Key DeSantis Donors Rip Him in Private Chats: ‘What the F-ck Is Wrong With RD?’
The Ron DeSantis megadonor meltdown is accelerating.
On a group chat of wealthy DeSantis donors, images of which were reviewed by Rolling Stone, participants exploded with alarm last week over the Florida governor’s presidential prospects — and his primary chances against Donald Trump.
“What the fuck is wrong with RD?” one participant wrote after DeSantis did not curtail his out-of-state publicity tour to return home amid massive flooding in the Fort Lauderdale area.
Another participant demanded to know who in the group could get in contact with DeSantis most quickly to complain.
The images were shared on the condition that the participants remain anonymous. Rolling Stone verified the identities of the participants, several of whom have donated large sums toward DeSantis and enjoy extensive access in Florida GOP circles.
Over the past few years, the Florida governor has risen to Trump’s top internal rival without even declaring his candidacy. And part of that rise has been fueled by his pull with the GOP’s megadonor class, who prefer him to Trump because, while he brings a similar set of MAGAfied policies, he has not, to date, attempted a coup. That wellspring of financial support has been instrumental in fueling his rise, but the investments are predicated in large part on a belief that he can take down Donald.
That belief seems to be wavering, as the donor revolt has been brewing since at least last month. And it’s not just skittish donors like Richard Uihlein or Thomas Peterffy, who went public with his complaints last week. Several other top donors to DeSantis were livid about the governor referring to the brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine as a “territorial dispute,” with at least one major donor calling DeSantis to urge a walk-back, a source with knowledge of the outreach and another person briefed on it say. “My understanding is that the message was: ‘If we wanted a fucking MAGA candidate, we would donate to Donald Trump,’” the second source says.
Soon after, DeSantis would indeed publicly walk back his “territorial dispute” comment.
Other donors have begged DeSantis’ close associates to convince the governor to stop being such a “damn wimp” — in the words of one DeSantis donor — with Trump, imploring him to hit back harder against Trump’s attacks, according to two donors to DeSantis. The governor is known for being stubborn and resistant to some of his allies’ calls for course correction, and he has insisted that he, strategically, knows best, people familiar with the matter say.
Since last month — and as recently as last week — the uneasiness among DeSantis’s megadonor base has only grown, the two DeSantis donors and two other pro-DeSantis sources familiar with the situation say. These sources spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly about the state of the proto-campaign.
And the collective unease is spilling out into the public. “Of course it’s not a secret.… I don’t even know if I’d call it an open secret anymore. It’s just something everybody knows about,” one longtime Republican moneyman and donor to DeSantis described to Rolling Stone, citing fresh “nervousness” and “panic” within the elite communities of DeSantis megadonors and high-profile backers.
Some megadonors are beginning to voice their unease on the record. Billionaire financier Thomas Peterffy told the Financial Times this past weekend that he and “a bunch of friends” were putting spending for the Florida governor on hold “because of his stance on abortion and book banning.” Peterffy told the paper that he was instead looking to see if other primary candidates could do a better job taking on Trump.
On Monday, Gregory Cook, a donor to the pro-DeSantis Super PAC Never Back Down and a founder of multilevel marketing company doTERRA, expressed support for the candidate to Rolling Stone: “I’m investing in Governor DeSantis because I am invested in America’s success. The volume of support is unmatched and no one comes close to the fundraising potential of the governor. When you combine that with his ability to put together a winning coalition, he can’t be stopped.”
But other major donors are also feeling pressure from the outside, as the Trump campaign has targeted them specifically with appeals and veiled warnings to drop their support of the Florida governor. A Team Trump memo sent to top-dollar DeSantis donors and obtained by Politico pointed to the challenger’s wavering poll numbers and urged that “now is the time to demonstrate your support” for Trump.
Polling aggregator FiveThirtyEight recently reported that Trump enjoys a commanding 23-point lead over his expected Florida rival, according to the site’s weighted averages.
Those polling troubles may be giving some megadonors second thoughts. Sources familiar with Schlitz Brewing heir and shipping titan Richard Uihlein’s thinking told NBC News that the “brakes are pumped” with the megadonor’s DeSantis giving after the governor’s lackluster polling has given some “pause” about his viability.
Other conservatives have taken to predicting that DeSantis is potentially the second coming of Scott Walker, another Republican governor and conservative-media darling who many thought would be the favored candidate in a presidential primary — only to flame out before any ballots were cast.