Three key members of Never Back Down, a super PAC supporting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, have resigned, causing further turmoil in his political operation just weeks before the Iowa Republican caucuses.
Kristin Davison, who took over as the group’s leader after CEO Chris Jankowski’s departure, is among those who left. Communications director Erin Perrine and director of operations Matt Palmisano also resigned. These changes were reported by Politico and confirmed by anonymous sources familiar with Never Back Down’s internal operations.
To fill the leadership vacuum, longtime DeSantis ally Scott Wagner has been appointed as interim CEO and board chairman.
Never Back Down has been instrumental in handling DeSantis’ presidential organizing duties and advertising efforts since he announced his candidacy in May. However, the upheaval in its leadership comes at a crucial time when DeSantis faces mounting pressure to make significant gains against former President Donald Trump’s substantial leads in Iowa and nationwide. Additionally, more donors and voters are considering throwing their support behind former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley.
Although DeSantis heavily relies on Never Back Down for essential campaign functions, it’s important to note that federal campaign finance rules prohibit direct coordination between the campaign and the super PAC. Nevertheless, DeSantis has made appearances at 92 out of the 99 Never Back Down events across the 99 counties in Iowa, according to the group’s schedule.
The departure of Jankowski, one of the minds behind the super PAC’s influential role, on November 22, was followed by former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt leaving the group on Friday.
Some insiders interpret these departures as a strategic move by DeSantis’ loyalists to regain control over Never Back Down.
DeSantis initially injected over $80 million from his political accounts into the super PAC. However, once he formally became a candidate, he and his campaign were legally prohibited from exerting direct control over the group or its funds.
The Shake-Up at Never Back Down
In a surprising turn of events, Never Back Down, the super PAC supporting Governor Ron DeSantis, has undergone a significant shake-up. Jeff Roe, a prominent Republican political consultant with close ties to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, took charge of the group earlier this year despite having little previous connection to DeSantis. This unexpected leadership change has raised eyebrows among those familiar with DeSantis’ inner circle.
A Shift in Power
Under Roe’s leadership, Never Back Down became closely intertwined with his own firm, Axiom Strategies. Staff members, including Perrine, Matt Wolking, and Jessica Syzmanski, were brought in from Axiom Strategies to bolster the super PAC’s ranks. While the current status of Roe’s involvement with Never Back Down remains unclear, reports indicate that other senior staff members are still with the group as of Saturday.
One notable figure, David Polyansky, made a transition from Axiom Strategies to become the deputy manager of DeSantis’ campaign. This move, allowed under federal law, aligned with DeSantis’ renewed focus on Iowa, where Polyansky had previously worked on successful presidential and statewide campaigns. These strategic shifts within Never Back Down and DeSantis’ campaign reflect the importance of Iowa in the upcoming primary season.
Steadfast in Iowa
Despite the recent departures at the top level, Never Back Down maintains an impressive presence in Iowa. With over two dozen staff members dedicated to organizing ahead of the precinct-level caucuses, the super PAC remains committed to its mission. Their continued efforts demonstrate a resilience and determination to support DeSantis’ presidential bid, irrespective of internal changes.
The strains between DeSantis’ loyalists and Roe’s team come as no surprise to those familiar with the governor’s struggle to maintain lasting relationships with political consultants. Over the years, DeSantis has cycled through several advisors, yet his wife, Casey, is widely regarded as his closest confidante. These underlying tensions contribute to the intrigue surrounding the current shake-up within Never Back Down.
New Leadership Emerges
Scott Wagner, who has a deep understanding of Never Back Down’s operations, has now taken on the role of chairman of the board and interim CEO. In an emailed statement, the group expressed confidence in their organization, asserting that they possess the most advanced and well-structured caucus operation in the 2024 primary field. Their steadfast dedication remains unwavering as they strive towards their ultimate goal of electing Governor DeSantis as the next president of the United States.
Former President Donald Trump, taking to his social media platform, responded to the reported departures with jubilation. He gleefully remarked, “The Ron DeSanctimonious campaign people are dropping like flies.” Trump’s endorsement of these departures further adds to the intrigue surrounding Never Back Down’s recent turn of events.