There is no doubt about it: the Ron DeSantis campaign is going through a rough moment. Declining polls, financial concerns and a haphazard campaign staff have led to an extended series of mishaps, negative media stories and own goals culminating in a drastic cut in campaign staff this week.
Massive staff layoffs
The biggest story out the campaign this week is indeed Tuesday’s news that no less than 38 staffers across a variety of departments will be losing their jobs in light of an underwhelming second fundraising quarter, including two senior advisers. This amounts to one third of the entire workforce. This news will not have come as a surprise to many given the position the campaign is in and with 10 staffers having already been fired, with other candidates clearly beginning to pick up momentum in the early states whilst Trump remains strong at the front of the pack.
Strangely, the DeSantis himself has been off the trail for the last few days, choosing to take a retreat to a Utah resort with 70 donors and fundraisers, an event which seemed to run contrary to the obvious financial difficulties. This event was accompanied by radio silence from the Florida governor’s social channels which left a void in which an increasingly negative media narrative continued to blossom, culminating with the news of staff cuts which set off somewhat of a bad-news firestorm for the campaign.
Staffer fired after alt-right meme
Illustrative of DeSantis’s staff issues was an incident earlier in the week when one campaign staffer, Nate Hochman, retweeted a bizarre pro-DeSantis video blighted by hyper-online alt-right homophobic messaging and references, culminating with DeSantis’s face superimposed over the sonnenrad – symbol which originated in Nazi Germany and has commonly been used by neo-Nazi and fascist groups since the 90s. According to Axios, Hochman didn’t just retweeted the video, but made it himself.
The symbol was used by a number of groups who attended the now infamous United the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia along with the white supremacists who carried out the Christchurch mosque shooting and a shooting in Buffalo, New York. It has also been used by the neo-Nazi linked Azov Regiment of the Ukrainian National Guard.
Education law sparks slavery controversy
On the policy front, things just got worse with the news that, thanks to a DeSantis-endorsed law, Florida children will now be taught how some slaves saw benefits for later life from skills learned during enslavement. DeSantis was forced to come out and make a rather uncomfortable defense of this policy, a clear example of how his campaign is struggling to come to terms with the reality that Florida is not like the rest of the country, not least Iowa and New Hampshire, where he is spending most of his time and cash.
Looking at recent polling, the story continues to be bleak for DeSantis. Whilst there has been limited quality polling of the race, particularly at state level recently, we have had a few indicative polls which will have raised alarm bells in the campaign. Nationally, he has dropped five points in the FiveThirtyEight average since the beginning of July, now sitting at 18.8%.
Recent Iowa polling makes it clear that DeSantis is now at risk of dropping to third in the state, with Tim Scott hitting double figures and is now within about five points. New Hampshire seems marginally better, with both Scott and Chris Christie pulling to the front of the chasing pack but not really within in striking distance of second place. The biggest news, however, comes from a poll of South Carolina where DeSantis fell to third, registering just 13% whilst Nikki Haley got 14%. Tim Scott was also applying pressure at 10%. This has been the first reputable poll at state or national level that hasn’t put DeSantis in the top two since the campaign really got going.
July has turned out to be an exceptionally tough month for Ron DeSantis, and it is clear his campaign, far from catching Trump, is actually perilously close to being absorbed into the rest of the chasing pack. Nothing seems to be going right, and his supporters can only hope this staff shakeup will knock some sense and fresh ideas back into a campaign currently on its knees, even as the first primary debate looms large on the horizon.