Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign has fired roughly a dozen staffers — and more dismissals are expected in the coming weeks as he shakes up his big-money political operations after less than two months on the campaign trail.
A source familiar with the firings described those who were let go as mid-level staffers across several departments whose departures were related to cutting costs. The exits come after the departures of David Abrams and Tucker Obenshain, veterans of DeSantis’ political orbit, which were first reported by Politico.
Sources involved with the DeSantis campaign say there is an internal assessment among some that it hired too many staffers too early and that despite having brought in $20 million during its first six weeks, it was becoming clear that costs needed to be brought down.
Some in DeSantis’ political orbit lay the early blame at the feet of campaign manager Generra Peck, who also led DeSantis’ 2022 midterm re-election bid and is in the hot seat right now.
“She should be,” a DeSantis donor said.
A Republican source familiar with the campaign’s thought process said: “They never should have brought so many people on. The burn rate was way too high. People warned the campaign manager, but she wanted to hear none of it.”
The donor said: “DeSantis stock isn’t rising. Twenty percent is not what people signed up for.”
The person noted that DeSantis has a penchant for switching out staffers, which means he has no core team that has worked together before. DeSantis had three different campaign teams for each of his three runs for Congress, and he notably had a huge campaign shakeup during his first run for governor in 2018.
"Americans are rallying behind Ron DeSantis and his plan to reverse Joe Biden’s failures and restore sanity to our nation, and his momentum will only continue as voters see more of him in-person, especially in Iowa. Defeating Joe Biden and the $72 million behind him will require a nimble and candidate driven campaign, and we are building a movement to go the distance," DeSantis campaign spokesman Andrew Romeo said in a statement.
DeSantis’ campaign listed 92 people as being on the payroll for at least some period during its first fundraising period, according to campaign finance reports filed Saturday with the Federal Election Commission. It is by far the most of any Republican presidential candidate, and it has left his campaign with huge payroll expenses and, the new filings show, fewer resources than originally thought.
DeSantis has $12 million in the bank, but $3 million of that can be used only during the general election. And about $14 million of his second-quarter haul came from donors who gave the maximum legal amount. In other words, about two-thirds of his early donors will not be able to give directly to his campaign for the rest of the race.
Never Back Down, the pro-DeSantis super PAC, which has a significantly larger staff than the official campaign, has said it will spend up to $200 million to boost his White House bid.
A national finance committee meeting Sunday in Tallahassee will bring the campaign’s brain trust together as they try to figure out how to chip into former President Donald Trump’s massive GOP primary lead.
The event will include a briefing at the campaign’s Tallahassee headquarters, followed by a barbecue at the Governor’s Mansion, according to an invitation reviewed by NBC News.
DeSantis has been unable to make up ground against Trump after nearly two months as an official candidate. The stagnation is starting to frustrate some supporters, who want a shakeup of the campaign, which is led day to day by Peck and Ryan Tyson, a longtime Republican Florida pollster.
“Yeah, there are people grumbling about it, no doubt,” a DeSantis donor said. “There is an overall sense, including with me, that he just has not ignited the way we thought he would.”
The person said DeSantis’ inner circle underestimated just how hard — and expensive — it would be to break the grip on the Republican base held by Trump, who has a commanding lead and is seen as the overwhelming front-runner. Even in Florida, which re-elected DeSantis by nearly 20 percentage points just seven months ago, Trump now has a 20-point lead over him, according to a Florida Atlantic University poll released last week.
The shake-up could include the re-emergence of Phil Cox, the veteran Republican operative who helped run DeSantis' 2022 re-election campaign and was an adviser to Never Back Down before he stepped away from the role in late May.
Cox is in Tallahassee for the national finance meeting, but he does not have a formal role with the campaign, a source said.
DeSantis has signaled that he is aware his campaign did not start the way he wanted, and he has largely blamed media coverage and other outside factors.
To try to re-center, his campaign is doubling down on the early states, especially Iowa, whose first-in-the-nation nominating contest is now seen as a crucial marker. If DeSantis wins, the field will get smaller and he will get closer to the one-on-one matchup with Trump that he wants. But losing the key state would most likely cement Trump's status as the unbeatable front-runner even further.
That assessment was outlined in a confidential internal memo NBC News obtained Friday describing the campaign’s strategy to regain its footing. The memo indicated that there would be a heavy focus on early states where, DeSantis advisers think, Trump’s supporters can be won over.
“Early state voters are only softly committed to the candidates they select on a ballot question this far out -- including many Trump supporters,” read the memo. “Our focus group participants in the early states even say they do not plan on making up their mind until they meet the candidates or watch them debate.”
Never Back Down is bolstering those efforts, focusing on both early states and a handful of Super Tuesday states — most notably California — where it is expected to hire about 80 organizers in the near future.
For some supporters, though, there are now three keys to DeSantis’ remaining viable: Iowa, Iowa, Iowa.
“They need to treat it like it’s all that matters right now,” the DeSantis donor said. “If Trump wins it, it is over. It means he needs to be there a lot. He needs to do all the retail politics he can.”
The person said that DeSantis’ wife, Casey, is a great asset in the sort of retail politicking needed to win Iowa but that DeSantis himself needs to improve.
“He needs to find that gear,” the person said. “He needs to find it fast.”