When it comes to the Republican National Convention, has Gov. Ron DeSantis gone from a cheerleader to a stealth saboteur?
A new report from the New York Times suggests that DeSantis is hindering efforts to raise money for the Jacksonville event because a personal beef he has with Susie Wiles, the political operative now in charge of President Donald Trump’s Florida campaign.
From the story:
Mr. DeSantis, a Republican, has directed his top fund-raiser, Heather Barker, to tell donors not to give to the convention because of a personal dispute between the governor and Susie Wiles, his former campaign manager who is serving as an informal adviser to the convention planners, according to multiple people familiar with his actions.
Ms. Wiles is a veteran Republican operative who led Mr. Trump’s Florida team in 2016 and who ran Mr. DeSantis’s 2018 campaign for governor. Mr. DeSantis’s relationship with Ms. Wiles soured over his suspicion that she had leaked embarrassing information.
The story hinges on unnamed sources and Barker refutes those accounts to the Times. So does Brian Ballard, a top Florida lobbyist very close to Trump, who said that DeSantis hasn’t been asked to help raise money for the August fete while he’s dealing with the pandemic.
“It wouldn’t be appropriate, with all the health issues, to distract from what he’s working on,” Ballard told the Times. “Anyone who tries to lay some implications on that is absolutely not aware of the facts.”
Wiles, a veteran Republican strategist with a winning track record in Florida, helped rescue DeSantis’ flailing campaign for governor in 2018 in the final months before the election. DeSantis narrowly won the race, and he then put Wiles in charge of his inauguration and his political operation.
But their relationship soon soured. It took a turn for the worst in September of last year, after the Tampa Bay Times reported that DeSantis’ political committee had offered lobbyists the opportunity to pay for access to governor. Donors could arrange a round of golf with DeSantis for $25,000 or $100,000 for a foursome, or pay to have dinner with him, for example.
Wiles and Barker wrote the memos, but DeSantis and his wife, first lady Casey DeSantis, approved the “aggressive” fundraising plan, one memo said. DeSantis later denied he was involved, but the Times reported that Duke Energy made a $75,000 contribution to the governor’s political committee three days after three of the company’s lobbyists played golf with him.
After the story published, Wiles left her job at Ballard’s lobbying firm and was removed from the Trump campaign.
But with Trump trailing in the polls in Florida, his campaign recently announced on Twitter that Wiles was back in the fold. Politico recently reported that DeSantis disapproved of the move.
The convention is scheduled for Aug. 24 to 27 in Jacksonville and multiple outlets have reported in recent days that the city and GOP are struggling to raise money and balance the public health risks of holding a large event amid a pandemic.