campaign.
"I gave him money. We all worked for him to be our governor. He should have just waited [to run]," she added.
That language instructed hopefuls that they should not "seek to run as an independent, non-party affiliated, or write-in candidate" or "seek or accept the nomination for president of any other party."
It also required would-be candidates to "endorse the 2024 Republican presidential nominee regardless of who it is" if they do not secure that nomination.
Florida's GOP isn't the only state party to come under scrutiny from Trump supporters for changes perceived as detrimental to the former president.
Earlier that month, the proposal met with criticism from Laura Loomer and other Trump supporters, who argued that Mr. DeSantis stands to benefit from it.
But Republican leaders in the state pointed out that the change was triggered by a new Republican National Committee (RNC) requirement.
"With this rules change that now puts us in compliance with RNC rules, Republican presidential candidates will not only be encouraged to spend real time campaigning in our state and making their case to voters, but Republican voters will equally be encouraged to turn out to support their chosen candidate to help them win delegates," California GOP Chair Jessica Millan Patterson said in a statement after the change passed the executive committee.
Although former President Trump has been at the center of the conversation over loyalty pledges, he and his backers aren't alone in criticizing such measures.
Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson described the debate pledge as "unhelpful" during an interview on CNN in March.