Tamping down on breakneck spending, laying off more than a third of campaign staffers, contending with accusations of an ex-staffer using Nazi symbolism — all have added to a list of problems weighing down Gov. Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign this week.
And on top of all that, DeSantis’ motorcade got into a fender bender Tuesday.
It’s all culminated in a week when the national conversation about DeSantis has become less about his pitch to voters and more about whether Florida state officials are promoting the idea that slavery was beneficial to enslaved people — and whether his campaign, more broadly, is losing control of its message.
Campaign manager Generra Peck said in a statement Tuesday that DeSantis’ team has undergone a “top-to-bottom review of our organization,” leading to changes that will “put Ron DeSantis in the strongest position to win this primary and defeat Joe Biden.”
And Wednesday, DeSantis said in a YouTube interview with OutKick host Clay Travis that the campaign is “shifting resources to the early states,” adding: “We don’t need to be too top-heavy in Tallahassee.”
“We’re going to win in Iowa,” DeSantis predicted. “We’ve got to earn it. I mean, you know, if I thought I had it in the bag, then I wouldn’t — we have to earn it, but I think we’ve got a great path there.”
A growing list of headaches has contributed to the overhaul.
Campaign staff layoffs
On Tuesday, DeSantis cut more than a third of his massive 90-plus-person staff, trimming 38 jobs, multiple news outlets reported.
Although DeSantis’ campaign raised more than $20 million in the second quarter of the year — a larger sum than former President Donald Trump — his team quickly burned through nearly $8 million of that total, more than $1 million of which on payroll and other staff costs.
One campaign staffer reportedly cut amid the layoffs was Nate Hochman, who has been accused of retweeting (and possibly making) a video featuring a superimposed sonnenrad — a symbol commonly used by Nazis — over DeSantis’ face as soldiers march behind. Hochman had been considered by some to be a prominent up-and-comer on the right, having published conservative think pieces in The New York Times and the National Review.
“Nate Hochman is no longer with the campaign,” a spokesperson told NBC News. “And we will not be commenting on him further.”
Another sign of trouble for DeSantis came on Fox News, an outlet where DeSantis built his early brand as a hard-right representative during the Trump administration, and where he has often received favorable reviews.
After discussing the campaign layoffs Tuesday, host Bret Baier said: “You just haven’t seen the traction for the guy that was supposed to be the guy” to challenge Trump for the nomination.
“That’s an awful lot of trouble for a campaign that’s barely two months old,” replied co-anchor John Roberts, who added that Trump’s continued strength in the race may be leaving some challengers wondering if they should “save (their) powder and come back at this in 2028.”
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Slavery curriculum controversy
Back in Florida, the state Department of Education received national backlash last week for its proposed African American history standards, which suggested that enslaved people learned skills that “in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.” When the state provided a list of examples, critics said some of the people cited were never even enslaved.
The controversy earned national headlines and a lengthy, fiery response from Vice President Kamala Harris, who visited DeSantis’ birthplace of Jacksonville on Friday to blast it and other education policies pushed by the governor regarding the teaching of Black history.
While last week DeSantis said in Utah that he “wasn’t involved” in writing the new standards, he has accused Harris and other critics of “trying to perpetuate a hoax” about the materials, calling them “the most robust standards in African American history probably anywhere in the country.”
Despite its high spending, DeSantis’ campaign is still contending with troubling poll numbers nationally, and even some in key early primary states.
At a weekend event in Deer Valley, Utah, campaign manager Generra Peck acknowledged to 70 top contributors that considerable money had been spent on ineffective operations and pointed to a more “insurgent” path forward on a tighter budget, according to Politico.
In Iowa, which DeSantis has prioritized winning as a way to bolster his candidacy, a recent Fox Business poll put Trump 30 points ahead of DeSantis, who was only 5 points ahead of U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina.
The numbers are worse for DeSantis in South Carolina, where he now sits in third place behind Trump and former Gov. Nikki Haley, according to a different Fox survey.
In his interview with Travis, DeSantis said he plans to spend several days this week and weekend in New Hampshire and Iowa, spending more face-to-face time with voters.
“I think the voters in both of those states, they want to kick the tires,” he said. “They want to see you. And there’ll be people that’ll say, ‘Oh, what do you think of the governor?’ ‘Well, I like him, but I’ve only met him one time.’ And so that’s what you’ve got to do.”
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