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Updated Dec 6, 2023, 6:09am EST
politics

After Haley endorsement, some AFP Action staff leave for rival campaigns

Scott Olson/Getty Images
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The Scoop

Some staffers at the conservative group AFP Action have left or are looking to leave the organization for rival campaigns after the group endorsed Nikki Haley for president.

The departures follow public complaints from some staffers who believe the organization should support Donald Trump or candidates closer to his political vision.

“I know a few people have left,” said Chris Maidment, whose role with AFP in New Hampshire ended after he criticized the endorsement publicly on social media. “I know several, who are still there, are unhappy.”

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Americans for Prosperity, founded with money from the libertarian Koch family in 2004, has organized hundreds of thousands of conservatives to lobby at the federal, state, and local levels. Its South Carolina and Florida branches worked with both Haley and DeSantis as governors; AFP Action is its electoral campaign arm, and endorsed Haley as “a candidate who can turn the page and win.” (The Charles Koch-founded Stand Together network is an investor in Semafor.)

Haley critics inside AFP responded by saying they’d warned they might leave if the candidate got the group’s endorsement, NBC News reported. They objected in part to her support for funding Ukraine’s military defense, her proposal for verifying the identities of social media accounts, and her support for business tax incentives in South Carolina.

The defection warning has, in fact, come to fruition: Never Back Down, the pro-DeSantis super PAC, recently hired two former AFP Action grassroots directors for its Iowa political team. The two staffers, who served on AFP Action’s Iowa team, resigned after disagreeing with the Haley endorsement, Semafor was told.

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“Never Back Down is happy to welcome these newest members of our growing team, and we look forward to welcoming others who see Nikki Haley as the establishment rubber stamp she is and want to support a real conservative leader — Governor Ron DeSantis,” Noah Jennings, Never Back Down’s Iowa political director, said in a statement.

Vivek Ramaswamy’s team told Semafor they’re also in talks to “bring over” former AFP Action staffers, noting they’re fielding around half a dozen resumes at the moment.

An AFP Action official called the staff departures to rival campaigns “entirely expected” but also said some aides to those campaigns had inquired about joining the pro-Haley effort.

But while Trump’s Republican critics have talked for years of trying to build a united front against the former president, AFP Action’s attempt to do so has not been universally embraced. “Everyone is baffled and bewildered,” said one political operative who’d done millions of dollars worth of political work with the Koch organization. “Likely their worst strategic decision since forming AFP.”

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Shelby and David's View

The frustration within AFP Action is notable in part because it raises questions about Haley’s viability in a race against Donald Trump. Even as AFP’s leaders make a last-ditch effort to stop Trump, some within the organization think she can’t win.

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But ultimately, the discontent at the moment still represents a small minority of staff at AFP Action. It’s unlikely the departures or grumbling will have any real effect on the group’s ability to pitch Haley to voters around the country. And it’s likely that, if the roles were reversed and DeSantis had garnered the group’s endorsement, there’d be some staffers openly disagreeing with that decision, too.

One of the key pieces of news that stuck out to us was the DeSantis super PAC hirings: Less so because of the drama it encapsulates, and more because it indicates the group at least hopes to stay in the 2024 presidential race.

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Room for Disagreement

When the Koch network announced that it would help Republicans find a Trump alternative, some AFP alums questioned the group’s current influence. “My sense is that there’s not a whole lot of energy,” said former AFP board member Frayda Levin. “That they’re trying to recreate something that isn’t there.”

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The View From AFP Action

“This is primary season, and with a grassroots organization as large as AFP Action, it’s entirely expected to see some individuals move to different campaigns or pursue other opportunities. But AFP Action has also heard from a number of people excited about our endorsement and interested in ways they can join our team and help the effort — including people who work on behalf of the same campaigns pushing this narrative,” an AFP Action official told Semafor.

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