Ron DeSantis campaign suffers another blow after debate memos published | Ron DeSantis

Seeking to resurrect his flagging US presidential campaign, Ron DeSantis suffered a major embarrassment when memos about his preparation for the first Republican debate were reported by the New York Times.

Including advice not to attack the clear frontrunner, Donald Trump, the memos to the rightwing Florida governor ahead of the debate in Milwaukee next Wednesday were posted online by a consulting firm owned by Jeff Roe, chief strategist to Never Back Down, a Super Pac backing DeSantis.

Such documents are often published quietly, the Times said, to satisfy laws against such fundraising committees co-ordinating with candidates in private. In this case, someone tipped off the paper.

“There are four basic must-dos,” one memo advised:

  1. Attack Joe Biden and the media 3-5 times.

  2. State [DeSantis’s] positive vision 2-3 times.

  3. Hammer Vivek Ramaswamy in a response.

  4. Defend Donald Trump in absentia in response to a Chris Christie attack.

Christie is running a campaign built on attacking Trump. The former New Jersey governor is a rank outsider in a party dominated by the former president but his message nonetheless appears to be resonating in New Hampshire, the second state to vote, where Christie has polled ahead of DeSantis.

In the DeSantis memos, the governor was advised to “defend Trump when Chris Christie attacks him”.

He was offered a way to do so: “Trump isn’t here, so let’s just leave him alone. He’s too weak to defend himself here. We’re all running against him. I don’t think we want to join forces with someone on this stage [Christie] who’s auditioning for a show on MSNBC” – a left-leaning TV network.

DeSantis has long held second place in polling but in recent months, even as Trump has been hit with four indictments containing 91 criminal charges, the governor has slipped further and further behind.

DeSantis’s hold on second place is now threatened by Vivek Ramaswamy, a biotech entrepreneur. Advice lines publicised by the Times included the suggestion DeSantis should attack Ramaswamy on his past stances on abortion, immigration and Covid.

“Take a sledgehammer to Vivek Ramaswamy,” the memo said, advising DeSantis to coin a Trump-style nickname: “‘Fake Vivek’ Or ‘Vivek the Fake.’”

Elsewhere, the governor’s struggles to appear natural on the campaign trail were the subject of a lengthy Washington Post report, “Awkward Americans see themselves in Ron DeSantis”. The debate memos advised DeSantis to “invoke a personal anecdote story about family, kids, [his wife] Casey, showing emotion”.

skip past newsletter promotion

In more worrying signs for DeSantis, private polling in the memos showed a 39-point drop in favorability rating with Republicans between March and August and a 15-point drop with voters asked for their second-choice candidate, to a tie with Ramaswamy and Tim Scott, the South Carolina senator.

One key memo was removed from the website after Never Back Down was asked for comment, the Times said – while publishing the document in pdf form.

DeSantis’s financial problems, as donors shy away, have been widely reported. The Times said memos revealed the “remarkable extent” to which “the campaign is relying upon the resources of his Super Pac, which raised $130m in the first half of the year.

“The outside group is paying for research on Mr DeSantis’s rivals, strategic insights and polling – all traditionally the work of campaigns themselves.”

Rick Wilson, a former Republican operative turned anti-Trump campaigner who also opposes DeSantis, told the Guardian: “I read the memos that were posted by the Times, and my initial reaction is that Jeff Roe is being vastly overpaid for advice that would be considered mediocre for a state house race.”

Leave a Comment