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Ron DeSantis once campaigned for Mitt Romney, new photo suggests

Claim that DeSantis was not invited to Romney’s Park City summit last month is ‘not true,’ organizer says

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a Republican presidential primary debate hosted by NBC News on Nov. 8, 2023, in Miami

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a Republican presidential primary debate hosted by NBC News on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023, at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County in Miami.

Rebecca Blackwell, Associated Press

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis critiqued Mitt Romney Tuesday, saying the senator is part of the “surrender caucus of Republicans” who has “never fought for us.”

But a newly unearthed photo from DeSantis’ law school yearbook shows that at one point, DeSantis campaigned for Romney.

DeSantis attended Harvard Law School from 2002-05. The black-and-white photo, published by ABC News, shows a young DeSantis — likely in his first year of law school — holding a “Romney for Governor” sign. Romney won an election for governor of Massachusetts in 2002, his first electoral victory.

Hours before the photo was published, DeSantis claimed he doesn’t “really know Mitt Romney” and knocked the senator for not being a “fighter.” During an episode of “The Tara Show” podcast released Tuesday, host Tara Servatius asked DeSantis about the E2 Summit, a conference held in Park City last month with influential conservative donors and policy experts. Several 2024 Republican presidential candidates attended, including Nikki Haley; DeSantis did not.

“You weren’t invited to that big fundraiser thrown by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, but Nikki (Haley) was,” Servatius said during the podcast. “Why were you not invited?”

“Well, look, Romney — you know, he’s attacked me as saying — I mean, I don’t even know,” DeSantis responded. “He uses, like, the left-wing clichés to do that.”

But DeSantis was invited to the summit, Spencer Zwick, one of the summit’s organizers, confirmed.

“He opted not to come,” Zwick told the Deseret News. “We know campaigns are incredibly busy, and you have to pick and choose how to spend your time. But he was 100% invited.”

Four other Republican presidential candidates attended the summit — Haley, Chris Christie, Doug Burgum and Mike Pence.

DeSantis never corrected Servatius’ assertion that he was snubbed, nor did he note that Romney — who founded the summit and was in attendance last month — is now only involved in an “honorary” capacity. Instead, DeSantis used the question as an opportunity to attack Haley and Romney, both of whom he asserted have “never fought” for conservatives.

“Clearly, (Romney) views Nikki (Haley) as more in line with what the direction he wants to go, which to me is just a ‘surrender caucus’ of Republicans who are never going to fight for anybody, who are going to go to D.C. and just let business as usual take hold,” DeSantis said. “We cannot afford that.”

He referred to Haley and Romney as “same-old, same-old Republicans who’ve never fought for us in the beginning.”

The DeSantis campaign declined to comment for this story.

Several attendees at last month’s E2 Summit told the Deseret News that Haley was viewed as the widespread favorite, among candidates in attendance. A number of donors signed on to Haley’s campaign after interacting with her at the summit.

Romney has not endorsed a Republican candidate for president in 2024, though he’s actively encouraged donors and voters to coalesce behind a single candidate to challenge Donald Trump to avoid “split(ting) the non-Trump vote” and awarding the former president a victory.

In a new biography of Romney written by The Atlantic’s McKay Coppins, the senator is critical of DeSantis, calling him an “authoritarian” like Trump. (I worked as the lead researcher on Coppins’ book.)

“He’s much smarter than Trump,” Romney told Coppins. “You might point out, ‘Mitt, DeSantis is real smart — do you want an authoritarian who’s smart or one who’s not smart?’”

Romney was also critical of DeSantis’ demeanor, saying he has “no warmth at all.” This has become a frequent critique of DeSantis; during last week’s debate, former presidential candidate Jon Huntsman Jr. said DeSantis “has got to acquire a smile,” noting the Florida governor looked “like he’s having a colonoscopy live on television.”