Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ book tour has hit a few road bumps.
In the first staffing shakeup for what’s widely seen as a pre-presidential campaign, the DeSantis road show lost a critical wheel this week when the operation’s top event coordinator pulled out of its contract, sources familiar with the move told The Daily Beast.
It’s the latest in a series of setbacks for DeSantis, as his platoon of supporters and outside financial backers pushes out a “soft launch” campaign in the shadow of the party’s frontrunner, former President Donald Trump. But Republican observers say that from what they’ve seen, the
“This is amateur hour,” a seasoned GOP presidential campaign strategist told The Daily Beast.
On Wednesday, the spanking new DeSantis-aligned “dark money” group “And to the Republic” (ATTR), which has been supporting the multi-state promotional junket, parted ways with advance firm Liberty Event Specialists, according to two people with knowledge of the arrangement.
The sources told The Daily Beast that Liberty, not ATTR, abandoned the deal.
The events firm, helmed by Republican operative John Hiller—a one-time Trump ally and former advance consultant for both of his campaigns—severed the contract in part out of concerns that the 501(c)(4) nonprofit would scapegoat them for tactical flubs on the tour, the sources said.
According to one of the sources, Liberty “canceled the contract before the DeSantis orbit could try to spin a narrative that was incorrect,” which the second person confirmed.
Hiller did not return multiple requests for comment. DeSantis spokesperson Lindsey Curnutte didn’t comment on the matter, and ATTR representative Tori Sachs didn’t return a request for comment.
The tour hit its first bump in Iowa earlier this month, when DeSantis left the critical early-voting state’s Republican governor, Kim Reynolds, hanging for more than 30 minutes, speaking from a podium while she waited for their one-on-one discussion next to an empty wingback chair.
But it was another podium-centric blip at the Iowa stop that became a flashpoint. The podium had been removed at some point before DeSantis spoke, leaving him wondering where it had gone—with Reynolds demanding of someone backstage, “We want the podium back.” The moment, caught on video, was more fuel for the long-running online battle between MAGAworld and DeSantis stans, with the former president himself highlighting the mishap as a sign of the Florida governor’s dependence on stage props.
Liberty feared being cast as the fall guy for these snags, the sources said, when in reality the disorganization was chiefly on the DeSantis side.
“There’s a lot of cooks in the kitchen,” one of the people with knowledge of the situation told The Daily Beast about the operational mismanagement, citing behind-the-scenes “finger-pointing” at comparatively minor administrative missteps.
“Word is they quietly rescheduled some stuff… but it definitely feels like he’s peeled some back,” a Florida Republican consultant who has advised DeSantis told The Daily Beast, referencing the book tour. “I think the soft launch is having an effect. I think it’s gone poorly, I hear nothing but they are unhappy.”
However, the book tour—which has also attracted rambunctious Trump demonstrators—is still rolling on, road bumps and all. The team held an event in Tallahassee on Thursday afternoon, and the governor has another out-of-state stop in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, slated for early April.
The tour has also figured in recent allegations of ethical violations from, of all places, Trumpworld.
Last week, the Trump-aligned super PAC “Make America Great Again, Inc.” filed a complaint with the Florida Commission on Ethics, accusing the DeSantis “shadow campaign” of violating state ethics and election rules, NBC News first reported. The complaint cites what it claims are improper relationships between DeSantis and his larger support network, including ATTR—the DeSantis-aligned dark money group supporting the book tour—and recruitment super PACs already stuffed with donor cash. (Trump’s own “shadow candidacy” also drew a complaint for alleged unlawful coordination last year.)
To that point, DeSantis is still waiting on the state legislature to repeal a Florida “resign-to-run” law, which requires any state or local lawmaker running for a federal office to submit a letter of resignation if the two terms would overlap.
Officially or not, the DeSantis show trundles along, as the governor tries to shore himself up as the most appealing, reasonable alternative to a third Trump campaign. But cracks have begun to appear in his armor.
The seasoned Republican presidential campaign strategist took a shot at DeSantis’ flip remarks about Trump’s pending indictment in the Stormy Daniels hush money case. The governor, the strategist said, was in danger of alienating the crucial MAGA vote, comparing the moment to Howard Dean’s bizarre scream at a rally that made his failed 2004 campaign for the Democratic nomination a punchline.
“If you’re running for president… you’re selling to the largest stakeholder audience anyone could have,” the longtime presidential campaign strategist said. “Why would he go out there, like he did the other day, and offend voters that you need?”
Now there are earnest discussions of whether DeSantis has jumped the shark as a potential GOP nominee.
“I think that they blew it,” the presidential campaign veteran said. “People need to remember, when you peak too soon, that’s a problem. And DeSantis peaked too soon.”
Some neutral GOP operatives who spoke with The Daily Beast said they worry his team is overcompensating for a lack of charisma with hyper-choreographed optics that have only hurt him.
“Compared to the other people who are coming to the state, they’re happy with what we offer,” a GOP operative involved in an upcoming DeSantis event in New Hampshire told The Daily Beast, describing the DeSantis advance team as “a little compulsive” in their perfectionist approach.
Some of ATTR’s requests on the tour have also rankled Granite State Republicans, particularly the ask for metal detectors at the governor’s upcoming April 14 book tour stop in Manchester, according to multiple GOP operatives. In the “Live Free or Die” state with minimal gun laws, such a request is “very unusual,” according to the New Hampshire Republican involved in the planning—especially for a candidate who hasn’t officially entered the race.
There’s also uncertainty over whether DeSantis will take questions from attendees, who would be paying “rather steep” admission fees—$150 per person in the main hall, and $600 for the VIP room—according to the New Hampshire Republican.
The podium scandal, of course, was no real scandal. And a Daily Beast report which included an anecdote about the governor once eating pudding with three fingers, while perhaps personally embarrassing, pales alongside the scrolls of scathing reports about his rival Trump’s conduct. However, these glitches still appear to have rattled DeSantis and his support team.
That fact, the veteran GOP campaign strategist told The Daily Beast, suggests that DeSantis aspires to perfection on a granular level and still faces a political learning curve.
“He’s a hardass prosecutor at heart,” the strategist observed, referencing DeSantis’ background with the U.S. Navy’s Judge Advocate General Corps and Justice Department.
“He’s a linear thinker, and it’s very hard to transition into what he needs to be for the national stage—engaging voters one on one, doing rallies,” the strategist said. “He’s trying out for the wrong play. He’s not meant to be cast in this movie. Maybe eventually, but he needs some time.”
Image Credits: Luis G. Rendon-The Daily Beast-Reuters