Top donors are reportedly considering moving from supporting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott in the Republican primary race, citing worries over the start and direction of the governor’s presidential campaign these past few months.
DeSantis formally launched his bid in the final week of May, which was met with scrutiny given the technical difficulties that plagued the highly anticipated Twitter Spaces launch.
But since entering the race, DeSantis has failed to emerge as the frontrunner, and polls have neither drastically shifted nor are they swinging in his direction, despite his blitz of early primary states such as Iowa, South Carolina, and New Hampshire.
DeSantis’s campaign has also rubbed some potential supporters the wrong way because of missteps by staffers and social media “influencers“ over the past few weeks. With added concerns over potential policy differences, some backers are now looking elsewhere.
According to Politico, former Trump backer Ronald Lauder, a billionaire businessman and Estée Lauder makeup heir, flew to the early primary state of South Carolina to meet with Sen. Scott last month, citing “ three people aware of the late June meeting.” According to the report, he plans to meet with Scott one more time and decide if he should “cut him a check.” That shift follows his support of DeSantis’s 2018 gubernatorial race — donating $200,000 — as well as giving to his super PAC last year.
One individual who reportedly works “closely” with major New York donors said many are “still open and are still looking” for whom to support.
“They originally were with DeSantis. They’re looking for other options and Tim Scott right now is probably their top target,” the individual said, per the outlet, which also pointed to billionaire investor Stanley Druckenmiller, who is also reportedly interested in supporting Scott.
Politico also spoke to Andy Sabin, a GOP contributor who said other donors are certainly interested in Scott as well. He, like them, was initially supporting DeSantis but switched over and will even host a fundraiser for Scott in his Hamptons home this summer.
According to Politico:
Sabin applauded Scott’s personal responsiveness, saying the candidate texts back when he reaches out. Despite doing business in North Dakota and being contacted by Gov. Doug Burgum’s presidential campaign, Sabin said he is sticking with Scott. He cited an aggressive state law Burgum signed that bans nearly all abortions.
DeSantis has also received criticisms for his willingness to sign conservative abortion legislation, but Scott, too, has said he would sign conservative abortion bills. However, Politico notes that Scott has “not explicitly stated his support for a national ban earlier than 15 weeks of pregnancy.”
Regardless, donors are interested to see what Scott is all about. Former Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), chairing Scott’s PAC, said the movement away from DeSantis was more visible after the governor asserted that the Ukraine issue was a “territorial dispute.”
Meanwhile, Citadel CEO and Republican megadonor Ken Griffin is among those reportedly considering moving his support from DeSantis, despite donating to his gubernatorial campaign and effectively saying he would endorse him for president prior to his launch in November. But now, according to reports, he is “assessing” the GOP primary field. According to the reports, Griffin was unhappy with DeSantis’s answer about Ukraine, as well as his abortion stance–a common theme among these mega donors:
DeSantis campaign spokesperson Andrew Romero, however, downplayed the reports.
“You could wallpaper the governor’s residence with the amount of premature political obituaries written about Ron DeSantis,” Romero said.
“Challenging the establishment is never easy – and this campaign to save our nation is going to be a long, hard-fought battle to defeat Joe Biden. We are building an organization that will go the distance,” he continued, adding, “Ron DeSantis is putting in the work to win, and as voters across the country continue to learn about his forward-looking plans to reverse Biden’s failures, he will earn the nomination.”
While it is true that DeSantis is continuing to host fundraisers, including an upcoming “soiree in Southampton later this month with Nancy Sinatra listed on the host committee” per Politico, the fundraisers come amid reports that even the Murdochs are souring on DeSantis.
“One Fox News insider told Rolling Stone that Rupert and his son Lachlan Murdoch ‘are transactional and can smell a loser a mile away,’” as Breitbart News detailed.
The potential movement away from DeSantis is not necessarily new, as concerns began to bubble even prior to the governor formally jumping in the race as some questioned if it was wise of DeSantis to run now rather than waiting until 2028, when Trump is out of the picture.
“No crowds, no enthusiasm, no interest. His Campaign is in total disarray,” Trump said on Truth Social following DeSantis’s July 4 weekend appearance in the Granite State. “He’s hurting himself very badly for 2028. See, loyalty does matter with Patriots!”
One month after his launch, another report surfaced, as Rolling Stone published bits and pieces from a group chat containing major donors who expressed frustration with DeSantis.
As Breitbart News reported:
What the fuck is wrong with RD?” one group member wrote, referencing DeSantis’s response — or lack thereof — to the major flooding in Fort Lauderdale. The governor was noticeably absent, traveling around the country and delivering speeches at the height of the historic issue. That week, he was in Ohio for the Butler County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day event and eventually declared a state of emergency for Broward County. He delivered a speech at Liberty University that same week and attended an event in New Hampshire, as well. Even former President Trump weighed in on his potential rival’s actions, telling Breitbart News, “He shouldn’t be campaigning right now. He should be there.”
According to Rolling Stone, one group chat participant wanted to know how to best contact DeSantis to “complain.” It also cites other complaints from these top donors, one of which included DeSantis referring to Ukraine as a “territorial dispute.”
“My understanding is that the message was: ‘If we wanted a fucking MAGA candidate, we would donate to Donald Trump,’” a source told the outlet, further demonstrating waning confidence in the governor, as others wish the governor would challenge Trump more directly, as well.
Recent national surveys continue to show Trump as the dominant frontrunner, garnering 56 percent support to DeSantis’s 17 percent and Scott’s 3 percent.
Steve Cortes, a former Donald Trump supporter who advises the pro-DeSantis super PAC Never Back Down, recently admitted the governor faces an “uphill battle” in the Republican primary race.
“We’re down double digits; we have work to do,” Cortes said.