Ron DeSantis’ treatment of his staff is being called into question as the spotlight focuses on the Florida governor ahead of his tough re-election bid next year and amid talk of a possible 2024 presidential run.
Several former staffers told Politico’s Playbook that he treats them ‘like expendable widgets’ and only listens to one person – his wife Casey DeSantis, a former TV journalist and champion equestrian.
The DeSantis vets, in fact, have established a ‘support group’ after their time working for him.
There are several horror stories they told to the news organization: DeSantis fired five staffers within his first six months of taking office in 2019 and he ordered the head of the Florida Republican Party to fire an official who had cancer – on that person’s first week back from surgery.
They also said they had to lure DeSantis to meetings with cupcakes – pretending it was someone’s birthday – and that he blamed them for any of his mistakes.
Ron DeSantis’ treatment of his staff is being called into question as the spotlight focuses on the Florida governor ahead of his tough re-election bid next year; DeSantis above is seen with his wife Casey DeSantis
Gov. Ron DeSantis has stayed close to Donald Trump; above Melania and Donald Trump with DeSantis and his wife Casey in February 2019
Several former staffers of Ron DeSantis told horror stories about working for him and formed a support group to help one another in the aftermath
DeSantis’ has a high rate of turn over for both his tenure in the Florida gubernatorial mansion and his time in the U.S. House, where he served as a congressman from 2013 to 2018. In three of his five years in Congress, he ranked in the 70th percentile in terms of highest turnover, according to data compiled by Legistorm, which tracks congressional staff.
Adrian Lukis, DeSantis’ chief of staff, sent Politico’s Playbook a five-page document that featured quotes from former and current staffers praising the governor.
Helen Aguirre Ferre, DeSantis’ first communications director who is now executive director of the Republican Party of Florida, praised both him and first lady Casey DeSantis.
‘I can attest to the fact that Governor DeSantis is completely engaged in the difficult duties of responsible governance and he works closely and respectfully with his staff to ensure that the needs of Florida’s residents are well addressed,’ she said.
‘I also want to make a statement on Florida’s incredible First Lady, Casey DeSantis,’ she noted. ‘As Chairman of Florida Children and Youth Cabinet, Mrs. DeSantis works tirelessly to raise awareness of kids’ current needs so that they may grow up in safe and healthy environments and achieve their individual God-given potential.’
But the staffers, who spoke to Politico anonymously out of fear of retribution, said DeSantis doesn’t have a cadre of loyal staff or a political svengali (such as a Karl Rove or David Axelrod) to guide his political career.
Instead he has himself and his wife.
‘Loyalty and trust, that is not a currency he deals in,’ one said. ‘It’s him and Casey. But everyone else is like a disposable piece of garbage.’
Casey DeSantis, 40, has joined her husband in blaming staff for any mistakes.
When DeSantis went on Fox News during his 2018 gubernatorial bid and asked Florida voters not to ‘monkey this up’ by supporting his African American Democratic opponent, he and Casey chewed out his campaign staff for not cleaning up the mess.
Casey DeSantis worked as a local TV reporter in Jacksonville, Florida, and before that hosted shows for the Golf Channel. She was born in Ohio and graduated from the College of Charleston, where she was a three-time National Champion equestrian as well as a runner-up Division I NCAA Champion.
She met DeSantis, then a naval officer at Naval Station Mayport, on a golf course in 2010. They have three children, two daughters, Madison and Mamie, and a son, Mason.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis waves during his January 2019 inauguration ceremony with his wife Casey and son Mason
Ron DeSantis has remained close to Donald Trump, who said he would consider DeSantis as a running mate if he makes another White House bid in 2024 – above Trump and DeSantis at a November 2019 campaign rally in Sunrise, Fla.
Then-gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis leaving his voting site with his son Mason, wife Casey and daughter Madison on Election Day in 2018
Then-President Donald Trump steps off Air Force One next to then-Governor of Florida, Rick Scott (L), then-Republican nominee for Governor of Florida Ron DeSantis (R) and his wife Casey, in Pensacola, Florida on November 3, 2018
The staff stories and couple’s actions have turned off several top Republican consultants, who say they won’t work for DeSantis, a move that could hurt him ahead of next year’s re-election campaign and if he has presidential ambitions.
But Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, who led DeSantis’ gubernatorial transition and worked on his campaign, noted the blazing path DeSantis has made – going from a 34-year-old freshman congressman to being Florida’s youngest governor in more than a century to being heir-apparent to Donald Trump.
‘To date, he’s risen in part due to his willingness to bet on himself over the political-industrial complex,’ Gaetz told Politico.
DeSantis, 42, has tied himself closely to the former president, touting Trump’s agenda, defiantly opening Florida during the coronavirus pandemic (only having to shut it down again when cases spiked), and often dining with Trump at Mar-a-Lago.
Trump has said he would consider DeSantis as a running mate if he makes another White House bid in 2024. He told Fox News DeSantis is ‘a friend of mine’ and ‘a great guy.’
Florida is Trump’s new home state.
DeSantis embraced then-President Trump full on during the 2018 governor’s race. He famously released an ad where he’s playing with toy blocks with his daughter Madison. ‘Build the wall,’ he told her.
With the support of the Trump family, Don Jr. campaigned for him, DeSantis won the crowded GOP primary and then the gubernatorial mansion.
And he’s kept to the Trump playbook.
On Thursday, DeSantis signed into law a voting rights bill – that puts restrictions on mail-in ballot collections and the use of drop boxes – during an event where only Fox News was allowed inside.
Like Trump, he’s taken a combative stance with the media, lashing out at Florida reporters during press conferences.
His alliance with Trump and his leadership of one of the largest states in the union has led to talk DeSantis could be eying the Oval Office for himself.
But before 2024’s presidential election, DeSantis must win a second term as governor. And Democrats have made it clear he’s a top target for them in next year’s election.
The Democratic contenders are already lining up. Congressman Charlie Crist, who was elected governor of the state as a Republican in 2006, became the first Democrat to announce his candidacy on Tuesday.
Also weighing bids are state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and Rep. Val Demings, a former House impeachment manager and Orlando police chief.