A prominent supporter of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has conceded that Donald Trump is currently the “runaway frontrunner” in the Republican primary field.
Steve Cortes, a former Trump adviser who now backs DeSantis, made the candid admission in a Twitter Spaces event Sunday evening, but insisted that he believed the Florida governor will ultimately “close this gap.”
“Right now in national polling we are way behind, I’ll be the first to admit that,” Cortes said in the Twitter Space hosted by user @CryptoLawyerz.
“I believe in being really blunt and really honest. It’s an uphill battle,” Cortes went on. “I don’t believe it’s an unwinnable battle by any stretch, but clearly Donald Trump is the runaway frontrunner.”
Cortes underscored the polling boost that Trump received following a pair of indictments handed down against him, one in Manhattan for allegedly falsifying business records to conceal hush money payments and the other by a federal grand jury in connection with classified documents the 77-year-old kept at his Mar-a-Lago resort.
“That was not the case before the indictments, it is the case afterwards and it is understandable in many ways,” Cortes said of Trump’s status as the favorite for the 2024 GOP nomination.
Since launching his campaign Nov. 15, Trump has consistently led polls of the GOP primary field, and currently has a 30.9 percentage point lead over his closest rival, DeSantis, according to an average calculated by RealClearPolitics.
Despite the daunting margin, Cortes insisted that polling in the first four nominating states (Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina) was “a light tighter,” though he acknowledged: “We are still clearly down. We’re down double digits, we have work to do.”
Cortes joined the DeSantis-aligned Never Back Down political action committee as an adviser and spokesperson in May. The PAC has worked aggressively to buttress DeSantis’ campaign, with aggressive staffing operations in competitive states and constant advertising.
Cortes also attributed DeSantis’s “clear underdog” status to a lack of public knowledge about the 44-year-old.
“His name ID has risen a lot and we know that from our testing and our metrics, but they know very little really about him or about his personal life story or what he’s done in Florida, whereas knowledge of Donald Trump is ubiquitous,” he said.
As Americans get to know DeSantis better, Cortes believes, his standing will start to rise in comparison to Trump.
“He’s campaigning with just frenetic pace already. So I think once we get that out there, my view is that we’re going to to close this gap,” Cortes added of the Florida governor. “I’m of the firm view that it is a two-man race.”
Cortes also elaborated on why he opted not to back Trump in his third consecutive White House run.
“I am of the belief that since 2020 he has not gained any voters, but he has shed quite a few,” Cortes said of his former boss.
He also faulted Trump for signing a “gargantuan omnibus” spending bill before COVID-19 broke out and for lagging behind former President Barack Obama in terms of deportations.
Cortes added that no politician is entitled to “permanent loyalty” and contended that a spirited challenge to Trump will make the former real estate mogul a stronger candidate if he does win the nomination.
“If we do not prevail — and I have every intent on winning, I didn’t sign up for this to come in second — but if we do not prevail I will tell you this, we will make President Trump better for having this kind of primary,” he said.
Cortes doubled down on his comments when reached by The Post Monday.
“Taking on an incumbent or former president in the primary always represents a significant challenge,” he said. “All of us on Team DeSantis remain convinced that the governor has a strong path to the nomination, and the best chance of any Republican to defeat Biden in the general election.”
Cortes also clarified other remarks suggesting that DeSantis isn’t “the debater that Trump is” and calling the former president a “maestro” at verbal confrontation.
“The former president has debated through two successive presidential cycles, so of course he possesses a lot of experience in that arena. But I am convinced that Governor DeSantis will outperform expectations,” he said.
“Ron Desantis has been underestimated in every race he has won, and this time will be no different. Donald Trump has to explain to Republican voters why he didn’t do the things he is now promising in his first term as president,” campaign spokesperson Bryan Griffin said.
“DeSantis over-delivered on his promises as governor and has the national vision we need to restore our country, clean out DC, and lead our Great American Comeback. This campaign is a marathon, not a sprint; we will be victorious.”
Meanwhile, the Trump campaign needled their rivals over Cortes’ comments.
“Always Back Down saying the loud part even louder!” Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung chided on Twitter.
“Ron DeSantis is losing badly and Donald Trump is a patriotic populist. Those are two very true statements. Both were said last night by Steve Cortes,” the Trump-supporting Make America Great Again, Inc. PAC said in a statement Monday. ” … Between DeSantis’ awful launch on Twitter Spaces to Cortes’ nighttime confessional, the DeSantis Camp should maybe take a break from the medium.”