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Ron DeSantis is really bad at running for president

The Florida governor is experiencing the growing pains of running a national campaign.

DeSantis, in a black suit and white shirt, speaks with his head turned slightly and a serious expression on his face.
Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis delivers remarks at a pro-Israel summit on July 17, 2023, in Arlington, Virginia.
Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
Nicole Narea covers politics and society for Vox. She first joined Vox in 2019, and her work has also appeared in Politico, Washington Monthly, and the New Republic.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis can’t seem to catch a break, despite entering the 2024 GOP primary two months ago favored as the candidate most likely to topple former President Donald Trump.

In just the last week, DeSantis’s campaign finance reports have indicated that he’s blowing through cash. There have been staffing shake-ups. Even his big mainstream media debut on CNN Tuesday was overshadowed by Trump’s announcement that he could soon be indicted for his involvement in the January 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection. DeSantis remains more than 30 percentage points behind Trump on average in the polls.

The timing of the CNN interview was an unforeseen misfortune, much like the technical problems that plagued DeSantis’s campaign announcement on Twitter Spaces. But some of what has gone wrong with his campaign stems from his own mistakes. The question is whether he can come back from his troubles given that it’s still early days in the 2024 campaign.

“A presidential campaign is a lot different than a gubernatorial campaign. And his staff is just not measuring up in the same way that he’s not measuring up,” said Mac Stipanovich, a former GOP strategist in Florida who endorsed Joe Biden in 2020. “His incompetence is compounded by his bad luck.”

A pile-up of bad news for DeSantis

DeSantis’s latest campaign finance report, which came out last week, showed warning signs for the GOP hopeful. While he raised more than any other Republican candidate, bringing in $20 million, he has also spent almost $8 million since launching his campaign in late May. What’s more, he isn’t attracting the kind of grassroots donors that Trump has, with less than 15 percent of DeSantis donations coming in amounts of $200 or less.

The campaign has cut staff to keep costs down, suggesting that he hired too many people too early. And the kind of people he’s hired tend to be “obsequious” at a moment when he needs the people around him to challenge the status quo, according to Stipanovich. There has also been some turnover in key roles, with top advisers Dave Abrams and Tucker Obenshain reportedly leaving the campaign for an outside group supporting DeSantis.

His allies have started publicly expressing doubts about his campaign. During a Twitter Spaces earlier this month, a top spokesperson for DeSantis’s super PAC admitted that the campaign was “way behind” and called Trump the “runaway frontrunner.”

His agenda is under siege in his home state, with dozens of lawsuits having been filed against his policies, including controversial restrictions on undocumented immigrants in the state and his attacks on Disney. While he maintains he’ll win out in the end, they are both a distraction and ammunition for his rivals. And the fact that he’s suffered some early losses in a number of those lawsuits, which will likely extend beyond the 2024 election, won’t help his pitch of bringing Florida’s policies to the entire US.

DeSantis is trying to assure voters and donors that he can turn things around. Though he’s largely eschewed mainstream media in favor of friendlier right-wing media outlets, he’s beginning to realize that’s no pathway to the nomination. He sat down with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Tuesday. But it was clear that he wasn’t in his comfort zone, avoiding questions on thorny subjects such as his support for a national abortion ban and ending the war in Ukraine.

“Now he has to go out and face the media and questioning from people who are not carefully vetted and carefully selected. And he doesn’t do well at all because he has no practice at it,” Stipanovich said.

To add insult to injury, news of a third potential Trump indictment stole DeSantis’s thunder and was the first subject that Tapper asked him about — and it’s certainly not the first time the governor had struggled to stand out over his one-time mentor. They’ve held dueling campaign events, and Trump has often tried to one-up DeSantis at critical moments for his campaign: for example, calling his botched 2024 announcement on Twitter a “#DeSaster.”

“Every time DeSantis raises his head, Trump steps on it, in terms of media coverage,” Stipanovich said.

It may be a problem that DeSantis just can’t rectify. The party has far from moved on from Trump, even if the donor class is eager to do so. And at the moment, there’s no sign even a third indictment will change that.

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