Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has officially been in the Republican presidential primary for just two months. Voting is nearly six months away, but his campaign is already being forced to reboot as DeSantis keeps sinking in the polls and the campaign is burning through cash at an unsustainable rate. Campaign officials are now frantically trying to explain how they’ll save DeSantis’ candidacy using one clichéd line after another. He’s going to run a “leaner meaner” and “insurgent” campaign. He’s “ready to prove the doubters wrong again.” At a Sunday meeting with big donors, they even busted out perhaps the most tired line of all: They’re going to “let Ron be Ron.” Because “that’s what got him here.”
The question is, where’s “here”? The campaign obviously wants donors to interpret “here” as “governor and top-tier primary candidate,” but under the circumstances, “here” could equally be “flailing just weeks after launching his primary campaign and sinking in the polls as voters get a better look at him.”
DeSantis raised $20 million between entering the race and the first FEC filing deadline, but he was heavily dependent on big donors, with many already having given the maximum $3,300 for the primary and $3 million of what he raised earmarked for the general election. (You know, the one he doesn’t look like he’ll reach.) The lack of widespread enthusiasm for his candidacy that shows up in polls is also showing up in fundraising, with The New York Times reporting, “In Mr. DeSantis’s first week as a candidate, in late May, his campaign paid significantly more in fees to WinRed, the main donation-processing platform for Republicans that receives a cut of every online dollar donated, than it did in the entire month of June.”
Then there’s the spending issue. The DeSantis campaign spent nearly 40% of what it raised. That’s not supposed to happen this early—they’re supposed to be stockpiling cash for later, when the race heats up. Worse, they’ve spent that much without even airing any television ads. Instead the money has been spent on private jets and events at luxury hotels, with $279,000 going to the Four Seasons in Miami. (The hotel, not a landscaping business.) This may not be a Trump-level grift, but it certainly looks like DeSantis is using campaign funds to offer himself the luxury lifestyle he thinks he deserves. He’s been struggling to look like a jolly, engaged candidate already. What facial expressions are we going to see from him if they make him fly commercial with the unwashed masses?
The campaign has already laid off some staff and is looking at other cuts. It also released some thinly veiled pleas to the DeSantis super PAC—which has much more money than the campaign itself—to start bailing out their guy by airing positive ads about him. So far, the super PAC isn’t coming to the rescue.
No campaign wants to be seen struggling, let alone this quickly. But it’s worse for DeSantis, who has worked strenuously to sell himself as a winner. That’s supposed to be his identity, his pitch to voters: a guy who wins for Republicans. Looking like a loser is never good. Looking like a loser when “winner” is what you’re trying to sell? That’s much worse.
The DeSantis campaign is still trying to paint their guy as the only plausible Republican alternative to Trump. “No matter how much the media and D.C. elites try to destroy Ron DeSantis, they can’t change the fact that this is a two-man race for the nomination,” a spokesman said in a statement. But the reality is that DeSantis has been the subject of plenty of favorable media coverage, he’s just failing to sell himself to voters, with obvious signs in the polls that voters are casting about for a different Trump alternative. Now the rescue plan is to have DeSantis do smaller events and more media outside the right-wing bubble. Their problem is they may not have a candidate who will appeal to voters as they see more of him.