DeSantis Adds Muscle to Trump Campaign ... on His Terms

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File

The GOP's Great Coming Together has begun in earnest. Having vowed on the debate stage way back in 2023 to support the Republican Party's presidential nominee, come what may, Thursday Ron DeSantis officially put his muscle where his mouth said it would be.

Said the presumptive nominee, “Ron, I love that you're back.”

Laura Loomer hardest hit.

Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis are signaling to donors that they are putting their rivalry behind them after a contentious and often personal primary fight. 

DeSantis convened his allies this week in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to press them to raise money to support Trump, making the case over a seafood and steak dinner that they need to work together to prevent Democratic President Joe Biden from winning a second term. The governor and about 30 people then spent Thursday morning in a hotel conference room raising money for an outside group that supports the former president’s 2024 White House campaign.

Money is the mother’s milk of political campaigns. There’s practically nothing it cannot do. Money finances strategy and messaging, supports staff, fuels travel, enables infrastructure, and — perhaps most important — sends a clear signal about which candidates are truly serious contenders.

Lending his estimable talent for cajoling big donors to Trump’s one-time-removed reelection effort establishes — if there were leftover doubts — DeSantis’ embrace of the seriousness of the moment, as well as the candidate summoned to meet it.

The second-term governor of the nation’s third-largest state and a conservative’s waking dream, DeSantis has been warming to his commitment since last month, when he and the presumptive GOP nominee breakfasted at the Shell Bay Club on Florida’s Gold Coast.

Extending three hours, the end-of-April visit concluded with a handshake and media pronouncements of “detente” between the camps. Trump regarded it as something more than a mere ceasefire. Calling it “a great meeting,” Trump declared himself “very happy to have [DeSantis’] full and enthusiastic support. … I greatly appreciate Ron’s support in taking back our Country from the Worst President in the History of the United States.”

(Trump’s assessment will no doubt comfort the descendants of James Buchanan, the former Worst President national champion.)

DeSantis’ efforts produced immediate benefits for the Trump campaign: Top donors shelled out more than $3 million for the super political action committee Right for America.

A PAC, mind you. Not the Trump campaign itself. There’s where it gets intriguing.

Deep-pocketed Republican donors, including Laurie and Ike Perlmutter (of Marvel Comics fame), have committed to matching some portion of Team DeSantis’ fundraising efforts, but, revealingly, not to contribute directly to the Trump campaign. As reported by the Associated Press:

That arrangement, reached after talks between the Trump and DeSantis camps, is designed to address concerns among DeSantis supporters about their money going to pay the former president’s legal bills, according to people familiar with the matter who requested anonymity to discuss the private talks. Trump notably blessed the structure when he called into the group’s meeting Thursday. …

DeSantis’ decision to push money to the PAC instead of giving directly to Trump’s campaign has raised eyebrows among some Trump campaign officials, according to a person familiar with the former president’s campaign thinking who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the arrangement.

Some of Trump’s inner circle may be miffed, but Trump — ultimately, the only opinion that matters — is reportedly OK with the strategy. We’ll see how that holds up over the coming weeks, when DeSantis and his allies barnstorm Texas, California, Washington state and, rumor has it, New York.

For the moment, however, DeSantis’ appreciation for the angst of a genteel class of well-heeled Republicans prevails: They regard Trump as icky, and want to avoid financing defense of his serial legal scrapes, but consider as outright dangerous another four years of Joe Biden/Kamala Harris.

God bless America in the era of Citizens United, and DeSantis’ ability to thread a needle. Well, of course he did. This is the same savvy politician who oversaw — with attention, energy, and money — Republicans flipping a 260,000 registered voter deficit in 2018 to an 890,000 majority (as of March 31). For the first time, Republicans also occupy all seven statewide elected offices. There's also that GOP supermajority in the Legislature.

So, despite his recent misadventure in the presidential primary, it’s clear DeSantis knows something about moving political mountains. The gratifying wonder is that Trump himself seems to have come aboard enthusiastically.

Maybe the DeSantis maneuver is, to some degree, about resurrecting his viability on the national stage. Dominoes are lining up. Despite having declared he’s not interested in the job, a recent poll put DeSantis at the top among potential vice presidential nominees. There are discussions about a role for him at the Republican National Convention. And he’s helping raise campaign funds for U.S. Reps. Laurel Lee (this Tampa-based correspondent’s member of Congress) and Texan Chip Roy.

All of this seems to have put the governor in a feisty mood. If Democrats want to get into fights in Florida, he said recently, “Light up the airwaves — do it, light it on fire. We are fine with you doing that here. But I can confidently predict that you’ll see Republican victories not just at the top of the ticket, but up and down the ballot.”

Remember the hubbub about making America Florida, back when DeSantis’ presidential candidacy was only speculative? Good times. The world has changed plenty since then. But it would seem, from DeSantis’ perspective as he reaches out to others across the fruited plain — and with Donald Trump’s blessing — there is more than one way to get the job done.

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