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Dec 17, 2023, 5:13pm EST
politics

Jeff Roe’s exit caps off a brutal month for Never Back Down

REUTERS/Sophie Park
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The News

“I can’t believe it ended this way,” Jeff Roe posted on X, announcing his resignation from the pro-DeSantis super PAC and pinning the blame on a statement the group’s new head gave to The Washington Post hours earlier.

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Shelby and David's View

Roe’s departure felt inevitable: He’d recently fought with the newly-minted chairman and interim CEO Scott Wagner, and the super PAC’s addition of Phil Cox was seen by those close to the group as another nail in his coffin. Under Roe’s leadership, Never Back Down had fallen out of favor with many in the Ron DeSantis orbit — including the governor’s inner circle — who were frustrated by a myriad of consistent issues.

“While DeSantis campaigns tirelessly, Jeff Roe has spent a fortune, and the team has nothing to show for it. Not one relevant metric has improved, even as Roe’s spending soared,” one person in DeSantis’ orbit recently told Semafor.

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The slow churn of top PAC staff dragged a damaging process story on for nearly a month, just as more early state voters were tuning into the race. What started with the pre-Thanksgiving exit of NBD’s CEO ended 24 days later with Roe’s resignation.

Never Back Down was formed on March 9, spending on TV ads and direct mail to Iowa Republicans weeks before DeSantis entered the race. Its bus carried DeSantis over much of his 99-county tour, but its mistakes blew up in the candidate’s face.

One ad faked a dramatic image of jets flying over DeSantis; another used AI to fake Trump’s voice. Right before the first primary debate, the PAC put polling and strategy memos online for donors, ripping them down after the New York Times published the contents.

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A strategist for Nikki Haley’s super PAC said that the turmoil vindicated their own strategy: Air cover in early states, where the campaign itself was building its ground game. Mike Murphy, a GOP strategist who’d led Jeb Bush’s 2016 super PAC, told Semafor this month that the DeSantis operation “had five pastry chefs in one kitchen.”

​​”The campaign starts putting out the word to donors that they’re not happy with what they’re doing,” said Murphy. “That gets into the press, and then the super PAC people get mad because it undercuts their fundraising.”

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Room for Disagreement

The DeSantis campaign has tried to downplay the infighting as it enters its final stretch. “We’re not going to be distracted by more false narratives coming from unknown sources with harmful agendas,” DeSantis campaign spokesman Andrew Romeo told The Washington Post. “We appreciate the independent efforts of our outside partners at NBD as they are building a historic ground game for the fight ahead.”

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The View From Donald Trump

“Jeff Roe is out—GAME OVER for DeSanctimonious!” the former president said on Truth Social.

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Notable

  • Ron DeSantis is only the latest candidate to find that overreliance on a super PAC can create serious problems.
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