The leader of a highly influential political action committee, closely associated with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, resigned from their position earlier this week due to disagreements regarding the governor’s 2024 campaign.
Known as Never Back Down, the PAC has played a crucial role in supporting DeSantis’s political endeavors, with a particular emphasis on campaigning in Iowa. This strategic focus aims to challenge Donald Trump’s frontrunner status and is part of the governor’s broader efforts to advance his candidacy.
Things are getting tense in Tallahassee.
The New York Times writes that Ron DeSantis’s political orbit confronted fresh upheaval on the eve of Thanksgiving as the chief executive of the super PAC that has effectively taken over his presidential campaign resigned after days of infighting among DeSantis allies over strategy, financing and how to blunt the momentum of one of his rivals, Nikki Haley.
That chief executive, Chris Jankowski, sent a resignation note on Wednesday to the board of Never Back Down, which has been the main pro-DeSantis super PAC. The resignation was effective immediately. In a statement from Mr. Jankowski issued by the group, he described his differences with them as “well beyond a difference of strategic opinion.”
Never Back Down, which had amassed $130 million over the summer, has played a critical role in supporting Mr. DeSantis. Mr. Jankowski’s departure caps days of internal tensions within the group over the next steps in their Republican primary race against the frontrunner, Donald J. Trump, and comes seven weeks before the pivotal Iowa caucuses in January.
The leaders of Never Back Down super PAC met privately last Tuesday to outline a strategy but instead ended up nearly fighting each other.
Jeff Roe, the top consultant for the super PAC, got into a heated argument with longtime DeSantis confidant Scott Wagner during a board meeting to discuss the budget for the next two months as the first primaries quickly approach.
“You have a stick up your a–, Scott,” Roe fumed at Wagner, who is a member of the Never Back Down board.
“Why don’t you come over here and get it?” Wagner responded, rising from his chair before being restrained by other members of the PAC.
“The infighting represents an escalation in the long-running war between Never Back Down’s professional political operatives and DeSantis’ Tallahassee-based inner circle over who is to blame for the governor’s failure to compete effectively with frontrunner Donald Trump for the Republican nomination. DeSantis’ monthslong tumble created an opening for Haley, whose surging poll numbers and newfound affection from megadonors pose an existential threat to the Florida governor’s campaign.
DeSantis and his wife, Casey, have been among those increasingly upset at Never Back Down’s leadership, according to two sources familiar with their thinking,” reports NBC News.
It’s not all bad news for DeSantis, however. Earlier in the week, he received an endorsement from one of Iowa’s most significant leaders. “Influential evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats is endorsing Ron DeSantis for president,” wrote USA Today, “a move he hopes will motivate Iowa’s Christian conservatives to rally around the Florida governor as the chief alternative to former President Donald Trump at the state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.”
DeSantis currently remains in the second spot in polling in the Hawkeye State and the religious leader pointed out something those digging into polls have been saying for weeks: only DeSantis takes votes away from Trump, which means that Haley has no real shot in Iowa.
Vander Plaats mentions late in the interview (around 11 minutes) how DeSantis' voters go to Trump while Haley's go to DeSantis, which is why Haley has no path while DeSantis has lots of "blue sky" ahead of him. https://t.co/AWePX4kXyl
— Varad Mehta (@varadmehta) November 23, 2023
In New Hampshire, however, there is a different story. CNN noted that “for weeks Haley has been gaining momentum in the Granite State, where recent polls show her in second place — well behind former President Donald Trump but increasingly ahead of the other candidates seeking to consolidate the state’s non-Trump vote. Despite the former president’s overwhelming lead, Haley’s campaign is hoping she can seal the deal with undecided voters like Rice as she runs on her record as Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations and the six years she led the Palmetto State.
Best case scenario for the campaign, early state voters – known for breaking late in ways that defy conventional wisdom – might still surprise the country and support someone who isn’t the former president. For now, many voters still want to be courted.
‘We’ve got to do whatever it takes to save America,’ Haley said at her second town hall of the day, in Raymond. ‘But in order to do that, it’s gonna take a lot of courage, courage from every single person in this room — and the overflow room.’
A CNN/University of New Hampshire poll released last week showed that 20% of likely GOP primary voters would support her, up from 12% in September, placing her firmly in second place. Trump received support from 42% of primary voters, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie received 14%, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was backed by 9% and tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy had 8%. The poll found that 52% of likely GOP primary voters in the state had made up their mind.”
One scenario that hasn’t been discussed much when it comes to the Republican primary is the way both Iowa and New Hampshire break late when there’s only one well-known figure in the primary. For example, in 2016, when Hillary was running a similar, coronation-style campaign to the 2024 Trump campaign, her lead over Bernie Sanders, which seemed insurmountable in November 2015 suddenly collapsed as Iowans made up their minds months later.
The same could be said for New Hampshire as voters left the national figure and moved toward someone different.
Is anyone, including the media or Republicans, prepared for the, albeit still unlikely event, that Trump loses Iowa to DeSantis and New Hampshire to Haley?