NBC News spoke to dozens of DeSantis’ current and former staffers, as well as other supporters, about where the governor went wrong. They painted a picture of missteps from the very beginning:
- DeSantis’ campaign hired dozens of staffers in the earliest stages of the race, sapping the operation of much-needed early cash. Within the first two months, 40% of initial hires were fired to conserve resources.
- A cash-strapped campaign elevated the role of Never Back Down, which promised to spend $200 million boosting his bid but ended up mired in infighting that often spun off negative headlines overshadowing the campaign itself.
- A near singular focus on culture war fights cost DeSantis donor support, as many of the biggest anti-Trump GOP donors who originally supported him eventually decided to give to other candidates or sit out the 2024 election cycle.
- DeSantis’ decision to wait for six months after his massive re-election win to announce his run for president cost him valuable momentum.
Last year, Claremont officials also courted Mr. DeSantis, a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination and the governor most closely associated with anti-D.E.I. policies. The institute dispatched Dr. Yenor to Florida to run a new office in Tallahassee, appointing him as its “senior director of state coalitions.”
In early April, as Mr. DeSantis prepared to announce his presidential campaign, he visited Mr. Klingenstein. In an email, Mr. Klingenstein told Claremont officials that Mr. DeSantis had agreed to give Dr. Yenor access to his top political and government aides. Mr. Klingenstein also said he’d urged the governor to do a better job explaining to voters why “wokeism” was dangerous.
Appearing on the campaign trail in subsequent weeks, Mr. DeSantis began to offer a more expansive definition of the term — while mentioning “woke” so many times that some reporters began keeping count.
The myth: An army of paid doorknockers would fan out across the country, even in states beyond the early primaries, and deliver the nomination to DeSantis. It’s hilarious. If you ever believed that it was possible to affect the trajectory of a presidential campaign with underemployed losers going door to door in between puffs of strawberry-flavored vapes, you are vaping an intoxicant yourself. When skeptics noted that the advertising was not moving the polls, they were told not to worry: There was a giant, secret army of DeSantis door knockers! The absurdity was breathtaking. Yet, the news media reported that DeSantis’ ground game was his secret weapon. It was secret because it wasn’t there.
Anyone near a campaign recently knows how this works: In 2023, no one in America wants a stranger coming to their door for any reason. And if they were given the choice between door knockers who were selling politicians or membership in a cult, it would be a close call. Also, as fun as it is to take a phone call from a politician during dinner, imagine the joy of opening your door to a political doorknocker, especially in the balmy Iowa or New Hampshire winter.Certainly, there have been times in campaign history when person-to-person contact methods, including door-knocking, have delivered results. But in those cases, campaigns used door-knocking to turn out existing supporters on Election Day, not to create new ones. The volunteers were turnout machines, not armies of persuasion. Ground-game organizations are not candidate-building mechanisms. Visits from paid strangers build brands the same way Joe Biden plays hacky sack: They don’t. If they did, Dollar Shave Club would have rung your doorbell, and Budweiser would have knocked to sell you something icy in a can