Just over one month before a critical test for his campaign, Ron DeSantis is watching his presidential bid become mired in personal conflicts, disagreement on strategy and the shadow of two surging opponents who appear to be slowly bleeding his campaign dry.
On Sunday, CNN reported that his allied Never Back Down PAC — the vessel for outside spending in support of his bid and more barbed attacks against his opponents — was losing its CEO after just nine days on the job. Two other senior operatives are also out, according to CNN, with one source describing the incident as “firings”, according to the network.
The end of their service to Never Back Down comes following a profile of the sputtering DeSantis presidential movement in The Washington Post, which described the Florida governor’s bid as in “extraordinary turmoil”. Senior campaign staffers were described as “gloomy” by a close ally of Mr DeSantis, the Post reported.
Chris Jankowski, the PAC’s previous CEO, quit just two weeks ago. In a statement explaining his departure, he alluded to dynamics of the presidential race that had turned against the Florida governor.
“Never Back Down’s main goal and sole focus has been to elect Governor Ron DeSantis as President,” he said. “Given the current environment it has become untenable for me to deliver on the shared goal and that goes well beyond a difference of strategic opinion.”
The reason for Mr DeSantis’s woes is clear: He has been on an extended polling slide since practically the day he entered the race, having failed to catch any positive momentum. His two main rivals include Donald Trump, the former president and frontrunner for the nomination, whose base of support Mr DeSantis has been utterly unable to chip away, and Nikki Haley, whose own polling numbers have been rising steadily amid strong debate performances and her own campaign’s careful strategy.
A spokesperson for Never Back Down insisted to CNN on Sunday that the PAC “has the most organised, advanced caucus operation of anyone in the 2024 primary field”, adding that it “look[s] forward to continuing that great work to help elect Gov. DeSantis the next President of the United States.”
The Florida governor is in an all-or-nothing bid to win the state of Iowa, the first contest of the 2024 presidential nominating race. Set to caucus on 15 January, the state will be a crucial benchmark for Mr DeSantis, who has spent the last few weeks completing a 99-county tour of the entire state. A surprise victory in the Iowa caucuses has, in the past, been a momentum-booster for underdog candidates, while putting underperforming frontrunners in the position of answering awkward questions about their futures. It’s not any guarantee of continued success, however; in 2016, Donald Trump came in second place behind Texas Senator Ted Cruz in Iowa, only to swiftly overtake his rival and storm his way to the GOP nomination later that year.
On Sunday, Mr DeSantis sounded a confident note in a rare mainstream media interview on Meet the Press.
Nikki Haley, who now trails Mr DeSantis closely, is pursuing a very similar strategy in New Hampshire. She has already overtaken the Florida governor in Granite State polling, and is hoping her own potential upset victory over Mr Trump in the state could propel her past Mr DeSantis once and for all.
Her campaign won a crucial victory over Mr DeSantis this past week with the announcement that Americans for Prosperity — part of the powerful Koch network — would throw its ready-made ground operation behind her presidential bid.
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