DeSantis Donors Revolt as Rebooted Campaign Remains Terminally Online – Rolling Stone

ron desantis internal woes

During a “reboot” that Ron DeSantis’ allies had hoped would prove his terminally online campaign could change its ways, the governor has pivoted to more of the same — and key allies and donors are threatening to jump ship.

Various big DeSantis donors have been furious that the campaign seemed to take its cues from internet culture wars over niche issues. But despite a large-scale shedding of staff, some of the most online staffers remain on board. Indeed, some have grown more vocal: The early days of the reboot have featured a DeSantis staffer publicly feuding on social media with a Black Republican lawmaker. And despite pleas from allies to refocus away from the culture war, DeSantis has picked one fight with Bud Light and another over the teaching of Black history.

The “out-with-the-old, back-in-with-old” nature of the reboot has some donors asking if the problem isn’t the campaign, but the candidate.

“A top-to-bottom makeover and real accountability may be the only thing that saves Ron DeSantis [in the primary], but even then you still have the governor at the top,” a high-roller Republican donor who’s been backing DeSantis tells Rolling Stone. “And it is getting harder and harder by the day to see not just his people as the problem, but him as the problem.” 

DeSantis’ campaign did not respond to a request for comment. Officials at his super PAC, “Never Back Down,” also did not reply.

Numerous Republicans hoping to help put DeSantis in the White House — including officials at Never Back Down, other GOP moneymen, and veteran Republican operatives — have privately vented their rage at the current direction of the campaign, according to five sources familiar with the matter. Several donors and operatives have taken their concerns directly to the governor or his senior aides in recent weeks.

Some of that ire has been directed at DeSantis’ high-profile staff, especially Christina Pushaw, the campaign’s rapid response director and its unofficial chief of angry online feuding. It was Pushaw who recently attacked Florida Republican Rep. Byron Donalds over an extremely mild rebuke of a portion of the Floridian curriculum guidelines that, in his words, attempted “to feature the personal benefits of slavery.”

The change, Donalds tweeted, “is wrong & needs to be adjusted. That obviously wasn’t the goal & I have faith that [Florida Department of Education] will correct this.”

“Did Kamala Harris write this tweet?” Pushaw tweeted in response.

Surveying the online fighting, the DeSantis donor says: “Clean house…Christina and the other amateurs would be a great start, but it’s not just them.” 

When DeSantis earlier this month shed a third of his staff, the cuts included Nate Hochman, a campaign speechwriter who was a prolific online poster. Hochman got the ax after boosting a video that included a Nazi symbol (the campaign hasn’t said that was the cause of his firing), but several big DeSantis donors want to see other staffers let go, according to three sources with knowledge of the matter.

But that wasn’t the only video that landed the campaign in hot water. This summer has also featured a meme-heavy video that attacked Trump as too friendly with the gay, lesbian, and transgender community, and then followed with a montage of interspersed clips of DeSantis, video of hyper-masculine fictional characters, and headlines touting the governor’s virulently anti-LGBTQ staff. A pseudonymous DeSantis fan account first published the video but the DeSantis campaign’s “War Room” Twitter account subsequently shared the clip with its followers. 

Some blame DeSantis’ staff. “They are making him look like a fool,” says one GOP donor who has connections to both Trump’s inner circle and DeSantisland’s upper crust. The donor adds they are not ready to give up all hope on the Florida governor’s presidential ambitions just yet, but: “Nobody likes wasting their money, and [DeSantis donors] need to be shown that we aren’t wasting our money and our time, both of which are valuable, if you care about denying Joe Biden another term.”

For now, it seems, Pushaw is being protected by DeSantis, at least enough to continue fronting his campaign’s rapid-response operation — the very unit that has delivered the governor some of his more high-profile self-inflicted wounds of the cycle. (Pushaw on Wednesday told Politico on Wednesday that “she hadn’t lost her job.”) And indeed, after Pushaw’s fight with Donalds, the governor himself joined in the attack to blast Donalds as “a supposedly conservative congressman.”

And far from being fired, the campaign’s digital director, Ethan Eilon, was promoted in the staff shakeup, moving up to deputy campaign manager in an apparent signal that DeSantis himself is comfortable with constant online pugilism from staff.

The DeSantis campaign’s doubling down on social media feuds post-“reboot” hasn’t gone unnoticed among its most fervent supporters — at least those that are online.

“Noticing a return of aggressive rapid response and trolling from [Pushaw] and [DeSantis press secretary Jeremy Redfern],” CryptidPolitics, one of the more popular pseudonymous pro-DeSantis accounts tweeted last week.

But despite the ire at the staff, many of the influential consultants, donors, and media kingpins say the problem is with DeSantis himself.

DeSantis has also recently leaned harder into the kind of culture war issues that have so far failed to gain him traction with primary voters. He has threatened Anheuser-Busch with a lawsuit for partnering with a transgender woman during a March promotion and suggested that he would consider notorious anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist Robert F. Kennedy Jr as a potential FDA chief. 

Last year, longtime Republican strategist Ed Rollins was leading the Ready for Ron PAC, and announcing his plans to help DeSantis — then an undeclared 2024 candidate —  take on Trump in the primary. A longtime Trump supporter, Rollins wanted to turn the page on the twice-impeached former president, and he thought DeSantis was the candidate to do it. But in just a few months, that hope vanished. Today, Rollins says he is “not involved” anymore in the pro-DeSantis efforts.

“I don’t think it’s the campaign’s fault at all; it’s his,” Rollins tells Rolling Stone. “I think he’s been a very flawed candidate. I know some of the people around him, and some of them are good, talented people. But every time he opens his mouth, he has a tendency to — shall we say — think out-loud, and he clearly doesn’t understand the game. … When you get into these culture wars the way that he has, the vast majority of people don’t understand what they are.


But Rollins doesn’t see another threat to Trump in the 2024 primary field: “At this point in time, I would be shocked if Trump were not the nominee.”

Rollins is also predicting that, “unless something serious happens,” President Biden is on track toward reelection.

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