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Monday, January 22, 2024

Opinion | The DeSantis Team Ran the Worst Campaign in History

Opinion | The DeSantis Team Ran the Worst Campaign in History

“The bizarre decisions behind a $130 million debacle.

Volunteers at the Never Back Down DeSantis Campaign office gather to phone bank voters.

Talent. Certainly, most staffers and consultants who worked for DeSantis are earnest, well-intentioned people who served him to the best of their abilities. But we might as well be honest: The celebrity consultant known as Jeff Roe loses virtually every race he touches and, according to his own boasts, makes mad money in the process. His string of losses in Senate races over the past few years distinguishes him: Adam Laxalt (Nevada), Carla Sands (Pennsylvania), Dave McCormick (Pennsylvania), Jim Lamon (Arizona), Josh Mandel (Ohio) and Martha McSally (Arizona, twice). Some consultants believe the next best thing to winning elections is to make money losing them. So, if losing while hemorrhaging money is your vision, Roe is your man. (Editor’s note: Roe is the founder of Axiom Strategies. Rob Phillips, president of Axiom Strategies, had this to say in response: “On Message spends more time parading as experts on Sunday shows than on winning campaigns. Axiom Strategies had more victories in the last six months than On Message has had in the last six years. No one’s taking seriously the musings of a Bob Dole Democrat or the brains behind Bobby Jindal’s failed presidential campaign.”)

Remarkably, some close to DeSantis allege Roe was hired to “take the consultant off the field” and keep him from helping Virginia Gov. Glenn Younkin or another DeSantis competitor. If this is true, DeSantis should have paid Roe to work for Nikki Haley.

The Big Con. Somehow, someway, the DeSantis campaign and super PAC created a myth of epic proportions and sold it to political reporters and donors. P. T. Barnum never imagined a con job this big.

The myth: An army of paid doorknockers would fan out across the country, even in states beyond the early primaries, and deliver the nomination to DeSantis. It’s hilarious. If you ever believed that it was possible to affect the trajectory of a presidential campaign with underemployed losers going door to door in between puffs of strawberry-flavored vapes, you are vaping an intoxicant yourself. When skeptics noted that the advertising was not moving the polls, they were told not to worry: There was a giant, secret army of DeSantis door knockers! The absurdity was breathtaking. Yet, the news media reported that DeSantis’ ground game was his secret weapon. It was secret because it wasn’t there.

Anyone near a campaign recently knows how this works: In 2023, no one in America wants a stranger coming to their door for any reason. And if they were given the choice between door knockers who were selling politicians or membership in a cult, it would be a close call. Also, as fun as it is to take a phone call from a politician during dinner, imagine the joy of opening your door to a political doorknocker, especially in the balmy Iowa or New Hampshire winter.

Certainly, there have been times in campaign history when person-to-person contact methods, including door-knocking, have delivered results. But in those cases, campaigns used door-knocking to turn out existing supporters on Election Day, not to create new ones. The volunteers were turnout machines, not armies of persuasion. Ground-game organizations are not candidate-building mechanisms. Visits from paid strangers build brands the same way Joe Biden plays hacky sack: They don’t. If they did, Dollar Shave Club would have rung your doorbell, and Budweiser would have knocked to sell you something icy in a can.“

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