Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is widely considered to be one of Donald Trump’s most likely opponents for the Republican nomination next year. His campaign has been a struggle since its inception. And it hasn’t gotten any smoother in recent weeks.
The campaign’s tone was initially set by a disastrous announcement on Twitter live that was marked by various technical issues.
Since then, the campaign has garnered attention for ongoing personnel turnover.
Whit Ayres, president of North Star Opinion Research — a center-right public opinion research firm, has worked on various high-profile campaigns. Ayres says that some of the chaos in the DeSantis campaign could be due to the fact that this is the first national campaign he has run.
“Our first presidential candidate was fond of saying that going from a statewide race to a presidential contest was like going from eighth grade basketball to the NBA finals,” Ayres quipped.
The DeSantis campaign did not respond to multiple requests from NPR for comment.
A history of campaign turnover
Ayres – who was a pollster for DeSantis in his 2018 gubernatorial campaign – says the issues with his presidential campaign likely stem from the fact that most of his team hasn’t worked with him before.
“Ron DeSantis has run five different campaigns – three for Congress, two for governor – and he has had five completely different campaign teams for those five races,” he said.
“We worked on his 2018 gubernatorial campaign, a tough, hard fought race, and he’ll have nothing to do with anyone associated with that victory,” Ayers explained.
Ayres says that includes the campaign manager, financial consultant, general consultant, media firm and the pollster – him.
“So, he is dealing with a team that has never been through a close, hard fought race with him before,” Ayres said. Ayres says that includes the campaign manager, financial consultant, general consultant and media firm. So, it’s tough. It’s a team game at every level of politics, but especially at the presidential level. Politico reported that about 10 campaign staffers were laid off the month before. The month before, Politico reported that about 10 campaign staffers were laid off.
Alex Conant, a Republican strategist with Firehouse Strategies, says no successful presidential campaign has that much turnover in such a short period of time.
“Successful campaigns have a team on day one that has worked together, that has experience in national politics and who has the trust of the candidate,” he explained.
Conant – who worked on Senator Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign in 2016 — says a campaign that hits a reset button two or three or four times in the middle of the summer, isn’t doing so because things are going well.
“It’s really hard to change the trajectory of a presidential campaign in the middle of a presidential campaign simply because you’re concentrating so much on incoming fire,” he said. “When people smell blood, they will attract more sharks. There’s a long way to go on the campaign trail
But things could still turn around. We’ll see whether he improves in time to be a serious contender for the presidency. Ayres believes that there are many Republican candidates who can run for the presidency. He explains that even though a third of the party will stand with Trump no matter what, there is still a huge chunk of Republican voters who are open to someone with less baggage.
Conant says he thinks about half the Republican voting base is open to an alternative. He said that if a candidate wants to “beat Trump, or even seriously challenge Trump”, they must consolidate voters who will entertain an alternative option. “I thought six months ago that Ron DeSantis looked on the verge of doing it. But he’s gone in the wrong direction since then. “
Conant said that if DeSantis wanted to be a serious candidate again, he would have to show he was a better campaigner than what his campaign had shown.