Why Ron DeSantis is failing in the election campaign

Ron DeSantis wanted to challenge Donald Trump for the presidential candidacy. But the ambitious governor of Florida stumbles in the election campaign – at the hands of his opponent Nikki Haley, himself and his supporters. They sometimes dismantle each other.

“Never Back Down” is the snappy name of Ron DeSantis’ largest lobbying group, his super PAC. PAC – that stands for Political Action Committee and means an organization that shakes up the donation box for one or more candidates . As a so-called “super PAC”, “Never Back Down” is bound to less strict requirements than a “normal” PAC. The group is theoretically allowed to accept unlimited donations from individuals, companies and unions. This is how “Never Back Down” is in the summer raised around $130 million for DeSantis. But now the head of the super PAC has quit: After days of bickering, Chris Jankowski is resigning.

The departure of his top fundraiser shows how disastrous things are for DeSantis’ campaign. Since January, Florida’s arch-conservative governor has lost almost two-thirds of his potential voters. On the one hand, he himself is to blame for this: DeSantis got lost in an anti-woke crusade, acted meekly towards Trump out of fear of his supporters’ resentment, and sometimes seemed like his own wax figure during campaign appearances.

On the other hand, there is such a level of disunity and resentment among his supporters that DeSantians are tearing each other apart. But whoever wants to inherit the throne needs a functioning court. And that’s exactly what the self-proclaimed Trump alternative is currently losing.

Super PACs – beyond the rules of the game?

His super PAC “Never Back Down” no longer just manages the cash register: the organizers have essentially taken over DeSantis’ entire presidential campaign – which is against the rules of the game. Although it says in Small print the official website:“Not authorized by any candidate or candidate committee.” Included No PAC has ever taken on as many campaign functions as “Never Back Down,” said political analyst Ron Brownstein in a CNN interview.

The departure of the managing director is all the more profound. “Given the current environment, achieving the shared goal has become untenable for me,” Chris Jankowski said in a statement this week. The tensions went “far beyond a difference in strategic opinion.” In fact, Jankowski’s end was merely the culmination of an internal power struggle that had been going on for weeks, perhaps months. And chaos with “Never Back Down” means chaos for the entire election campaign. The timing for court intrigue could hardly be better. The first Republican primaries in Iowa are coming up in less than two months.

The DeSantians are biting their teeth at Nikki Haley

According to media reports, the DeSantians are primarily arguing about how they can shake off their competitor Nikki Haley, who is getting closer and closer in the polls. While DeSantis’ popularity ratings have been on the decline in recent months, the former governor of South Carolina has emerged as a real alternative. In contrast to the robotic, elitist Floridian, the 51-year-old is increasingly managing to present herself as a moderate alternative to Trump and to win over undecided centrist voters. She is quick-witted in TV duels and approachable at campaign events. She simply campaigns better. And Team Ron can’t find an effective antidote.

Not that they haven’t tried. In the important state of Iowa, commercials recently caused a stir in which Haley was completely incoherently compared to the Republican hate figure Hillary Clinton. However, this jibe at the competition, so-called “negative campaigning”, which is common in US election campaigns, was not well received by voters. They easily linked the agitation with “Never Back Down” and thus with DeSantis, whose popularity continued to dwindle. The PAC soon withdrew the advertisements.

Nevertheless, “Never Back Down” is said to have transferred a million dollars to a new super PAC called “Fight Right” founded by DeSantis confidants, which wanted to use the money to broadcast its own anti-Haley campaigns. Experts largely agree that “Fight Right” is the result of internal friction and that DeSantis may be settling scores with the “Never Back Down” leadership. “Ron has gone from being a super PAC puppet to having his own puppets with a super PAC,” NBC News quoted an anonymous source close to the candidate as saying. Officially, DeSantis’ team denies any interference, as it would be strictly forbidden under federal law. According to “NBC News”, this is also why the “Never Back Down” main strategist got into a heated argument with a board member and college friend of DeSantis in the lobby offices in Atlanta – it almost came to a fight. “The DeSantis disaster continues,” Haley’s campaign team said in a press release sent out on Tuesday.

From “Trump with a brain” to “Trump without a plan”

Things have actually been slowly improving recently: in the third TV debate between the Republican candidates (Trump was once again conspicuous by his absence), DeSantis put in a very solid performance and subsequently received millions in donations. In Iowa, the mood barometer state, he can also rely on the support of Governor Kim Reynolds and the enormously influential evangelical Bob Vander Plaats, who is considered a kingmaker.

But if you believe the surveys, none of this helps. If DeSantis’ approval curve were a stock price, it would be approaching junk levels. The gap to Donald Trump is gradually approaching the 50 percent mark. He doesn’t say it yet. But one thing is certain: the once celebrated shooting star has failed on the big, national stage. And how.

“Trump with a brain,” is what many people called DeSantis for a long time. For many conservatives, he was the right-wing hope that he should give Trumpism a new coat of paint. Today he is the “Trump without a plan” – and tomorrow perhaps the “Trump without friends”.

Sources: “Axios“; “New York Times“; “NBC News“; “Semafor