Ron DeSantis’ campaign is now entering the death-watch phase

MIAMI, FLORIDA / UNITED STATES - MARCH 27, 2019: Governor Ron DeSantis appoints Michelle Alvarez Barakat and Tanya Brinkley as judges to Miami’s Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court.
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Just weeks after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) promised a reset on his campaign, it definitely has entered a new phase: the death watch.

DeSantis apparently learned nothing from the humiliation of having to lay off staff this early in the campaign season. A large part of the $8 million he burned through in just six weeks was on travel, thanks to DeSantis and his wife, Casey, believing that they only deserve to fly on private jets. (Most candidates – other than Trump, who has his own plane – fly commercial to save money.)

So are Ron and Casey traveling with the masses to save money? As if you have to ask.

After debuting his “leaner” campaign, Ron hopped on a private jet to make multiple stops around Tennessee for fundraising. He broke out into CEO-speak to justify the expense.

“We do things based on R.O.I. [return on investment] and that’s on everything you do,” DeSantis said. “If it’s not a good R.O.I., then we try something else.” 

The problem that DeSantis is having is that donors are looking at their R.O.I. and deciding that DeSantis is not a good investment. A lot of big donors are sitting on the sidelines, and they don’t mind whispering to reporters about their concerns. Chief among them is whether DeSantis has told the entire truth about his campaign’s finances. A lot of big expenses seem to be missing from the first report, which suggests that things may be even worse than they already appear.

Then there is the other problem with the DeSantis campaign: DeSantis.

DeSantis (along with Casey, who is his primary adviser) seems to believe that the best way to defeat Trump for the nomination is to run as far to his right as possible. But Trump is selling a vibe, not ideas. He traffics in discontent, but he’s intentionally light on details.

DeSantis, on the other hand, is trying to prove himself with details, like his anti-woke curriculum, which describes how African Americans “benefited” from the trades they learned under slavery. When DeSantis was criticized for the sheer offensiveness of the curriculum, he doubled down to the point where he began to attack Black Republicans who dared to suggest in the mildest terms that perhaps the language was a bit off.

That was just one of the many mistakes DeSantis has made in a short period of time. He floated the idea of appointing Robert Kennedy Jr., a notorious anti-vax crank and nominal Democrat, to run the FDA or CDC. Republicans have been happy to boost Kennedy’s presidential campaign as a way of harassing President Joe Biden, but even they were aghast at the idea that anyone would actually take Kennedy seriously. (In a painful irony, Kennedy actually raked in more money on a fundraising swing through the Hamptons than DeSantis.)

“As somebody who is eager for any plausible, reasonable alternative to Donald Trump, I have been very open to the DeSantis candidacy, and am willing to suck up many disagreements with him,” National Review contributor Jeffrey Blehar wrote. “But his embrace of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is not making things easy.”

That pretty much sums up the conclusions that the non-Trump fans are reaching. Every time DeSantis opens his mouth, he proves he’s not the guy to defeat Trump. When he meets a young girl with a slurpee on the campaign trail, instead of cooing about how sweet she is, DeSantis points to the drink and says, “Probably a lot of sugar, huh.”

The field is big enough that donors are beginning to look at some of the other candidates. Right now, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) seems to be getting a lot of attention. But just as DeSantis learned that being not-Trump isn’t enough to make you a strong candidate, Scott may well find the same being not-DeSantis. Trump is such an outsized personality that it’s hard to see who might compete with his cult.

The question that DeSantis has to face is whether his arrogance got the better of his wisdom. He could have waited until 2028, at which point Trump would have been gone from the scene altogether. He could have spent more time building a campaign structure second to none.

Instead, DeSantis decided that he alone could vanquish Trump. In the process, he weakened his own standing in Florida, as congressional Republicans in the state openly bucked him, endorsing Trump. He opened himself to controversy on a national level that would have attracted far less attention if he was just governor and not a presidential candidate. Even if his campaign recovers, DeSantis is diminished, and it’s all his own doing.

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