Donald Trump shared the stage at his New Hampshire victory party on Tuesday night with a team of former rivals and young conservative stars.
Tim Scott and Vivek Ramaswamy, who ran against and criticised Mr Trump just months ago, served as headliners.
Speculation has grown that they may seek future White House posts – and many have suggested Mr Scott could even be a potential running mate.
Still, Mr Trump introduced the men by taking a couple of jabs at them.
He introduced Mr Ramaswamy and said he would only allow him to speak “if he promised to do it in a minute or less”. This was likely a dig at the biotech entrepreneur’s numerous loquacious moments on the Republican debate stage.
In a moment that drew more attention and a slightly awkward silence at the watch party, Mr Trump suggested that Mr Scott “must really hate” Nikki Haley, since the former South Carolina governor appointed him to his Senate seat in 2013.
Mr Scott moved quickly in a bid to salvage the moment by stepping to the lectern, grinning widely and shouting: “I just love you!”
Though their presence appeared to re-emphasise their endorsement of him and illustrate a united Republican front, the former president’s comments towards his colleagues attracted attention online.
Pundits have characterised the moments as politically cruel and reminiscent of Mr Trump’s poor treatment of past surrogates.
Many have drawn parallels to Mr Trump’s treatment of former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Texas Senator Ted Cruz – both men challenged the former president in the 2016 election cycle before ultimately endorsing him.
At the time, Mr Trump made jokes at both men’s expense despite their support and often forced them to stand by his side, leading to numerous embarrassing internet memes from their time campaigning for him.
Despite the awkward moments after the New Hampshire primary, Mr Scott appeared on numerous news shows on Wednesday morning to make his pitch for Mr Trump. He declined, however, to speak to his future ambitions in a possible Trump White House.
“The only conversation I’ve had with the president about being vice-president was that I’ll never ask you to be a vice-president,” he said on CBS Mornings on Wednesday. “I’ll never ask you to be a part of your cabinet.”
Unlike Mr Scott, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis – another former rival for the Republican nomination who then endorsed the former president – appears uninterested in joining the surrogate line.
Since leaving the race shortly after the Iowa caucus, Mr DeSantis has backed Mr Trump but also noted the candidate’s many vulnerabilities. He said there was a clear enthusiasm problem among Republican voters, who he said are slow to back the former president.
“When I have people come up to me who voted for Reagan in ’76 and have been conservative their whole life say that they don’t want to vote for Trump again, that’s a problem,” he said in a radio interview on Tuesday.
He has also vowed to kill a Florida bill that would help the former president with his many legal costs, a symbolic legislative blow to Mr Trump.
But it has become quite clear that Mr Trump is consolidating Republican support. He flooded New Hampshire with surrogates, capturing much-needed media and voter attention.
Another former rival for the nomination, Doug Burgum, Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz, Ohio Senator JD Vance, Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, the former president’s son Eric Trump, Arizona Senate candidate Kari Lake and many others made the rounds in recent days.
Ms Haley, who has had much fewer endorsements, struggled to match that pace as voters cast their ballots here on Tuesday.
Now, with a loss in New Hampshire and Mr Trump earning further endorsements, the former UN ambassador is facing growing calls from a deep bench of Republicans to drop out of the race and back Trump.
“I think she has run a great campaign,” Ronna McDaniel, the Republican Party chairwoman, said on Fox News of Nikki Haley. “But I do think there is a message that is coming out from the voters, which is very clear: ‘we need to unite around our eventual nominee’, which is going to be Donald Trump.”
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