Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ still-unnanounced 2024 candidacy met with more headwinds over the weekend when news broke that one of his major donors was pressing pause on funding his campaign.
Top GOP donor Thomas Peterffy said he was having second thoughts due to the extreme turn DeSantis has taken on social issues such as reproductive freedom and banning learning.
"Because of his stance on abortion and book banning ... myself, and a bunch of friends, are holding our powder dry," Peterffy told the Financial Times.
Not so coincidentally, last week DeSantis tried to bury news of him signing into law Florida's six-week abortion ban by releasing his statement after 11 PM. It appeared to signal some internal recognition among the DeSantis braintrust that his right-wing policies were marginalizing him, but now it seems more likely that realization was driven by a cohort of well-heeled donors planning to cut ties with him.
Peterffy, who gave a combined $7.7 million to GOP campaigns and political action committees in 2022, is no small loss to DeSantis. For a guy rumored to be running a campaign based on a long-haul strategy, Team DeSantis should have been in frequent communication with the donors powering his campaign to make sure he wasn't running afoul of them. That's true of any campaign, but particularly true for one planning to build lots of infrastructure in a bunch of states that would burn through cash hand over fist.
As several key DeSantis donors reconsidered their support for his brash MAGA-style politics, Republican donors at a Nashville retreat last weekend were getting an earful about the man whom DeSantis has modeled himself after: Donald Trump. According to Politico, the exclusive event organized by the Republican National Committee featured several new Republican officials who have been in the presidential discussion but haven’t announced a candidacy. They took aim at Trump, sometimes without naming him, despite the fact that he was scheduled to keynote the event Saturday night.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who incensed Trump in 2020 by certifying his state's election results, told attendees Saturday morning that voters were tired of the fixation with election denials.
“Voters wanted to hear about what Republicans were doing to help them fight through 40-year high inflation,” Kemp said of the midterm contests, "not months and months of debate over whether the 2020 election was stolen.”
Kemp has been working on raising his national profile although he’s said he does not intend to run in 2024. The popular Peach State governor—who was reelected handily last fall even as Trump-backed Herschel Walker lost his Senate bid—warned donors that “not a single swing voter” would vote for a Republican nominee who obsesses over the "ancient history" of 2020.
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, who is testing the waters for 2024, flat-out told Politico of Trump, "I don't think he can win in 2024."
Miraculously, Trump didn’t devote the entirety of his keynote address to airing out his 2020 grievances. Trump appears, at least for the moment, to be heeding the advice of one of his most important focus groups: Fox News anchors, who have pleaded with him on-air to leave the 2020 grievances behind. In fact, Trump reportedly laid out a vision for the GOP’s future while predictably crediting himself with having “saved” the Republican Party from “the establishment class.”
The Republican National Committee granted both Sununu and Kemp speaking slots along with former Vice President Mike Pence, who addressed attendees on Friday night. In a thinly veiled shot at Trump, Pence said Republicans must “resist the politics of personality and the lure of populism unmoored to timeless conservative values,” according to his prepared remarks. Still, Pence mainly highlighted his policy differences with Trump, making the case for standing by Ukraine and cutting Social Security and Medicare. It’s unclear how Pence was received by top donors, but just the day before he was booed by NRA convention attendees in his home state of Indiana.
DeSantis was invited but didn't attend. Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley (who has announced) and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina (who’s formed an exploratory committee) also skipped, citing scheduling conflicts.
Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who intends to run and has called for Trump to drop out based on his criminal indictments, attended the GOP retreat but was not given a speaking slot by the RNC.
Hutchinson said donors were "sorting through" the downsides of yet another Trump nomination, which he and others such as Kemp and Sununu are counseling against.
"They’ve got to hear that message, and it’s like realism is coming to the party. And it takes people actually having the courage to say it before people will face that reality," Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson, whose chances of winning the nomination are exceedingly thin, is likely relieved to have joiners in the fight against Trump. A cohort of national-level Trump detractors just might be able make a dent in his campaign. That said, it's only a Hail Mary at this point, since Trumpism still rules the party.
As never-Trumper and The Bulwark publisher Sarah Longwell noted in a recent piece, “I’ve sat through hundreds of focus groups with GOP voters over the last four years and one thing is perfectly clear: The Republican party has been irretrievably altered and, as one GOP voter put it succinctly, ‘We’re never going back.’”
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On today’s episode, Markos and Kerry are joined by a friend of the podcast, Democratic political strategist Simon Rosenberg. Rosenberg was one of the few outsiders who, like Daily Kos, kept telling the world that nothing supported the idea of a red wave. Simon and the crew break down his strategy for Democratic candidates to achieve a 55% popular vote in all elections—a number that a few years ago would have seemed unattainable, but now feels within reach.