WASHINGTON — Ron DeSantis’ shadow campaign for president has suddenly become much more visible, even though his advisers insist he’s focused on governing Florida.
DeSantis recently launched a tax-exempt organization that sponsored his speaking engagements for police groups in New York and the Philadelphia and Chicago suburbs last week. She hosted a retreat for top donors from around the country this weekend at the Four Seasons in Palm Beach. And he’s already sold out venues for the national book tour starting Tuesday.
In a mid-sized city, DeSantis’ political team has set a goal of raising $1 million for a spring event that is still in the planning stages — an aggressive amount, especially considering the size of the city — one person knows plans according to
“He needs to get his name out there. He needs to get his position out there,” said Perry DiLoreto, an influential GOP donor in Nevada who opposes former President Donald Trump and likes what he’s seeing from DeSantis. does, but hasn’t committed to a candidate yet. “Just having a great idea and a great direction doesn’t mean you’re going to be successful. You have to bring people together and get them involved in what’s happening.
Even without jumping into the race, DeSantis has positioned himself as the biggest early threat to Trump winning the Republican nomination for a third time — two men consistently running far ahead of other hopefuls in national polls. Are. But his recent moves suggest an acknowledgment that as potential rivals target him and court GOP endorsers, donors and staffers, he must find ways to show he can engage on a national level.
“Ron DeSantis has a lot of momentum,” said David Urban, a former Trump campaign aide who is close to many in the construction sector and remains undecided. “I think he wants to be part of the conversation going forward at this point.”
More than 150 DeSantis contributors met in Florida on Friday — the day after a nearby Trump Super PAC fundraiser — as the Texas group held a donor conference in Austin with cattle calls from potential rivals. In addition to question-and-answer sessions at the conference, hopefuls met with smaller groups of potential donors in a more intimate setting during the main event.
“There are people who don’t like Trump and aren’t sold on DeSantis,” said a political consultant who plans to meet with donors in Austin.
But right now, it’s unclear whether there’s a path for another candidate, this consultant said, noting the high cash bar for entering a race that includes a former president and a high-polling governor. , who raised over $200 million for their 2022 refinance. – Election Bid
“There is a lot of speculation about whether there is a third lane or not,” he said. “To really be a serious contender you’re going to have to have a number of billionaires who are willing to write seven or eight figure checks.”
Greg Keller, a Missouri-based GOP strategist, said big-dollar contributors are a sophisticated group watching to see whether Trump is still on his game, whether DeSantis can withstand the rigors of a national campaign, or whether the field It is a hidden gem.
“I hear every day from donors who are now starting through that decision tree. ‘Do I trump? Do I decline?’ ‘Or do I blow up on one of these other guys who look like they’re about to run?’ ‘ said Keller. “Smart people realize they have to come to a decision, but they also wait to be tempted. They are also looking for evidence as to whom they should support.
This creates some tension for DeSantis. His inner circle insists he can wait at least a few months, with multiple sources saying a campaign launch — if he decides to run — will likely come in June.
DeSantis has used Florida as a living, evolving laboratory for turning conservative policy into winning politics, a formula his allies see as replicating nationally. DeSantis, once seen as a swing state, won re-election in November by a nearly 20% margin while imposing restrictions on classroom teaching and vaccine mandates that impressed progressives.
The release of DeSantis’ book also comes with a ramp-up in events across the country — from more antiwar appearances in blue states like Illinois and New York, to closed-door state parties across the South in Texas and Alabama in the coming weeks. seizure.
He has a sold out March 5 appearance at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.
A source close to the governor said that these events, at the president’s whim, are the natural result of Republican work under DeSantis’ leadership in the Sunshine State, and that DeSantis could uniquely provide a concrete example of a model of how Consolidate conservative support in the previously swinging position.
“Naturally,” said this person, “there is a conspiracy.”
And even as the political world awaits his final decision, advisers insist that the second-term governor’s focus is at home — in large part because it happens to be Florida that is nationally Whatever he does, his base will continue to be formed. An abortion ban, sending migrants to Martha’s Vineyard and a focus on Florida schools have long been central to DeSantis’ conservative grassroots appeal.
His allies say it leaves his classy eye on policy, not his potential rivals and the presidential campaign process.
“If you think he’s strategizing on how to beat Trump in a conference room,” a source said, “he’s not.”
In fact, DeSantis objected when asked about the man whose 2018 endorsement propelled him into his first term as governor.
However, Trump is already trying to define his top challenger. But as he continues to display the same style of name-calling and derision that shot him to the top of the pack in 2016 in a large field, some in Trump’s orbit worry that the same old tactics may fall short in 2020. especially against DeSantis, whom Trump himself helped dismantle Maga Base.
“It was too early for these kinds of attacks,” said a longtime Trump confidant. “Things that worked in 2016 may not work in 2024. Surname? This is a repetition. Plus: DeSantis’ lack of response made him “seem like the big man” to some.
In one key area — foreign policy — Trump has taken a solid shot at DeSantis. The former president, who built his brand under the slogan “America First”, described DeSantis as a “globalist”. DeSantis, a military veteran who leaned toward a defense hawk during his time in Congress, is struggling to articulate the clear message whether helping the U.S. repel Russia’s years-old invasion of Ukraine Must continue
“They have shown themselves to be a third-rate military power,” DeSantis said of Russia on the Fox & Friends show. “Russia is really really wound up here, and I don’t think they are the same threat to our country, even if they are hostile. I don’t think they are on the same level as China.
At the same time, DeSantis did not call for an end to US aid to Ukraine or offer any specific prescriptions on how to change US policy.
As he travels the country, he can only expect to be asked more about national and international issues, and Republicans can listen intently to his answers.
On Friday, former Vice President Mike Pence chastised DeSantis and other Republicans for equating US support for Ukraine during a speech in Austin. Moments later, in an exclusive interview with NBC News, Pence addressed whether DeSantis was wrong about the threat from Russia.
He said, “I would say to everybody who thinks that Vladimir Putin will stay in Ukraine is wrong.”
DeSantis’ ability to navigate the attacks, actively or passively, may determine whether he can trump the rest of the challengers.
Urban said there was a long time between now and when voters go to the polls — and a scenario in which early primary states prove especially difficult for frontrunners.
“It’s a bit early,” he said, “at this point yet to write anyone off.”
Jonathan Allen reported from Washington, Natasha Korecki from Chicago and Ali Vitali from Austin, Texas.