Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) appears ready to confirm what has been obvious to anyone paying attention: He’s running for president in 2024.
The former congressman and first-term governor will launch his presidential campaign mid-May, forming an exploratory committee on May 11 and announcing his intention to challenge former President Donald Trump for his party’s nomination shortly after.
“The creeping national narrative that former President Donald Trump is the overwhelming front-runner for the 2024 GOP nomination” influenced his supporters’ decision, according to NBC’s Matt Dixon and Natasha Korecki. “A good politician knows when their moment is and they seize the opportunity,” one Republican adviser and hopeful DeSantis backer told the network. “It’s clear DeSantis is out.”
Trump deserves credit for the door’s existence and swing. The ex-president has defeated a growing group of GOP competitors both big(ish) and small(er) while almost solely targeting DeSantis.
However, Trump’s political attacks are not the only reason DeSantis, the “Trump-slaying” conservative savior, has lost political ground. His falling poll ratings are a sign of a deeper issue he created. In recent interviews, more coworkers, donors, peers, and potential benefactors have claimed that DeSantis lacks the soft “retail politics” abilities needed for a successful national campaign.
“An unreturning caller”
Regardless of large-donor-dependent campaigns, American politics is expensive. Thus, candidates must have significant funds to finance their campaigns before declaring their candidacy. DeSantis’ record-breaking fundraising haul in 2022 propelled him to the top of possible 2024 hopefuls.
However, donors have increasingly expressed their reluctance to support his potential presidential run, citing his falling poll numbers and DeSantis’ personal conduct.
“Why would I support somebody to become president of the United States that doesn’t return phone calls?” asks former DeSantis donor and Trump supporter John Catsimatidis. “Everyone answers my calls. The New York millionaire and Republican donor says, “I’ve never had a situation like [this]. “I wouldn’t support him now.”
After “looking forward” to supporting DeSantis’ presidential bid earlier this year, major GOP donor and Florida’s former richest inhabitant Thomas Peterffy has also pulled back. Unlike Catsimatidis, Peterffy’s hesitancy appears to originate from DeSantis’ hard-right stance on reproductive health and educational liberties, which helped enhance his national image.
“Because of his stance on abortion and book banning, myself and a bunch of friends are holding our powder dry,” he told the Financial Times,
DeSantis’ campaign funds aren’t empty. Robert Bigelow, the governor’s biggest 2022 donor, told Time that “I will give him more money and go without food” after donating $20 million to a DeSantis-aligned super-PAC. The third-largest funder of the 2022 midterm cycle, billionaire Ken Griffin, has also stated that he will continue supporting DeSantis, but that support may be in peril.
Crucially, despite having donated tens of millions of dollars to DeSantis and promising more, Bigelow told Time that he and the candidate communicate “mostly through his campaign manager and other senior staff.”
He and Catsimatidis seem to agree that DeSantis has not quite grasped the art of likeable retail politics that has benefited President Biden and Trump before him. Not just donors think so. DeSantis’ alleged lack of relationship-building and one-on-one politicking has hindered his ability to form a network of surrogate politicians to help him run for president.
‘Never spoke to me’
While he remains decisively popular among voters in his home state of Florida, DeSantis has conspicuously struggled to exact that same level of support from his fellow lawmakers there, allowing Trump to rack up a historic margin of endorsements from Florida elected officials, many of which came while DeSantis was out of state, demonstrating an extra layer of electoral dominance on the governor’s home turf. Rep.
Michael Waltz, who followed DeSantis as the state’s 6th District representative, supported Trump, ironically. One Trump aide told Politico, “The amazing part of it is how easy it was,” describing an endorsement coup against the former president’s primary GOP competitor.
As Florida Republican Rep. Greg Steube told Fox News, “There have been many things [about which] I’ve reached out to him.” “I was specifically told I could not be part of the press conference at events in my district,” he says. Standing in the corner was ordered. He couldn’t attend activities in my district. That won’t win friends or influence people, especially politically.”
Trott says DeSantis “never said a single word to me” in the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“I think he’s an asshole,” Trott tells Politico’s Eugene Daniels. “I don’t think he cares about people.”
The issue is accumulating endorsements and complaints. “The snub from GOP lawmakers in his home state is particularly striking, and it’s playing into the narrative that DeSantis is too aloof and inattentive to the interpersonal niceties of big-league politics,”
Daniels, Bade, and Lizza wrote in a recent “Playbook” newsletter. That senators uniquely aware of Trump’s general election weaknesses would still choose the former president “doesn’t bode well for his appeal to the common GOP voter, who probably isn’t as concerned about electability, the core of DeSantis’ pitch.”
This has coincided with embarrassing public appearances and bad news regarding DeSantis’ possible overreach in his continuing dispute with Disney and efforts to prohibit educational content. It’s clear why contributors and Republican lawmakers’ concerns have gained traction. That’s why DeSantis’ supporters want an immediate campaign launch.
The sooner they can wrest the candidate’s narrative back under their control, the sooner they can reboot DeSantis’ public image with the general public, at least according to some conservative outlets’ new stories. “You can reboot the damn thing, but what are you gonna put on the screen when it comes back on?” writes Slate’s Ben Mathis-Lilley.
That’s DeSantis’ biggest challenge. He was the GOP’s far-right governor and culture fighter. Where can DeSantis go from here with that record hanging around his neck as he tries to maintain the networks of support that normally assist politicians move up tiers? Can he change course after deciding?