Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is known for running a top-down operation, consulting on key issues with only a small and select group, including his wife.
But as he tries to launch a presidential campaign amid weeks of bad headlines, flagging poll numbers and donor threats to jump ship, his campaign-in-waiting acknowledges that the closed practice isn’t working out so well.
Behind the scenes, aides assure supporters that DeSantis’ circle of advisers is expanding to add more operatives with presidential campaign experience, and that DeSantis is listening to them, according to three people with direct knowledge of the matter.
«Before, people made suggestions, but he kept making the decisions,» said a Republican donor who was briefed by a DeSantis adviser on the next steps. «He’s starting to get advice from people who know what they’re doing.» That was essential, this person said, “particularly after he got hit so hard after Ukraine.”
In addition to loosening their tight-knit circle, Team DeSantis is taking extra care to court donors, inviting package providers to the Four Seasons in Miami next week for a retreat aimed at inflating their campaign war chest for its launch. official. Some donors had complained about DeSantis’ lack of communication.
Additionally, DeSantis is increasing his retail stops; At a congressman’s fundraising picnic in Iowa over the weekend, he even posed for a photo op for the media, with whom he frequently clashes. DeSantis’ team has shown little change in dealing with the media, opening up his future political operation. to a reporter from Politico — giving far more access than attendees have typically granted.
And DeSantis has taken a number of headline-grabbing actions as governor recently, including sending Florida police and the National Guard to the Texas border.
DeSantis’ spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
Inside DeSantis’ team, attendees feel the past week was one of the best they’ve ever had, marked by a surprise stop in Des Moines, Iowa, after former President Donald Trump canceled a rally there hours earlier due to weather. two people with knowledge of internal discussions said. The organization is working to maintain momentum and is expected to develop new sponsorships between now and its official launch.
Another Republican familiar with recent internal talks said Michael Biundo, the national campaign manager for Rick Santorum’s 2012 presidential bid and a senior adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign, has been in talks about joining DeSantis’ team. The sources did not describe how the new advisers would work formally or informally with DeSantis.
DeSantis’ core political team in Tallahassee has been growing, and this week, aides moved into new office space. But most of the work promoting him as a White House candidate has fallen to Never Back Down, a super PAC that draws many advisers to Sen. Ted Cruz’s failed bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
Adding others to the mix could address the challenges DeSantis has faced as an undeclared but widely anticipated candidate. However, it could build tension down the road with newcomers potentially clashing with a tight-knit inner circle.
«What supporters of the governor have consistently seen with the DeSantis world is what happens when you don’t officially enter a race and you don’t have a campaign committee,» said Dennis Lennox, a Michigan-based Republican strategist who has publicly supported to DeSantis.
“At the end of the day, this continues to be a campaign dominated by a lot of internal party machinations, and you need a team that knows how to win a nomination that is ultimately decided by the delegates,” Lennox said. «Dealing with a state legislature to pass your agenda is totally different than simple things like qualifying for the ballot in all 56 primaries, caucuses and conventions, some of which have peculiar filing requirements.»
One donor said some tension has arisen over Casey DeSantis’ enormous influence on her husband. A former television news anchor, she accompanied DeSantis on his early trips beyond Florida and occasionally conducted friendly interviews with him onstage at events.
“I know people in the DeSantis world who are very frustrated with her,” the donor said. «I think his chance to be president is going to have to listen a little less to his wife and a little more to the professionals.»
The attempt to unfreeze the open perception that DeSantis may be a a bit uncomfortable at times, and the expansion of his famously small and loyal political orbit, are two finishing touches as his campaign prepares the details for a presidential launch likely to come next week.
The DeSantis team is paying special attention to donors ahead of a donor retreat in Miami next week, which will help the new campaign make sure it can tout large early fundraising numbers. And more details about the meeting are known.
“I think he’s really making an effort to widen his circle,” said a bagger who was invited to Miami and spoke with DeSantis aides.
Another Republican donor, who has spoken with DeSantis’ team about next steps and will be at the campaign’s donor talk, said his staff have been sending signals to appease some uneasy supporters. It’s letting donors know that a growing crop of advisers is working to address concerns about political positions, shift momentum in DeSantis’s direction, and hone a prickly, and sometimes standoffish, persona for campaign demands. national.
“A lot of people think they’re insular, and there were certainly some hectic months,” said a donor who strongly supports DeSantis’s bid and will be at the Miami event on DeSantis’ political team. “They understand it had a lot of momentum coming out of October, but they needed to put their legs in the sea to make sure the donor class is less nervous.”
DeSantis remains Trump’s strongest competitor for the 2024 Republican nomination, according to center. But his run-up to launch was littered with moves that raised questions about how prepared he is for a fight with Trump and other Republican candidates, a list expected to grow in the coming days.
In addition to his misgivings about US involvement in Ukraine, DeSantis has struggled with questions about Trump, reluctant to attack him directly but sometimes unable to resist the not-so-subtle rebukes. A majority of the US House delegation from Florida, of which DeSantis was a member, has endorsed Trump. And Never Back Down’s efforts to rally endorsements for DeSantis caused confusion this week when two New Hampshire state lawmakers listed as supporters by the super PAC said they still back Trump.
The Miami event, which will bring together 50 to 100 vendors and donors at the Four Seasons hotel on Brickell Avenue’s famed downtown area, will be a collection of high-profile Republican fundraisers who are committed to both helping the DeSantis campaign like to make sure his first issue shows up. Never Back Down has been raising tens of millions of dollars, but making sure its official campaign side can pass on a lot of early campaign cash will be an important sign in maintaining momentum after it officially launches its campaign.
“They are building a team, basically what will be their finance team,” said a Republican consultant familiar with the event. “They are going to start making calls. It is still not entirely clear who will be there. The invite versus who will show up is still up in the air.»
Three sources familiar with the event confirmed that the event will be to raise «hard money,» or money that will go directly to DeSantis’s official presidential campaign, not the aligned super PAC. That is an important designation, because it means that when the financial event begins on May 24 in Miami, the presidential campaign will have to exist legally.
A source said the campaign is explaining the event to people as a «combined» donor briefing and fundraising push.
Said one of the Republican rallyists who will attend: «They can’t make us call for dollars if there isn’t a campaign yet.»