A super PAC that has overseen much of Ron DeSantis’s presidential operation has fired its CEO less than two weeks after the previous chief executive resigned, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal conversations. It was the latest upheaval as fighting between the Florida governor’s allies has escalated and erupted into public view.
Kristin Davison, formerly the chief operating officer of the super PAC Never Back Down, was appointed CEO just before Thanksgiving after her predecessor, Chris Jankowski, resigned and said his job had become untenable amid problems that went “well beyond a difference of strategic opinion.” Jankowski’s exit came shortly after other allies of DeSantis formed a new super PAC to run ads, inflaming long-running tensions between members of DeSantis’s campaign and Never Back Down that increasingly spilled out in news reports.
The chairman of Never Back Down, former Nevada attorney general Adam Laxalt — a longtime friend of DeSantis — also resigned this week, writing to other members of the group’s board that after months of campaigning, “I need to return my time and attention to my family and law practice.”
Scott Wagner, a member of the board, will now serve as its chairman and interim CEO, Never Back Down spokeswoman Jess Szymanski said in a statement Saturday night. “Never Back Down has the most organized, advanced caucus operation of anyone in the 2024 primary field, and we look forward to continuing that great work to help elect Gov. DeSantis the next President of the United States,” she wrote.
The late-in-the-race formation of a new super PAC, called Fight Right, was a highly unusual move that many in DeSantis’s orbit viewed as an effort to put ad money under new control. DeSantis and some of his advisers have criticized Never Back Down, the primary super PAC supporting him, and in particular its advertising, according to several people familiar with the comments who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. Officials at Never Back Down have also questioned the campaign’s strategy at times.
Some DeSantis allies say there were concerns that Never Back Down is so closely associated with the Republican governor that its negative ads hurt him. But the campaign is now publicly embracing Fight Right, and DeSantis was in Palm Beach, Fla., this week courting donors for the new entity.
Politico first reported Davison’s departure. The news comes as DeSantis is touring Iowa with Never Back Down. His campaign also held a rally marking the completion of his promise to visit all of the state’s 99 counties.
Never Back Down, which as a super PAC can raise unlimited donations, has played an unusually large role in DeSantis’s White House bid, taking over activities traditionally handled by campaigns, such as field organizing. Initially funded with more than $80 million left over from DeSantis’s gubernatorial reelection bid, it built a massive door-knocking program, hosted many of DeSantis’s events, and even took on some of the cost of his private plane travel.
A Monday memo from DeSantis’s campaign manager, James Uthmeier, said Fight Right’s “television team” would complement Never Back Down’s “ground game” — making no mention of the fact that Never Back Down has booked more advertising this election cycle than any other campaign or supporting group.
He also wrote that Fight Right “features minimal overhead” and said that “100% of contributions go direct to TV ads” — appearing to allude to some donors’ gripes that other money hasn’t been well spent. Never Back Down, when it reported its finances this summer, disclosed multiple efforts to keep costs down.
There were initial concerns raised about the legal independence of Fight Right and whether a transfer of money from Never Back Down followed legal compliance. Ken Cuccinelli, a Never Back Down board member and former attorney general of Virginia, wrote in an email first reported by NBC News that he found the funding of some of the ads against rival presidential candidate Nikki Haley to be “exceedingly objectionable” and asked for his concerns to be preserved in records of the board.
Many DeSantis allies view Fight Right as more closely aligned with campaign leadership. Andrew Romeo, a DeSantis campaign spokesman, said earlier in the week that any assertion that “the campaign has anything to do with the strategy being pursued by an outside entity is absurd and categorically false.”
Roy Bailey, a fundraiser for DeSantis, welcomed what he called a “paring” of personnel at Never Back Down on Saturday evening and added, “If you go back and look at it, it seems like for the last several months every milestone for the governor seemed to have some noise right in front of it from the super PAC that in my humble opinion took way from his great efforts and successes.”