The CEO of Never Back Down, the primary super PAC supporting Ron DeSantis’s presidential bid, resigned on Wednesday amid increasingly public tensions over strategy that spilled out anew after close DeSantis allies created a new outside group to run ads.
“Never Back Down’s main goal and sole focus has been to elect Governor Ron DeSantis as President,” the CEO, Chris Jankowski, said in a statement. “Given the current environment it has become untenable for me to deliver on the shared goal and that goes well beyond a difference of strategic opinion.”
Never Back Down, which as a super PAC can raise unlimited donations, has played an unusually large role in the Florida governor’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, it built a massive door-knocking program, hosted many of DeSantis’s events and even took on some of the cost for his private plane travel.
That arrangement helped the campaign offload many costs, and Never Back Down expanded its role further as the campaign faced an early budget crunch and downsized. But the super PAC is legally forbidden from coordinating with the campaign on strategy, and officials in both camps at times questioned the other’s approach. DeSantis has expressed displeasure at times with Never Back Down, according to people who have spoken to him.
Jankwoski’s announcement came the day after NBC News reported on fighting among Never Back Down’s leadership, and shortly after DeSantis allies created a new Tallahassee-based nonprofit and affiliated super PAC, named Fight Right. Never Back Down’s board members were divided over a decision to transfer money to fund Fight Right, according to people familiar with the matter, who like some others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. Fight Right this week began running ads attacking Nikki Haley, a rising rival of DeSantis.
“We’ve already seen tremendous value in the support of groups like Never Back Down, and adding new allies to the mix to independently help spread the Governor’s message will only strengthen our advantage in the important weeks and months ahead,” Andrew Romeo, a spokesman for the DeSantis campaign, said in a statement.
The New York Times first reported that Jankowski was stepping down. Jankowski did not immediately respond to further inquiries.
Never Back Down’s chief operating officer, Kristin Davison, will take over as CEO, according to staff who were informed Wednesday.
Never Back Down had been running its own ads against Haley but took them off air recently, and there were worries that the negative spots were backfiring on DeSantis, given how closely he is associated with the super PAC.
“The governor is riding around Iowa on a bus that says Never Back Down,” said one Republican consultant familiar with the formation of Fight Right. “It would be political malpractice to have that same group” running attack ads. The person said Fight Right’s formation was a signal to Never Back Down to let the new group handle negative advertising.
Fight Right’s directors include DeSantis adviser David Dewhirst, DeSantis appointee Jeff Aaron and DeSantis-linked lobbyist Scott Ross.
“Fight Right was created to help tell voters the truth about politicians who break their promises and abandon conservative principles — politicians like Nikki Haley. Fight Right will join the fight with the premier DeSantis Super PAC, Never Back Down, to achieve a DeSantis victory,” Dewhirst said in a statement on Tuesday.
Later that day, drama at Never Back Down spilled out in the NBC report, which cited a person in the room to describe a heated dispute between top strategist Jeff Roe and a member of Never Back Down’s board, Scott Wagner.
Some DeSantis donors have long been critical of Never Back Down and in particular Jankowski and Roe. Some DeSantis advisers came to believe that Never Back Down’s ads were not working, and there is distrust of Roe in DeSantis’s inner circle, according a person with direct knowledge of the dynamic.
The person said drama has been “building” for some time and the final straw was the new group Fight Right. “There’s a lot of drama, partially because it’s not going well, and partially because there’s a lot of competing personalities,” the person said.
DeSantis has privately voiced complaints about Roe, three people familiar with the comments told The Washington Post in September.
DeSantis’s campaign strongly denied that at the time, praising Never Back Down’s work, and the super PAC has continued to work closely with DeSantis.