If you’ll remember the last time we discussed Incel Chieftain Ron DeSantis the story was that even though his polling numbers had faltered and campaign discourse had settled into describing his deep personal weirdness he was still sitting on a mountain of money. Well, maybe not. Now DeSantis has been forced to fire staff amid a spending crunch. A campaign insider tells Politico the number was “fewer than 10 staffers.” NBC says it was a dozen. The first reports tried to suggest this was part of a strategy shift as opposed to spending woes. But in those terms the new strategy seems to be to not run out of money before the end of the summer.
In fairness, the idea that GOP oligarchs had hosed Ron down with an obscene amount of cash was largely based on the Ron-backing SuperPACs, which still do have quite a lot of money. But this reminds us of a key dynamic of campaign financing even in the Citizens United era. Your allied super PACs and dark money entities can be part of your campaign commercial air war. They can help with organizing voters and get out the vote efforts to a lesser but still real extent. But the campaign still has to run its actual campaign through the old regulated system. That’s your own staff, your own events, your own paid media. That’s where DeSantis’s operation is apparently buckling.
Meanwhile, this report from NBC News highlights an additional problem. More than 2/3rds of the money DeSantis raised between mid-May and the end of June came from donors who’ve maxed out their giving; even some of that money can only be spent in the general election (which, let’s be honest, won’t ever happen for Ron).
As we noted a few days ago, the “small donor” label can be misleading inasmuch as people imagine its a true mass base of support reaching down through the class spectrum. It’s really dominated by upper middle class and affluent givers tossing in tens or a hundred dollars at a time online. But the key is that a candidate can keep drawing money from those givers. That kind of giving, which really got underway about twenty years ago and now plays a dominant role in Democratic campaigns, opened up a whole new kind of political campaigning in which candidates could essentially live on the land. DeSantis seems to be focused on an older and somewhat more transactional style of funding involving richer but still non-oligarch givers who can max out with a single check. Those contributions are great and all campaigns in both parties try to get them. But it’s one and done. You can’t go back to those people again.
What it all amounts to is a campaign which is dying, but at the highest levels, with enough juice to keep any other candidate from climbing out of single digits, yet mortally wounded all the same.