CEO of Pro-DeSantis Super PAC Never Back Down Resigns Amid Internal Turmoil

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AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell

Team DeSantis has experienced another shakeup as the Florida governor continues his bid to win the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. The head of Never Back Down, the primary Super PAC backing DeSantis’ candidacy, has resigned amid tension and disagreements among those trying to get DeSantis elected.

Chris Jankowski made the announcement on Wednesday.

Chris Jankowski, the chief executive of Never Back Down, the main super PAC backing Gov. Ron DeSantis’s presidential bid, resigned on Wednesday, following the creation of a new outside group supporting Mr. DeSantis and publicly aired infighting among his allies.\
Mr. Jankowski sent a resignation note to the board of Never Back Down, according to a person briefed on the matter. The resignation was effective immediately.
The departure came after days of internal tensions within Never Back Down, which along with the DeSantis campaign has repeatedly pressed the boundaries of what super PACs usually do. Presidential campaigns are legally barred from coordinating with super PACs. The Never Back Down super PAC has been paying for some of the candidate’s travel and attempting to build a field operation across the country and in three of the early voting states. Mr. DeSantis routinely appears at fund-raisers coordinated by the super PAC and has traveled across Iowa on a super PAC-funded bus attending super PAC events as a “special guest.”

Some of the internal tension apparently relates to negative advertising against former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who is DeSantis’ primary rival other than former President Donald Trump, and the transfer of funds to a new entity named Flight Right. Other disagreements centered around ethical matters, with some expressing discomfort with the type of messaging being employed by the team.

In the past several weeks, allies of Mr. DeSantis and his wife have repeatedly complained about ads that Never Back Down aired attacking his closest rival in the primary, Nikki Haley, in connection with China. His allies have questioned the messaging and depth of the ad-buying by the super PAC, according to two people briefed on the matter. A third said some allies believed Mr. DeSantis was being blamed by voters for the negative spots.
Since they came into existence nearly 15 years ago, super PACs have traditionally handled negative messaging and advertising against a candidate’s rival. But some DeSantis allies have come to believe that his own super PAC is too closely connected to him in the eyes of the voters, and that Never Back Down’s work is a reason he is struggling in the polls.

The tensions became so pronounced that one meeting almost devolved into fisticuffs.

Leaders of Ron DeSantis’ Never Back Down super PAC met privately last Tuesday to hash out a strategy for fighting Nikki Haley’s rise in the polls. Instead, two of them nearly came to blows.
Jeff Roe, the top consultant for the super PAC, got into a heated argument with longtime DeSantis confidant Scott Wagner while a small group of nine board members and senior staff were discussing budgeting.
“You have a stick up your a–, Scott,” Roe fumed at Wagner, who is a member of the Never Back Down board.
“Why don’t you come over here and get it?” Wagner responded, rising from his chair. He was quickly restrained by two fellow board members. The interaction was relayed to NBC News by a source who was in the room.

This development could have some significant ramifications for Team DeSantis. On one hand, it could have a negative impact in that it gives the appearance that the governor’s team lacks unity and cohesion. At a time when the campaign should project strength and stability, this could add to the team’s problems.

However, the shakeup could be just what DeSantis’ campaign needs to get back on track. After struggling to raise the governor’s polling numbers, some new blood might be what is necessary to right the ship. Given that there appear to be issues with the Super PAC pushing boundaries, another person at the helm could help realign the operation and strengthen its efficiency.

Either way, Team DeSantis will need to carefully tread these choppy waters if it wants the candidate to make a decent showing as the campaign marches on. The way DeSantis and his team manage this transition might be crucial in shaping the narrative around his candidacy.

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