While DeSantis excites crowds on stage, he’s avoiding the gladhanding that wins over donors

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CNN

Governor Ron DeSantis has received a rock star reception at Republican Party functions since winning re-election this month, cementing himself as a possible top-level presidential candidate. But the Florida Republican has left some influential members of the party wanting more.

He briefed the crowd on last weekend’s Republican Jewish Coalition conference in Las Vegas, but arrived just before his speech and spent little time happily handing over donors. Days earlier at the Republican Governors Association meeting in Orlando, DeSantis received a raucous standing ovation, but he skipped an advance reception and the rest of the RGA events — despite being the home state governor, the unofficial host of the meeting was.

“When DeSantis came in, all the young kids came forward. It was like a celebrity showed up,” said one person at the RJC conference. “But he didn’t hang around to chat.”

The events could have been opportune times for DeSantis. For major donors and agents, the RGA meeting and RJC conference were opportunities to explore this potential rival to Donald Trump just days after his resounding reelection as governor made him the talk of the party. Instead, some wondered how DeSantis could compete at the national level, where so much depends on talking to donors and nurturing friendships among fellow Republicans.

“Does he need the RGA for funding? No. Does he need to spread acceptance for him on a national scale? Yes,” a donor told CNN last week.

“I think it matters,” said a GOP agent associated with another potential presidential candidate. “Politics is people’s business.”

From his early days in politics, DeSantis has deliberately kept his party at a distance, choosing to align itself with outside movements rather than established forces. He rode into Congress during the Tea Party era, joined the House Freedom Caucus, and then joined the Trump wing of the GOP during his ascent to Florida governorship. As some Republicans look for a new face to usher them into a post-Trump era, they’re embracing someone who never embraced them — and who often went it alone.

There are signs that DeSantis wants to break his reputation as a loner. The governor, who avoided helping Republicans outside of Florida for most of his first term, crisscrossed the country in the months leading up to the midterms for GOP candidates on tough battlegrounds, scrapping approval messages for a handful of others.

DeSantis also held a summit meeting for his top donors this summer, preferring conservative media influencers to hobble with some Republican governors and select candidates in Fort Lauderdale. Those in attendance included Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who is now the governor-elect of Arkansas, the governor-elect of Tennessee, Bill Lee, former Maine governor Paul LePage, and Adam Laxalt, candidate for the Nevada senate.

An RGA donor, Bobbie Kilberg, acknowledged that DeSantis hadn’t always presented himself as a team player, but told CNN his speech in Orlando at the RGA meeting last week took on a much more “inclusive” tone that underlined the work of other parts of the United States. the RGA acknowledged. party device.

“I think this is a change from his previous approach to his relationship with other governors where it was usually ‘I’m the center of attention,'” Kilberg told CNN the day after his comments. “I think last night was a welcome departure from that, and I think the governors took notice.”

And DeSantis allies rejected the idea that GOP donors are insecure about the governor.

“He is always working, he wants to get things done and not happy donors. But donors flocked to him anyway, checkbooks open, just because of what he’s done as governor,” said Nick Iarossi, a DeSantis fundraiser who attended the RGA conference. “No one seems to care if he wants to stay at a reception and shake hands. They care more about what he does as governor to improve their lives day by day.”

But other would-be allies have instead noted how DeSantis did little this year to stand up for some of his fellow Republican governors in their own re-election battles, including Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp — who had backed a primary challenger from Trump — and Ohio Gov Mike DeWine.

“He doesn’t have great relationships with the other governors,” said a second GOP agent.

Multiple strategists point to his lack of participation in the RGA, a donor-driven organization that helps elect Republican presidents nationwide. Last week’s RGA meeting is just the second DeSantis has attended since being elected governor, following a brief appearance at the 2019 meeting in Boca Raton, Florida.

“He came in for one speech and left,” the first Republican operative said. “Didn’t mix, wasn’t happy with the hand, and a lot of people hadn’t met him at that time.”

Nor does he have particularly strong friendships with the GOP governors, an otherwise sociable bunch. At a panel in Orlando to discuss the future of the party, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu beamed at how Republican governors work together and how they share policy ideas and expertise. But in a later conversation with CNN, Sununu acknowledged that he had no such relationship with DeSantis.

When asked about DeSantis’ lack of participation in RGA functions, Sununu replied, “Everyone participates at their own level, in their own way.”

And former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who remains a regular at RGA events, told the Ruthless podcast earlier this year that he doesn’t know DeSantis well.

“I don’t think Ron is dating anyone, as far as I know. You know, when I’m at the RGA meetings, Ron is kind of to himself with his entourage,” said Christie, who is also a potential 2024 presidential candidate. “I don’t see it hanging with the other governors.”

Former colleagues of DeSantis in the House of Representatives said the 44-year-old was never much for camaraderie.

“He kind of kept to himself in the House,” said Ryan Costello, the former Pennsylvania congressman who served alongside DeSantis. “He had friends, he had allies, but he wasn’t the gregarious back-slapper as some politicians are always characterized.”

Ten years ago, in a crowded Republican primaries for a seat in the U.S. House of Jacksonville, DeSantis ran with “bold conservative colors, not pale established pastels.”

“Too many of them are really co-opted by the Washington establishment system,” DeSantis said of Republicans in an interview with a local television station. “I think I am someone who comes as an outsider. I’m trying to change the system.”

Once in, DeSantis gained a reputation as “a bit of an odd man out,” said former Representative David Jolly, an ex-Republican who served alongside DeSantis on the Florida delegation. DeSantis helped found the House Freedom Caucus, a group of conservatives that led the shutdown of the federal government over Obamacare funding and helped push House Speaker John Boehner into retirement.

In 2018, DeSantis ran against establishment favorite Adam Putnam, then state agriculture commissioner, for the Republican nomination for governor. DeSantis characterized Putnam as a creature of the Tallahassee swamp and a special interest “errand boy”. Buoyed by a Trump backing, DeSantis easily defeated Putnam and won the general election.

During his first term, DeSantis attempted to strike a balance between competent governance of the Florida government and engaging in conservative culture war skirmishes that endeared him to base voters on a national level. On issues ranging from the response to the Covid-19 pandemic to the school curriculum to illegal immigration, DeSantis took on liberal piety and carefully cast himself as a Trump-esque culture warrior, only smarter and more effective.

Aided by a close relationship with Fox News, DeSantis began taking on the mantle of Trump successor in the wake of the president’s 2020 re-election defeat. Notably, DeSantis helped campaign for many of the troubled candidates running for Trump in 2022 selected — Arizona GOP gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake and Senate candidate Blake Masters, Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, and Ohio Senate candidate JD Vance — but not incumbent Republican governors like DeWine, Kemp, and Sununu, all of whom came across Trump at some point.

At a March 2020 rally of election skeptics in Orlando, DeSantis complained that “so many of these Republicans wouldn’t stand up and actually do something” during the Obama administration. At a rally in Kansas this fall, he called out Republican governors who “have succumbed to corporate pressure.”

“Even some weak Republicans attacked me” during the pandemic, DeSantis told his supporters on the eve of his re-election.

But after DeSantis won re-election by 19 points, establishment Republicans began to show their acceptance of him as a leading party figure who could impeach Trump. Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida who lost to Trump in the 2016 primary, tweeted his congratulations to DeSantis, adding that he “did a really good job as governor of the state I love.”

And former House Speaker Paul Ryan, speaking to a Wisconsin TV station after the election, made sure to check DeSantis’ name when he called on the party to move forward with Trump.

“Ron’s been re-elected,” Ryan said. “I’m very happy to see that.”

But if the GOP establishment seems to be warming up to DeSantis, it remains to be seen if the Florida governor will have to reciprocate if he runs for president.

“I don’t think DeSantis has ever shown himself to be impressionable,” Jolly said. “Part of his joke is that he does it his own way.”

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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