Throughout the spring, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his advisers ignored the slump in polls for the simple fact that they were not yet an actual presidential candidate.
But two months later, his rambunctious presidential campaign is still struggling to find momentum.
Allies are frustrated by the lack of consistent messaging about why Republican voters should choose DeSantis over former President Donald J. Trump. There is an early strategic rift between his own political team and the giant super PACs that are pouring tens of millions of dollars into supporting him. His Tallahassee-based campaign has begun cutting some of its more than 90 employees — about twice the Trump campaign’s payroll — to cut ballooning expenses, including a $279,000 Four Seasons in Miami.
His advisers now promise to reorient DeSantis’s candidacy as a “rebel” and recast it as a “sneaker” operation, days after the first public glimpse of Mr. DeSantis’s political finances showed unsustainable levels of spending and fundraising activities, including a penchant for private aviation. Surprisingly dependent on the biggest contributors And it didn’t live up to expectations.
In one of the recent moves that sparked a backlash, including from Republicans, the campaign shared a bizarre video on Twitter that attacked Mr. Trump for being too friendly to LGBTQ people and showed lasers shooting out of Mr. DeSantis’ eyes.The video caused a lot of condemnation, some even condemned it homophobic others homosexual before being deleted.
However, this turned out to be more of a self-inflicted wound than previously known. DeSantis’ campaign aides initially produced the video in-house and gave it to outside supporters to post first, making it appear as if they had created it independently, according to people familiar with the matter.
The DeSantis campaign declined to comment on specific questions about spending, candidate travel or the video. In a statement, Communications Director Andrew Romeo said DeSantis was “ready to prove his doubters wrong again, and our campaign is ready to execute on his vision for a great American comeback.”
“The media and the Washington, D.C. elite have already picked candidates Joe Biden and Donald Trump,” Romeo said. “Ron DeSantis was never a favorite or favorite of the establishment, but he won every time because of it.”
Second speculation from political donors has intensified as Mr. DeSantis traveled from the Hamptons to Park City, Utah, to meet with donors this week. Records show that the DeSantis camp booked $87,000 for a retreat at Utah’s Stein Eriksen Lodge on Saturday, inviting donors to cocktails on the deck, followed by an “investor appreciation dinner.” Luxurious locations like this help explain how the candidate, who has long preferred to fly in a private jet, spent nearly 40 percent of the dollars he raised in his first six weeks without ever airing a TV ad.
One of DeSantis’ senior advisers who was supposed to oversee the televised campaign message recently resigned. Because the reality of the disappearance of advertising budgets has begun. Now, the governor is expected to hold smaller events in early states, while outsourcing some event planning to outsourcers to keep costs down. for his team 2nd time in 3 monthscalls this the “DeSantis is everywhere” approach, telegraphing plans to engage more with the mainstream media he has long derided.
DeSantis supporters have watched anxiously as Mr. Trump has been busy interviewing the governor and outsmarting him in shaping the campaign. DeSantis has had zero support from Congress since he took office. A person close to Mr. DeSantis, who asked not to be named to speak candidly about the candidate he still supports, said the governor was “a little shaken” after going through a “hard learning curve.”
In a memo to donors on Thursday, DeSantis campaign manager Genera Peck said the campaign was making tough but necessary changes and would pursue a “underdog” approach going forward.
“All DeSantis needs to move the news and win this primary is a mic and a crowd,” Peck wrote.
DeSantis privately expects the twice-indicted Trump to struggle as his legal troubles escalate, but the governor remains a distant second in polls nationwide.
Peck, who has never worked at a senior level in the presidential campaign, but has made himself a trusted confidant to DeSantis and his wife, Casey, has found various departments under attack from within and outside the siled-defined campaign, unaware of what is happening elsewhere. The candidate and his wife were caught off guard when the campaign fell short of its expected fundraising targets and the outrageous spending, according to people familiar with the candidate’s reaction.
Mr. DeSantis still has time to reset. No discussion yet. His super PAC called Never Back Down brought in his $130 million. And in Iowa, where Trump is elected, the first ballot is nearly six months away. made his own mistake.
“Six months is a lifetime in politics,” said Terry Sullivan, who served as Senator Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign manager in 2016, noting that in July 2015, Jeb Bush was still leading in some poll averages. “He definitely put in a lot of time, but it was a learning process for his campaign.”
DeSantis remains the only challenger to Trump with double-digit polls, and the only candidate Trump himself sees as a serious threat.
“My concern is what if one day I wake up and Trump and his team aren’t attacking Never Back Down and Ron DeSantis,” said Chris Jankowski, CEO of the DeSantis SuperPAC. “That would be a concern. Other than that, it’s right where we want it.”
a note suggesting goodbye
Still, time ticks by. From the outset, Mr. DeSantis was caught between the political reality of being outnumbered by his predecessor and his desire to project himself as a frontrunner cut off from the rest of the Republican party.
DeSantis himself admitted in a recent interview with Fox News that his high position so far was nothing more than a “sugar high” from a landslide re-election, and how that victory contrasted with the defeats of several Trump-backed candidates in 2022.
But campaigns are increasingly tempted to beat rivals with lower approval ratings. In a memo to donors in early July, it named Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina as someone who would soon undergo a “proper investigation.”
The election memo arrived with a thud at the Atlanta headquarters of the pro-DeSantis super-PAC.seemed to be scolding Super PAC questions group decisions This is to avoid radio waves in New Hampshire and the expensive Boston market. Legally, the Super PAC and the campaign are private and cannot coordinate strategies, so memo leaks are his one means of communication.
A sentence is highlighted in bold: “We do not cede New Hampshire.” “There is no reason why New Hampshire’s more expensive market should also be prioritized,” the memo said, referring to Boston.
But the super PAC, who has studied the memo line by line, may not be swayed by the proposal. “We are not going to change course easily,” said one senior DeSantis Super PAC official, who was given anonymity to speak candidly about strategic decisions.
According to notes from someone with direct knowledge of the process: Premiered by NBC Newswas written by Mr. Peck, but without input or knowledge from the wider election leadership team, an unusual move for such a scrutinized document.
Candidates themselves quickly clarified He wanted to see a change too.
DeSantis recently told Fox News that he had “no control” over Super PAC, before adding specific stage instructions. “Soon they will start broadcasting a lot of good information about me and it will give us a lot of energy,” he said.
Since then, the Super PAC has not aired any positive advertisements about Mr. DeSantis, nor has it returned to New Hampshire airwaves.
“He took over almost the entire state apparatus.”
From the moment DeSantis entered the campaign for a two-day event at Miami’s posh Four Seasons, his team was operating on the false premise that they could campaign as well as the governor, even though Florida’s lax campaign finance rules allowed him to raise millions of dollars in donations. Freely rent a friend’s private plane.
DeSantis raised a whopping $20 million in less than six weeks. But his $3 million of that was for the general election, so he couldn’t spend it right now, and his spending rate exceeded his average of $212,000 a day.
The campaign’s finances could be even more dire than the snapshot presented in public documents. Some vendors didn’t appear in the report at all, suggesting some invoices were late, which would make the books look more optimistic.
His online donations also showed signs of slowing down significantly. In late May, DeSantis’ first week as a candidate, his campaign paid WinRed significantly more in fees than it did in the entirety of June.
In addition to the roughly 10 staff laid off in mid-July, two more senior advisers, Dave Abrams and Tucker Obenshain, also left this month to work for outside nonprofits backed by Mr. DeSantis.
“He brought in almost the entire state machine. I think they saw it and said they didn’t need all those people,” said Hal Lambert, a Republican donor who is raising money for the DeSantis campaign.
The revelations also reveal DeSantis’ reliance on his biggest contributors. Only 15 percent of his donations came from donors under $200. What’s even clearer is that most of his money came from donors who gave the legal maximum of $3,300 in the primary.
The challenge for DeSantis, who relies heavily on large donors, is two-fold. That means he has to travel extensively across the country to participate in fundraisers to collect large checks, and large donors cannot donate to him multiple times. The governor and his wife’s preference for traveling by private plane is costly and reduces the amount of pure gold collected as they travel across the country for fundraising efforts.
His report included $179,000 for the charter plane and $483,000 for a limited company set up within days of the campaign, and listed only “travel expenses” as an expense. Campaign officials said the campaign plans to change travel practices “to maximize our capabilities,” but did not specify what changes would be made.
One way to save money on air travel is to have Mr. DeSantis dig deep in Iowa, officials say. You can visit all 99 counties.
“He stands to do well in Iowa,” said Bob Vander Platts, an influential evangelical leader in the state. His group, The Family Leader, hosted Mr. DeSantis and other candidates in Iowa at a recent forum. (Records show that Mr. DeSantis’ super PAC paid the group’s foundation $50,000, which super PAC officials said was to sponsor the event.)
The DeSantis Super PAC stressed that after being overwhelmed by Trump with free media coverage and millions of dollars worth of offensive advertising, DeSantis is still standing.
“Any other candidate would have blood on the ground,” said Kristin Davison, chief operating officer of Never Back Down. “DeSantis is still number two,” she added.