TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The Republican Party of Florida voted Friday against requiring candidates running in the state’s presidential primary to pledge to support the eventual nominee, ensuring former President Donald Trump won’t have to sign an oath to compete in the March election alongside Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The decision is seen as a victory for Trump, who has refused to take a similar pledge required for candidates to participate in national GOP debates. The state party had just instituted the pledge requirement in May.
Since then, Trump has maintained dominance over the Republican field while DeSantis, whom he has long targeted as his chief rival, has faltered and had to lay off dozens of staffers. Trump and DeSantis have a particularly fierce rivalry in their shared home state of Florida.
The oath requirement would have forced primary candidates to back the eventual nominee in order to get placed on the ballot. Had Trump been excluded from the primary ballot, he might not have been able to run on the Republican line in the November general election.
Former state GOP chairman and state Sen. Joe Gruters asked that the requirement be removed during a party meeting Friday. Gruters is a longtime Trump supporter and is one of the few Republican Florida lawmakers to back the former president over DeSantis.
“By putting this in place, whether it was intentional or not, the party looks like it was favoring a certain candidate,” Gruters said. “This has turned into a proxy battle — the Trump world versus the DeSantis world.”
Trump’s campaign did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment about the vote, but members of Trump’s campaign team shared posts on X, the site formally known as Twitter, written by others that cast the vote as a win for Trump.
Gruters said the requirement also would have violated Republican National Committee rules preventing states from changing the nomination process within two years of an election. But RNC rules give individual state parties until Oct. 1 to decide their plans for how they will nominate delegates who formally choose a presidential nominee.
“When people say, ‘Well, Trump doesn’t want to sign the loyalty oath,’ it’s not about that. It’s about the party putting up artificial roadblocks that didn’t exist four months ago,” Gruters said.
Associated Press writers Adriana Gomez Licon in Miami and Michelle Price in New York contributed to this report.
Brendan Farrington, The Associated Press