DeSantis turmoil shows that hate only goes so far
With his presidential campaign in disarray on several fronts, there's one datapoint that is encouraging.
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Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign is floundering amid reports of financial trouble, with 12 key staffers having been laid off as he’s burning through cash and doesn’t seem to have the ability to raise much more. This comes as he’s been unable for several months to make a dent in Donald Trump’s massive lead in the polls.
What shouldn’t be discounted regarding his problems is the impact that DeSantis’ full-throttle hate and dictatorial impulses have had on potential voters.
NBC reported over the weekend that DeSantis "tapped out top donors and burned through $7.9 million in his first six weeks as a presidential candidate. The numbers suggest, for the first time, that solvency could be a threat to DeSantis’ campaign, which has touted its fundraising ability as a key measure of viability."
DeSantis raised $20.1 million between mid-May and the end of June. He spent 40% of that money, and more than two-thirds came from donors who are maxed out. So he needs many more new donors, and he needs the one-third who aren’t maxed out to give more.
The problem is, he’s not catching up to Trump, which creates skepticism among current and potential donors who don’t want to put money into a losing campaign. As I wrote on Saturday, some in the GOP are seeing it as "Defcon 1," worried Trump is running away with the nomination but is a general election loser. DeSantis wasn’t only supposed to be the more competent version of Trump; he was believed to be someone who could bring in GOP-leaning independents, suburbanites, and others who were finished with Trump.
Now, even Rupert Murdoch and Fox News are souring on DeSantis, looking for an alternative.
So what happened? First off, DeSantis has a very close circle, and he thought that circle—which includes his wife Casey, his closest adviser—would easily win him the GOP presidential nomination just as it helped clinch the Florida gubernatorial race. But America is not Florida, and presidential races are not gubernatorial races. DeSantis’s arrogance kept him at arm’s length from Republicans with experience in presidential politics, at least regarding the biggest decisions.
Then there’s his inability to connect with people, which has been discussed a lot. DeSantis just doesn’t like voters, nor does he enjoy talking with them. And he seems to hate reporters, unless they’re 100% in the MAGA cult. He’s awkward, prone to angry outbursts, and from all accounts not a very friendly person. In Florida, he had many people on his staff who insulated him from voters and the media who might challenge him. They can’t protect him on the national campaign trail.
But one data point that stands out as having had an impact as well is swing voters’ rejection of DeSantis’ hateful agenda. DeSantis thought that by passing the "don’t say gay" law, viciously attacking trans teenagers, signing a six-week abortion ban, and ranting every damned day about "wokeness," he would show Trump supporters that he was the version of Trump that actually got things done. A Better Trump.
But two things happened. First, Trump supporters, by and large, have sloughed off that argument because they love Trump, warts and all. Trump is a cult, and no one is going to tell them that there’s a better version of Trump. DeSantis doesn’t seem to get that these people—a very large chunk of Trump’s supporters—are not making rational decisions. It’s all cult-driven.
The second thing that happened is that DeSantis’s far-right positions—and his speeches, as well as his horrifically anti-LGBTQ ad and Casey’s equally hateful "Mamas for DeSantis" ad—drive away many Republicans and GOP-leaning independents who are actually looking for an alternative to Trump. So DeSantis is trying to court a group that will never break away from Trump while actually pushing away a group that has broken away or could break away from Trump.
As far back as April, reports began to surface about some GOP donors pausing donations, concerned by the six-week abortion ban and book bans in Florida. But after DeSantis’ campaign circulated the anti-LGBTQ ad a little over two weeks ago filled with memes that play well with incels and neo-Nazis, there was more and louder criticism from some Republicans, with some expressing fears about how this would play in a general election.
Axios reported on this data point over the weekend: the results of a focus group of Minnesota swing voters, some of whom labeled DeSantis a “wannabe dictator”:
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' positions on LGBTQ issues aren't landing with a group of Minnesota swing voters, with several describing him as a "wannabe dictator" in our latest Engagious/Sago focus groups.
Why it matters: The culture wars that have boosted DeSantis' popularity in Florida (and now, he hopes, nationally) are already souring his image with some voters in a key Midwestern state.
The big picture: These voters are looking for an alternative to both President Biden and former President Trump — but they're not interested in the right-wing ideas that DeSantis campaigns on, instead citing crime and the economy as their top concerns in 2024.
It’s thus no surprise that the DeSantis campaign, according to the Washington Post in a piece published over the weekend about DeSantis’ "efforts to rebound," is making a shift, which seems like yet another desperate move. The campaign has begun "rolling out national policy—economic issues next, then foreign policy in August—and plans to do more mainstream media interviews around those proposals, according to a person close to the campaign."
Following that story came the announcement on Sunday that DeSantis, who has only stayed inside the bubble of MAGA media, from Fox News to Piers Morgan, is now going to sit down with CNN’s Jake Tapper in South Carolina for an interview.
Could DeSantis turn it around? Anything can happen, as it’s still quite early. Trump could collapse under indictments, after all. Political campaigns have rebooted after rocky starts and gone on to be victorious. But DeSantis doesn’t seem disciplined enough to make the necessary changes. His heart is with the hate, with the bullying and beating up the most vulnerable. He has a fascistic and authoritarian streak. He’s turned Florida into a very hostile place for immigrants, women, LGBTQ people, and all people of color. And he’s quite proud of it.
There are a lot of reasons why the wheels have come off of DeSantis’ campaign. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that his brutal hard-right record, coupled with his continued promotion of extremism, has been key to hobbling him—which is a good thing. We need to continue to expose it and focus on it as he attempts a makeover.