DeSantis Takes Defensive Stance as Super PAC Faces Turmoil, Focusing on Staying Aggressive

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In the aftermath of a significant setback for Ron DeSantis’s political operation, the departure of a chief strategist, the Florida governor maintained a stoic demeanor at an event in Iowa, choosing not to address the internal turmoil or take questions from reporters. The political upheaval revolves around Never Back Down (N.B.D.), a super PAC designed to support DeSantis in his campaign against Donald J. Trump, acting as a shadow campaign with a substantial war chest and a powerful political team. However, recent developments, including the departure of key figures, have raised questions about the group’s efficacy and its ability to make an impact in the upcoming nominating contests.

Never Back Down, once touted as a difference-maker with a formidable budget of $130 million, has encountered challenges, burning through tens of millions of dollars while undergoing shifts in mission and strategy without significant success. With only four weeks left before the first nominating contests in Iowa, the super PAC is at a crossroads, prompting concerns about its capacity to regroup and refocus effectively in such a limited timeframe.

Amidst these internal challenges, DeSantis and his allies have opted for an offensive strategy against fellow Republican contenders, particularly targeting Donald J. Trump and former Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina. DeSantis, who has faced difficulties in asserting himself on the debate stage, aims to counter the growing influence of Trump in Iowa and simultaneously grapple with Haley’s direct challenge.

During a packed event at a coffee shop in Oskaloosa, Iowa, DeSantis emphasized his commitment to bolstering the country’s military, drawing a contrast with Trump by stating that his leadership is “not about entertainment.” Despite DeSantis projecting strength and competence on the campaign trail, internal conflicts within Never Back Down have frequently overshadowed these efforts.

The departure of key figures, including chief strategist Jeff Roe, has left Never Back Down in an uncertain position. The group’s current chairman and interim chief executive, Scott Wagner, a Miami lawyer and close college friend of DeSantis, lacks the seasoned political experience of his predecessors. The departure of Roe, attributed to negative comments made by Wagner, adds another layer of complexity to the super PAC’s internal dynamics.

Simultaneously, a new super PAC, Fight Right, formed by DeSantis loyalists, has emerged, running advertisements against Nikki Haley. This development highlights the two-front war DeSantis finds himself in, battling Haley for anti-Trump voters while attempting to win over Trump supporters.

DeSantis’s campaign, unable to legally coordinate with Never Back Down, has expressed confidence in the super PAC’s ground game and field operation. However, the creation of Fight Right suggests a shift in focus, with DeSantis’s campaign taking a more active role in turning out voters, leaving Never Back Down to manage advertising independently.

Despite the recent turmoil, DeSantis remains steadfast in his criticism of Haley and Trump. He questions Haley’s refusal to give a firm answer about accepting a role as Trump’s vice president, implying her alignment with Trump and her attacks on DeSantis. The governor’s campaign emphasizes his commitment to the presidential race, dismissing speculation about other roles.

Haley, in response, deflects the criticism, asserting her commitment to the nomination and accusing DeSantis of attempting to salvage a sinking campaign. The ongoing verbal sparring underscores the intensity of the competition for anti-Trump voters and the challenges DeSantis faces in maintaining a clear narrative amidst internal turbulence.

As voters grapple with policy differences between candidates, the internal strife within Never Back Down may become a factor for some. While some, like Jordan Padgett, remain unaware of the super PAC’s troubles, others, like Shari Dayton, express concern about the apparent disarray within the organization influencing their voting decisions.

The coming weeks will undoubtedly be crucial for DeSantis and his team as they navigate the complex intersection of internal challenges, aggressive political maneuvering, and the impending nominating contests. The ability to address internal turmoil, refocus the campaign, and effectively communicate with voters will determine the trajectory of DeSantis’s presidential bid and his standing in the fiercely contested Republican field.

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