The DeSantis Consultant Mind Trap

The DeSantis campaign’s informational clampdown hasn’t been as airtight outside of the Florida bubble.
The DeSantis campaign’s informational clampdown hasn’t been as airtight outside of the Florida bubble. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Tina Nguyen
March 29, 2023

As his expected presidential announcement looms, Ron DeSantis’s usually staid, buttoned-up, disciplined orbit unexpectedly lost altitude last week. Granted, plenty of the chaos was a predictable consequence of DeSantis engaging Piers Morgan to test a few negative opinions about Donald Trump, breaking his self-imposed omertà, and provoking the former president and his allies to carpet-bomb DeSantis in response. Among the latest hits was the insinuation that DeSantis is secretly an establishment tool of Karl Rove and Paul Ryan, a cardinal sin on par, at least in MAGA circles, with Trump’s previous slander labeling DeSantis a “groomer.”

The Morgan interview, which came on the heels of news that Trump might soon be indicted, seemed to position DeSantis to enter a new gear. But a series of rare self-imposed mistakes ended up stealing the show, and generating headlines of their own: drama surrounding his book tour that alienated G.O.P. firms and eclipsed Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds; an NBC story quoting allies questioning whether he is ready for prime time; and, as I reported last week, agita over whether DeSantis’s less-than-vociferous defense of Trump’s legal troubles had damaged his standing among the MAGA base. With his polling stalled, at least one major donor has reportedly paused their financial support.

It’s telling that these concerns are spilling out into the press at all: DeSantis and his wife Casey are known for their iron grip on the information flow surrounding their political operation, to the point that they’ve made their staffers sign N.D.A.s and mostly disengaged from mainstream media, providing access only to favored conservative outlets. But the DeSantis informational clampdown hasn’t been as airtight outside of their Florida bubble—out-of-state poobahs have less to fear from Casey, after all—hence the sudden outflow of internal griping and grievances that had previously been contained. As DeSantis’s organization grows, and his profile evolves from governor-level to the stratosphere of national candidacy, his megalomaniacal and controlling mom-and-pop management style appears woefully incapable of directing a scaling political operation. This recent sniping, to be sure, can be chalked up to the growing pains of a candidate truly inhabiting the spotlight for the very first time.