The super PAC supporting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ presidential run asked deep-pocketed donors last week to contribute $50 million more to help the Republican candidate overtake former President Donald Trump as the GOP front-runner — warning that DeSantis had just two months to do so.
Jeff Roe, the chief strategist of Never Back Down, made the big ask hours before the first Republican primary debate in Milwaukee on Aug. 23.
“Now let me tell you a secret — don’t leak this,” Roe was quoted as saying in an audio recording obtained by the outlet. “We need to do this now. We’re making a move now.”
“The day after Labor Day, we’re launching and we need your help to stay up and go hard the rest of the way. We need 50 million bucks,” Roe went on.
Most of the contributions were needed before the second GOP debate on Sept. 27, he added, to help the 44-year-old Florida governor separate from the other Republican candidates and to pull ahead of Trump, who Roe warned would both lose to President Biden in a rematch of the 2020 election and kill Republican chances of retaking the Senate.
“We have to beat him and we’ve got to beat him in the next 60 days and we’ve got to beat everybody else nipping at our heels. Now. And we’ve got to separate further — now,” Roe said.
The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Roe then rattled off the names of three of DeSantis’ closest competitors — former Vice President Mike Pence, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) — explaining how each was not ready to be president.
He joked about the fly that landed on Pence’s head for roughly two minutes during his debate against then-vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris in 2020 before claiming Haley was “not actually a lovely person” and seen as unfit for office.
Scott was also deemed unfit by Roe despite being viewed as nice.
A spokesman for Scott declined to comment.
Roe, the founder and CEO of Axiom Strategies, masterminded Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) 2016 presidential campaign and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s upset election victory in 2021.
He apparently did not mention entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, who is polling right behind DeSantis in most surveys.
“Now the good news is that we have all the money we need in this room,” Roe told the donors when discussing ways the Florida governor could come out on top in the Hawkeye State. “The bad news is it’s still in your wallet.”
He also quipped that he would be willing to collect checks from the donors in the TSA line at the Milwaukee airport, saying the effort to elect DeSantis “doesn’t run on, you know, fumes.”
“And so we’re going to go spend this money right now, betting that our donors won’t let us down,” Roe said. “And I’ve been let down by donors a lot. And I’ve already lost once to Trump [in 2016] and we can’t do it again.”
Roe’s warning underscores the urgency of the funding push for Never Back Down, as DeSantis’ allies are looking to narrow the Republican primary field before the start of next year.
The super PAC has raked in more than $130 million and spent around $34 million since its launch in March, federal filings show.
The DeSantis campaign raised more than $20 million between April 1 and June 30 — the most of any candidate for the second quarter — and spent roughly $8 million.
Reps for Never Back Down and the DeSantis campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The super PAC announced on Thursday that it had ceased political canvassing operations in Nevada, California, North Carolina and Texas to refocus its efforts in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Spokeswoman Erin Perrine cited new nominating rules in the two Western states that would favor Trump in explaining the decision, but did not mention any funding shortfall.
Never Back Down has aggressively spent money on ground operations for the governor, but is barred from officially coordinating with the DeSantis campaign.
In July, the DeSantis campaign laid off around a third of its staff and replaced its first campaign manager, Generra Peck, with the governor’s chief of staff, James Uthmeier.
Peck is now the campaign’s chief strategist.
One of the Florida governor’s biggest backers, hotel entrepreneur Robert Bigeolow, has also called for DeSantis to moderate his campaign stances — and paused his donations.
Trump, 77, leads the Republican primary field with 53.6% support, according to the RealClearPolitics average.
He is followed in the polling by DeSantis (13.5%), Ramaswamy (7.3%), Haley (4.9%), Pence (4.6%), former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (2.5%) and Scott (2.4%).
Roe indicated to donors that Never Back Down’s internal polling matches a recent Des Moines Register survey showing DeSantis surging to 19% support in Iowa, with Trump at 42%.
“We want to show them we’re a better option — never back down, give it to the elite, like be who we are,” Roe added. “But the 37% that like Trump but want someone new, we’ve got to give them what they want, and that’s policies. Show them what the governor has done. These folks — we’ve got to get them what they need, which is common sense, which is durability and stability and a leader, vision, optics, family, Casey.”