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Jul 17, 2023, 7:09am EDT
politics

Ron DeSantis runs for president, take two

REUTERS/Brian Snyder
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The News

The growing sense of crisis around Ron DeSantis’s campaign intensified over the weekend with reports that his campaign side is burning through cash, running out of big donors, and laying off staff. And, in another interesting twist, DeSantis — who in March derided corporate media as “very, very untrustworthy” and urged conservatives not to “play into it” — is sitting down with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Tuesday.

The shifting campaign strategy coincides with stagnating poll numbers, some campaign missteps, and a growing lead by Donald Trump. DeSantis’ campaign has pushed back on the idea that these moves are cause for concern, with spokesman Andrew Romeo telling Semafor that “defeating Joe Biden and the $72 million behind him will require a nimble and candidate driven campaign, and we are building a movement to go the distance.”

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Shelby’s view

The bad DeSantis news doesn’t mean he’s dead. But he’s entered a familiar cycle that often ends in collapse: A candidate is hyped up as a top contender, struggles in the polls, and then scrambles to reset a flagging campaign as donors and voters alike parse every move for signs of weakness — or strength.

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Donors are a key group for DeSantis, who is more reliant on big Republican money than Trump. And while the weekend shakeup placated some, it’s caused others to grow even more uneasy.

There’s still a donor crew that remains loyal to DeSantis and committed to defeating Trump. In recent weeks, major Republican backers gathering in the Hamptons still remained hopeful in private conversations that Trump might eventually self-destruct and collapse under the weight of more and more indictments.

“The campaign is smart to adapt,” Trump-turned-DeSantis donor Dan Eberhart told Semafor. “Scott Walker’s campaign was too heavy and didn’t make changes soon enough. DeSantis’ campaign is ahead of the curve and is making the tough choices that will enable them to win in the early primary states and beyond.”

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As for his upcoming CNN interview? Eberhart said that “it’s crazy” the Florida governor “got this far without talking to the mainstream press.” DeSantis’ team and supporters have been split in recent months on whether to engage with corporate media networks. In choosing Tapper, who is known to aggressively fact check subjects mid-interview and follow-up on questions, the campaign may be hoping to engineer a confrontation similar to Trump’s CNN town hall to generate new interest.

DeSantis, who is no stranger to switching up his team, could also be in for a new round of campaign finger-pointing. The latest news was “the first really serious red flag” that something inside the campaign was amiss, one former DeSantis staffer said, who noted that the size of the staff —roughly 92 people — was “absurdly large” at this point in the race. That could be a sign of more significant changes at the top if momentum doesn’t shift soon, especially after the first debate in August.

“It’s no different than if you’re the owner of a football team and your team isn’t performing,” the former staffer added. “Whether it’s because you don’t have the right players or because … it actually is the coach’s fault, who knows, but you change coaches, right?”

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In that case, history indicates no one is safe, particularly a struggling campaign’s manager — for DeSantis, this means close aide Generra Peck, who some have blamed for the campaign’s early bloat.

“Those are the kinds of things you would expect in any campaign, not just Ron specific, right? A shake up in senior leadership,” a person involved in DeSantis’ election efforts said, while also arguing that the number of fired staffers was small enough that it isn’t yet cause for major concern.

Another option to cut costs and reorient strategy that prior campaigns have tried: picking a focus among early states and perhaps narrowing the campaign to Iowa, where DeSantis and many other candidates see an opening to dent Trump’s armor.

DeSantis will hope, ultimately, to turn out more like John McCain — who fired top campaign staff almost exactly 16 years ago this week, camped out in New Hampshire, and won the nomination — and less like Walker, who simply fizzled out before any votes were cast.

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Room for Disagreement

On Sunday, DeSantis told Fox News’ Howard Kurtz that the gloomy outlook on his presidential run is “not at all” accurate.

“I think clearly you see an effort to create these narratives,” DeSantis said. “I think the good thing about it is Republican primary voters are very smart. They know where these corporate outlets stand on the political spectrum. And so to the extent that they become convinced that the media does not want me to be the nominee, above all else, that will in the long run absolutely help me.”

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Notable

Washington Post columnist George F. Will argued recently that neither Trump nor DeSantis will be the Republican nominee. Will described Trump as being “as stale as a month-old crust of sourdough” and predicted his obsession with the 2020 election coupled with his unwillingness to operate on the ground like other candidates will ultimately turn voters off. As for DeSantis? He “resembles a political Edsel” who “is running hard to be president of Iowa.”

Steve Clemons contributed to this story.

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