DeSantis campaign cuts more staff as part of push to 'streamline' presidential bid

The Republican presidential campaign of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is cutting more staff as it attempts to "streamline" operations, top aides confirmed to Fox News on Tuesday.

The layoffs, which total nearly 40 people from across the campaign, come as DeSantis and his top advisers aim to get the governor's GOP presidential nomination bid back on track two months after he declared his candidacy for the White House.

"Following a top-to-bottom review of our organization, we have taken additional, aggressive steps to streamline operations and put Ron DeSantis in the strongest position to win this primary and defeat Joe Biden," DeSantis campaign manager Generra Peck said in a statement.

Peck emphasized that "Gov. DeSantis is going to lead the Great American Comeback and we’re ready to hit the ground running as we head into an important month of the campaign."

The latest staffing cuts follow the departure earlier this month of two top DeSantis campaign advisers — Dave Abrams and Tucker Obenshain — who left to join a DeSantis-aligned non-profit group that's expected to aid the governor's 2024 effort.

The move, first reported by Politico, is also another signal that top officials are attempting to cut costs following concerns by leading donors over campaign spending.

The news comes two days after the campaign told top financial contributors that a "reset" was underway.

The officials acknowledged Sunday during a meeting with leading campaign donors and bundlers that they spent too much money in the two months since DeSantis launched his White House bid, sources with knowledge of the gathering confirmed to Fox News.

During the meeting at the upscale Stein Eriksen Lodge of the Deer Valley resort in Utah, DeSantis' campaign promised that more changes were ahead as the Florida governor aims to rebound from what has been characterized as a disappointing start to his campaign. 

Campaign officials, according to sources familiar with the meeting, acknowledged that money had been spent on unsuccessful operations and that Team DeSantis would run a leaner, "insurgent" type campaign going forward.

"Something needs to change and there needs to be a new ignition," a leading DeSantis donor told Fox News.

Former President Donald Trump, who remains the commanding front-runner in the GOP nomination race as he makes his third straight White House run, has expanded his large double-digit lead over DeSantis in numerous polls since DeSantis declared his candidacy. And the governor's advantage over the rest of the large field of 2024 Republican presidential candidates has shrunk since late spring.

Trump campaign senior adviser Jason Miller took to Twitter to take aim at the DeSantis campaign, writing "they fired the wrong staffers."

DeSantis raised an impressive $20.1 million during the first six weeks of his campaign. But nearly half — $8.2 million — came in the first 24 hours after DeSantis declared his candidacy.

And peeking past the top lines, only a small percentage of the cash DeSantis raised came from donors contributing less than $200, with much of his fundraising coming from top-dollar donors, some of whom have now maxed out and are prevented by Federal Election Commission rules from giving further contributions to the governor. Trump, by comparison, saw the lion's share of his fundraising come from small-dollar, grassroots donations.

DeSantis has also been burning through his campaign coffers at a quicker rate than Trump. The governor’s campaign spent $7.9 million in half the time that Trump’s team shelled out $9.1 million.

Karoline Leavitt, spokeswoman for the pro-Trump super PAC Make America Great Again, charged that "Team DeSantis has lit tens of millions of dollars on fire. In return, DeSantis has seen a collapse in polling. The people left to suffer are a few dozen low and mid-level staffers."

So what's seemingly gone wrong for DeSantis?

"Maybe he hired too fast and too early," suggested David Kochel, a longtime Republican consultant and veteran of numerous GOP presidential campaigns in Iowa and nationally.

Florida's 44-year-old governor saw his popularity soar among conservatives across the country over the past three years due to his forceful pushback against coronavirus pandemic restrictions and his aggressive actions as a culture warrior going after media, corporations and teachers’ unions. And DeSantis won an overwhelming 19-point gubernatorial re-election victory last November, amid a cycle where the GOP suffered some high-profile setbacks at the ballot box.

"I think it’s pretty clear that coming out of the last campaign, with a lot of donor enthusiasm in particular, they probably got ahead of themselves," Kochel emphasized. "You need to be prepared for the downsides. You need to be prepared for the tough times and it feels like they may have built this thing too quickly."

Kochel suggested that "the net result is the burn rate is too high and people - and in particular donors - notice and you’ve got to get it back to a place where it’s sustainable. A smaller national campaign staff and a bigger state campaign staff is the answer. That’s what you need to focus on."

Another Republican consultant claimed that the DeSantis campaign erred in "trying to go too far to the right of Donald Trump."

And the consultant, who asked for anonymity in order to speak more freely, suggested that the DeSantis campaign wasn’t prepared for the constant barrage of incoming fire from Trump, his campaign, and allies.

Veteran New Hampshire based political scientist Wayne Lesperance argued that "every mistake you can make out of the gate, the DeSantis campaign has made."

"The massive amounts that were spent on staffing and putting offices in place now look like it wasn’t a very smart use of donor money," Lesperance, the president of New England College, emphasized. "The fact that you’re announcing that you’re restructuring your campaign at this moment tells me that you didn’t manage it right the first time. Why should voters believe that you can manage it right the next time."

Lesperance also noted that "the stakes for him [DeSantis] were incredibly high the moment he set foot in New Hampshire and Iowa, and he really didn’t have a big moment….In states like New Hampshire and Iowa that pride themselves on retail politics, Ron DeSantis has not figured out to make that connection with individual voters."

DeSantis in recent weeks has taken aim at what he calls the "corporate media" as he’s been repeatedly asked about his campaign’s performance, arguing that the media’s focusing on him because they do not want him to win the nomination.

"The media does not want me to be the nominee," the governor charged. "I think that's very clear. Why? Because they know I'd beat [President] Biden, but even more importantly, they know I would actually deliver on all these things."

Kochel seemingly agreed, claiming that "the media just loves writing these stories that pronounce campaigns dead or alive. And the truth is its much more complicated than that."

And he added that "national narratives aren’t that important."

But Lesperance criticized the governor’s messaging, arguing that "when you’re spending your time complaining about the media coverage, you’ve kind of already lost the narrative."

The DeSantis restricting and downsizing comes with just under six months to go until the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary lead off the GOP presidential nominating calendar, which offers the Florida governor time to rebound.

"They right the ship by right sizing the campaign, which appears to be happening in a couple of stages here. And by focusing on what’s important – which is go out in these early states and run a good campaign and get their candidate in front of voters and have a tight message," Kochel suggested. "They raised a ton of money. Now they have to make sure that they preserve it until they get closer to game day."

"So double down on Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina and go run a great campaign in those states. That’s what matters," he highlighted.

DeSantis heads back to Iowa this week for three straight days of campaigning, followed directly by a three-day swing in New Hampshire.

Kochel noted that there’s a history of campaigns surviving "these feeding frenzies over the years."

The most extreme example on the presidential level was the late Sen. John McCain’s second White House campaign, which was left for dead in the summer of 2007. But the Arizona Republican dramatically cut his staff and eventually rebounded enroute to winning the 2008 GOP presidential nomination.

Lesperance offered that DeSantis "knows policy and has a sharp perspective on that policy but he communicates sometimes more like a think tank person than a candidate. There just needs to be more of a connection with individual voters, more listening and reacting to what he’s hearing."