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Divided We Stand

Divided We Stand
New book about the 2020 election.

Monday, February 5, 2024

The DeSantis DIsaster

Our latest book is titled Divided We Stand: The 2020 Elections and American Politics. The 2024 race has begun. The nomination phase has effectively ended. DeSantis plotzed.

Marc A. Caputo at The Bulwark: 

As told to The Bulwark by more than 20 officials, staffers, contractors, and high-level insiders, the story of Never Back Down’s toxic implosion offers an unusually candid look at the tensions and skulduggery rife in presidential campaigns. High-dollar consultants and Type A personalities knifed each other, often using the media as the blade. Hairline cracks of mistrust broke into compound fractures of headline-grabbing paranoia and recrimination.

At the center of Never Back Down’s big drama, big ideas, and big spending stood a close Laxalt ally: the star consultant Jeff Roe, his mammoth firm Axiom Strategies, and a web of affiliated companies that accounted for $22 million in Never Back Down’s billing in 2023, according to an internal Never Back Down analysis of campaign finance information filed last Wednesday.

Roe became a target early on for Donald Trump and his supporters, who conducted what some called a “psyop” on DeSantis designed to sow mistrust about the consultant. Unreported until now, the super PAC backing South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott secretly fueled the division—chiefly by discovering and leaking a debate advice memo Roe clandestinely penned for DeSantis. It caused major suspicion inside the DeSantis campaign—and between it and the super PAC—about who the leaker was.


The publication of the memo furthered internal divisions. Some senior advisers suspected that Roe had caused the document to be intentionally leaked or that it was leaked by some of the Axiom employees or by allies of Roe’s on the campaign staff (yes, they were there, too).

The super PAC, in turn, thought someone in the campaign had leaked the document.

None of it made sense. Because it wasn’t true.

The real culprits were two operatives from Tim Scott’s Trust In the Mission super PAC, which had been trawling the Axiom website in search of just this sort of information hidden by Roe on the web. One of the TIM Pac consultants, Luke Thompson, had firsthand experience with the scenario. He had worked on an Ohio super PAC for J.D. Vance in 2022 and had also posted inside information on a website for the candidate. It was discovered and leaked to Politico by the rival campaign of Josh Mandel, on whose behalf Roe was working.

A year later, turnabout was fair play for Thompson.

“The candidate needs to be able to trust the person running the super PAC [to] use good judgment,” said Thompson, who credited a fellow operative for finding the memo on Axiom’s website. “The super PAC director needs to understand the candidate’s worldview and stay inside of it. Communicating legally via public forums isn’t sufficient—and without trust and discipline, it can be counterproductive.”