It's happening: DeSantis planning private fundraiser with GOP mega-donors in Utah

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

Normally it’s not considered a “scoop” for a news outlet to discover that a major politician is planning a fundraiser, but CNBC notes that the details of this one were closely held. It was supposed to be hush-hush.


I wonder why.

Let me remind you up front that DeSantis is utterly crushing his Democratic rivals in fundraising for this year’s Florida gubernatorial race. At last check he’d hauled in $124 million, no typo. Charlie Crist and Nikki Fried, the top two Dems competing for their party’s nomination, have raised a shade over $17 million — combined. DeSantis doesn’t need to fly across the country to gladhand conservative mega-donors because he’s hurting for cash in this year’s election. Some, like Richard Uihlein and Bernie Marcus, have already donated to him or to affiliated PACs for that race, in fact.

There’s only one reason the governor would want to gather with Republican fatcats under the circumstances as far as I can see.

The 2024 GOP presidential primary is officially under way.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is planning a private fundraiser in Utah later this month that is expected to draw some of the country’s wealthiest Republican donors as he signals a possible run for president in 2024.

DeSantis is set to head to Utah the week of July 18 for the private gathering, according to people familiar with the matter. Many asked not to be identified because the campaign is trying to keep the private event from getting too much public attention…

A person helping organize the fundraiser this month said many donors from across the country have been invited and will attend the gathering in Utah, but they are trying to keep Trump from taking notice. Invites have been sent verbally, instead of by email, to limit any paper trail, this person said. Donors have been told that the meetings with DeSantis in Utah is likely to start early in the day on July 19.

The other reason DeSantis is keeping the event under the radar, this person added, is to avoid looking like he is preparing to take on Trump in the 2024 Republican primary and provoking the former president’s ire.


Yeah, come to think of it, it does look like he’s preparing to take on Trump if he’s meeting with major donors and trying to keep it a secret. I’m sure you-know-who will react with his customary aplomb and good cheer upon discovering that his biggest rival for the nomination and the supposedly “loyal” donor class are conferring behind his back.

That’s not the first hint that donors are trying to conceal their interest in DeSantis from Trump either. One Arizona operative who worked for Trump in 2016 and 2020 told Politico last month, “I know a lot of donors who are kind of in wait-and-see mode. They really, really like DeSantis, who is very popular, but you don’t want to upset Trump.” Eventually they’ll have to start making up their minds.

It sounds like “eventually” begins on July 18 in Utah.

If you think the Utah event is the only evidence of DeSantis beginning to campaign nationally, think again. He’s obviously reluctant to do anything too obvious that would antagonize Trump, not wanting to make an enemy of the guy before he absolutely has to. DeSantis is keen to run up the score on Election Day to prove his comparative electability in 2024 and Trump is the one person in the GOP who could depress his local turnout if the feud between them ignites before November. So DeSantis’s national moves have been modest. But they’re there if you look:


In the first three months of this year, political ads sent through DeSantis’ Facebook and Instagram pages were overwhelmingly concentrated in Florida, as one would expect from a man running for office in the state.

But by the April-June period, they were spread roughly evenly between Florida and the rest of the country, according to a Reuters analysis of regional spending data for social media ads compiled by New York University’s Cybersecurity for Democracy project.

DeSantis’ increase in out-of-state ads suggests a move toward building a nationwide network of supporters, said three Republican strategists, including Ron Bonjean, who was an adviser to former president Trump’s 2016 presidential transition team…

Two sources close to DeSantis confirmed to Reuters he is building a national database of voter contact information.

None of that means he’s definitely running for president, of course. But he’s doing everything a candidate would be doing right now to make sure the option of running competitively is available to him next year in case he decides to pull the trigger. Including biting his tongue about abortion, knowing that most swing voters across America happen to be on the Democratic side of whether the practice should be fully banned.


In lieu of an exit question, read Rich Lowry on why Trump’s critics should welcome the rise of DeSantis. “Welcome” is a strong word, one I’d probably reserve for Glenn Youngkin, but certainly DeSantis is preferable to Trump. Hopefully the rest of the party agrees.

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