MIAMI - Ron DeSantis’s presidential campaign raised a formidable $8.2 million in its first 24 hours, a spokeswoman said, a show of force as the Florida governor offered some of his most direct attacks yet on his chief rival for the GOP nomination, Donald Trump.
The figure includes online donations as well as money raised by about 100 donors who converged on the Four Seasons in Miami starting Wednesday evening - as DeSantis launched his campaign in a live Twitter discussion that quickly went haywire. Despite the rocky start, donors said the mood was upbeat on Thursday as they worked to bolster one of DeSantis’s advantages heading into 2024: Money.
The first-day fundraising haul is a welcome boost for candidate looking to close a significant polling gap with Trump, the current leader in public surveys of the GOP race. Trump’s campaign said it raised more than $9.5 million in the first quarter after launching, and about $14.5 million in the first three months of this year. The campaign of another 2024 contender, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), recently said it raised $2 million in the first 24 hours.
“It is really going well. I am surprised,” said Bob Grand, one of the donors who spent Thursday in Miami calling and texting his contacts for contributions to DeSantis. “I have been making calls and texts most of the day, and everyone I have called has said ‘I just want an alternative to Trump.’” He added, “I would have assumed that there would have been people who told me they were for Trump.”
A spokeswoman for DeSantis did not immediately say how much of the $8.2 million broke down between online donations and the fundraising event in Miami. One attendee at the donor event with knowledge of the effort said at about 5 p.m. that the group in Miami had raised more than $4 million for the primary as well as the general election, but emphasized they were still going.
A pro-DeSantis super PAC has separately raised tens of millions and is expected to seek to redeploy the more than $80 million left over from DeSantis reelection campaign last year. Campaign contributions, unlike super PAC donations, are capped.
The fundraising blitz played out as DeSantis showed a new willingness to hit back at Trump in a slew of interviews following his launch, following months of veiled jabs.
“Well, obviously he’s attacking me from the left,” the Republican governor told a Tennessee radio station during one of several interviews on Thursday.
Trump, meanwhile, continued to ridicule DeSantis’s glitchy campaign launch. “I don’t know that you can recover from that,” he told reporters on Thursday as he played golf at his course in Northern Virginia. A a spokesman for the pro-Trump super PAC MAGA Inc., Alex Pfeiffer, said in a statement that “DeSantis was still not able to raise enough money to make up for his botched campaign launch.”
DeSantis has told supporters he expects to ramp up his jabs at Trump but meet the former president’s relentless and often personal attacks with more select rebuttals focused on policy - rather than “get in the gutter” with Trump, as one donor put it while recounting a conversation with DeSantis.
The governor’s advisers have long argued a belief that roughly a third of GOP voters cannot be wrested away from Trump, but that DeSantis can win the lion’s share of the remaining voters - and they made that case again Thursday in a briefing for donors, according to two attendees who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private event.
DeSantis spent some of Thursday at the Four Seasons and also did numerous interviews. Speaking with conservative host Glenn Beck, DeSantis briefly praised Trump’s handling of the economy, before saying Trump undid much of that work by listening to the White House’s top medical adviser Anthony S. Fauci - who also served as head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - at the start of the pandemic.
“He did great for three years, but when he turned the country over to Fauci in March of 2020, that destroyed millions of people’s lives,” DeSantis said.
On Thursday, DeSantis criticized Trump for growing the deficit, seeking to raise the retirement age for Social Security and opposing Florida’s new ban on abortions after six weeks.
Trump “is going left on a lot of the fiscal, he’s going left on culture,” DeSantis said during an appearance on “The Matt Murphy Show” on WTN. “I don’t know what happened to Donald Trump,” DeSantis said.
“This,” he added, “is a different guy today than when he was running in 2015 and 2016, and I think the direction that he’s going with his campaign is the wrong direction.”
DeSantis’s comments are the most direct criticisms about Trump, his one-time ally. But the Florida governor is still tiptoeing around his core argument that Trump can’t win the general election - a point he’s made more explicit in private pitches to donors while arguing that unlike Trump, he can win the swing states that will decide the election.
Trump played a pivotal role in DeSantis’s rapid political climb.
DeSantis entered Congress in 2013, and helped found the hard-line conservative group the Freedom Caucus, which animated much of the anti-establishment fervor that would later propel Trump to the Oval Office.
When Trump became president, DeSantis - who was still in Congress at the time - regularly appeared on television to defend him. Then, in 2018, DeSantis found himself mired in a crowded Republican primary for governor and courted Trump’s support.
Trump endorsed DeSantis, who went on to win the primary and general election. The relationship seemed to cool, however, during the pandemic, and as Trump-backed candidates faltered in the 2020 elections.
Since hinting at a presidential run, DeSantis has largely left it to his surrogates, including the super PACs supporting his candidacy, to explicitly spell out Trump’s shortcomings.
DeSantis himself had mostly avoided direct engagement with the former president. When DeSantis made his presidential run official Wednesday evening in lengthy appearances on Twitter Spaces and later on Fox News, he did not directly attack Trump’s record or even mention his name.
But soon he began lobbing more barbs.
When a radio host in New Hampshire asked DeSantis how he will beat Trump, DeSantis said, “Well, I think a lot of what he’s doing is showing everybody that he understands that I’ve got a good chance to beat him because he doesn’t criticize anybody else.”
“And he added almost $8 trillion in debt in just four years as president,” DeSantis told Jack Heath of “Good Morning New Hampshire.”
“So I think the attacks that he’s doing honestly show that I was right on those issues and he wasn’t.”
On “The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show,” a host asked DeSantis if he would consider giving pardons to people convicted of crimes linked to the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. DeSantis said he would be “aggressive in issuing pardons” to people treated unfairly. When asked if that could include “a grandma who got arrested and prosecuted” as well as “all the way up to, potentially, Trump himself,” DeSantis indicated he would, though he did not name the former president.
“I would say any example of disfavored treatment based on politics or weaponization would be included in that review,” DeSantis told the hosts, “no matter how small or how big.”
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Paybarah reported from Washington. The Washington Post’s Rick Maese and Michael Scherer contributed to this report.