WASHINGTON (AP) — A former White House official who helped implement Donald Trump’s hardline immigration policies is breaking ranks with the former president and instead encouraging Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to pursue the presidency in 2024.
Ken Cuccinelli, a former attorney general of Virginia, was a top official at the Department of Homeland Security during Trump’s single term in office. He was a vehement defender of the administration’s efforts to crack down on immigration, once suggesting that the inscription on the Statue of Liberty welcoming “huddled masses” of immigrants to American shores only referred to “people coming from Europe.”
But Cuccinelli announced Thursday that rather than support Trump’s third bid for the White House, he is launching Never Back Down PAC, a new political action committee that will support DeSantis’ potential 2024 presidential run.
Cuccinelli’s decision to back DeSantis over Trump in the Republican primary is one of the most high-profile defections by a former Trump stalwart in the early stages of the campaign season. It comes at a time when potential and declared candidates are jockeying to line up support.
“I have been speaking to many grassroots conservative activists around the country who are very enthusiastic for Governor DeSantis to run for President in 2024,” Cuccinelli said in a statement. “The energy is there, grassroots conservatives see the Governor as a leader and a fighter with a winning conservative track record who will lead the Republican Party to victory in 2024. Based on those conversations, I am most confident that we will build an unmatched grassroots political army for Governor DeSantis to help carry him to the White House.”
A Trump campaign spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A filing made with the Federal Election Commission in late February shows Never Back Down Inc. is a super PAC, which can raise unlimited funds to support their preferred candidates, so long as they don’t directly coordinate activities with them. The group has yet to disclose details about any money it has raised.
A promotional video released publicly on Thursday does not mention Trump by name, but calls for “fresh conservative leadership” while ticking down a list of conservative culture war battles DeSantis has waged since his election as governor of Florida.
“America’s future is Ron DeSantis. Ron DeSantis doesn’t just talk he acts, but most of all he never backs down,” Cuccinelli says in the video. “Governor DeSantis, today I’m asking you to run for President.”
Never Back Down Inc. is soliciting contributions on its website and states that money it raises will eventually get donated to DeSantis’ campaign committee, should he launch a White House bid. But in the meantime, the money will being transferred to a separate Virginia-based political committee called Run, Ron, Run!, which was created on Wednesday, according to filings with the FEC.
A spokesman for Never Back Down Inc. did not respond to a request for comment.