TALLAHASSEE — The chief spokesperson for Gov. Ron DeSantis, Christina Pushaw, announced Friday that she is shifting from his executive office to his political campaign.
Pushaw, 31, said on Twitter that she will now serve as the “rapid response director” for the DeSantis reelection campaign, and in her resignation letter said she will be replaced by Assistant Press Secretary Bryan Griffin.
Pushaw thanked the governor’s chief of staff, James Uthmeier, and communications director, Taryn Fenske, for entrusting her with the job.
“You gave me the latitude to respond to media narratives in direct and often unconventional ways, allowing me to redefine this role for a leader whose actions speak for themselves,” she wrote.
Pushaw was hired by the governor’s office in May 2021 after authoring an article in the conservative magazine Human Events that was critical of former Department of Health analyst and DeSantis critic Rebekah Jones. Pushaw was paid $126,456 a year.
Taking to Twitter
Using personal social media accounts, not state-run accounts, Pushaw earned a reputation during her 15 months as a government official as the chief amplifier of DeSantis’ political narrative. Her tweets were routinely boosted by conservative media sources and bloggers. When she joined the governor’s office, she had less than 5,000 followers and had made only 559 tweets. She now has more than 188,000 followers and more than 48,000 tweets.
Pushaw also became a frequent critic of reporters at independent news organizations, which she called “legacy media.” She often labeled reporters “activists” for asking questions seeking information or explanation to which she or the administration objected.
When Florida Republicans held their annual conference in Hollywood in July and barred many members of the press corps from the event, Pushaw posted a tweet: “My message to them is to try crying about it. Then go to kickboxing and have a margarita. And write the same hit piece you were gonna write anyway.”
In her resignation letter, she repeated the DeSantis campaign’s key talking points, noting how the administration pushed back against COVID-19 restrictions, kept schools open, responded to the Champlain Towers collapse, “promoted fatherhood” and fought to “defend parental rights.”
Pushaw’s job as DeSantis’ press secretary was her first in American government, according to her resume. Pushaw previously worked for Stand Together, the Koch brothers-backed foundation, from 2017 to 2019.
According to her resume, she specialized in messaging around K-12 education and helped with high-profile national efforts. She listed the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and the passing of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act as highlights of her time with the organization, although her resume did not make clear what her role was in those efforts.
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Pushaw also worked as an international political consultant beginning in 2017. In 2019, she took a full-time job as a communications and media adviser to the former president of the country of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, who is now a prominent figure in Ukrainian politics. In 2020, Pushaw worked on Georgia’s parliamentary election. This year, the U.S. Justice Department informed her that she had failed to register as a foreign agent under a federal disclosure law. Pushaw subsequently filed for the registration.
On June 11, 2020, Foreign Policy published a column called “I Abolished and Rebuilt the Police. The United States Can Do the Same.” Its author was Saakashvili, who served as the president of Georgia from 2004 until 2013. The piece was actually written by Pushaw, according to documents she sent to the DeSantis administration.
Praise and criticism of Pushaw
Fenske, who remains as the governor’s communications director, said on Twitter that Pushaw “is an incredible person w/ extraordinary talent & has served Florida & Governor DeSantis well. We’ll miss her, but know she’ll be a wonderful asset to the campaign!”
Ryan Petty, a DeSantis supporter whose daughter was killed in the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, said on Twitter: “As she resigns, Christina outlines a roadmap for every Republican governor in the US.”
Mac Stipanovich, the former chief of staff to former Gov. Jeb Bush who frequently sparred with and criticized Pushaw, tweeted a picture of the Wicked Witch of the West melting. “I thought of it as my patriotic duty to not give her the road unchallenged,” he wrote.
Pushaw’s rhetoric has had a measurable impact, according to a report released Wednesday by the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group, and the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a nonprofit group that tracks online extremism.
An analysis of social media by the groups said that references to pedophiles and “grooming” rose by more than 400% in the month after the Florida Legislature passed the Parental Rights in Education Act, which has been dubbed by opponents as the “don’t say gay” bill.
In March, Pushaw compared criticism of the bill to pedophilia itself.
“If you’re against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4-8 year old children. Silence is complicity,” she wrote.
Three months after she started in the governor’s office, Twitter temporarily suspended her Twitter account for 12 hours for alleged “harassing behavior” and for violating rules on “abusive behavior,” after The Associated Press said her conduct led to a reporter receiving threats and other online abuse.
After her resignation letter was promoted on Twitter, Pushaw wrote: “Now, the gloves are off.”