EXCLUSIVE — Veteran Republican strategist John Thomas backed former President Donald Trump in the 2016 and 2020 elections, but he’s thrown his weight behind Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) ahead of the 2024 cycle for a simple reason: He wants to win.
Thomas, the founder of the Ron to the Rescue super PAC, told the Washington Examiner that DeSantis, who hasn’t announced a presidential campaign, offers Republicans the best shot at retaking the White House and is prepared to spend at least $50 million in the next six to 12 months to ensure the governor earns the GOP nomination over Trump.
The political action committee launched on Nov. 14, the day before Trump became the first top-tier Republican to jump into the 2024 race, and Thomas said that since that time, the support received has been “better than anticipated.”
The PAC has yet to launch a small-donor push “formally,” but Thomas claims to have picked up “several thousand small donors that just organically found us and are giving on recurring levels.”
“We already have seven figures worth of gifts, and we are just starting our major donor program,” Thomas told the Washington Examiner. “Our target is to spend at least $50 million, is my goal, between now and when DeSantis announces, but probably more if things go really well.”
While Thomas said the “money has been good,” he is surprised at “how willing Trump supporters have been to contact us and say, ‘We love Trump, but I like winning more. How can I help?'”
DeSantis has avoided openly stating any intention of running for the White House in 2024 and has largely ignored the barbs Trump has cast his way in recent weeks. Thomas said Ron to the Rescue will not only actively defend DeSantis from Trump with media appearances and ad buys but also build out a ground game across all 50 states with plans to hand the apparatus over to DeSantis’s campaign, should he announce.
“Our goal, besides just kind of giving him air support, is we’re developing a grassroots network of party leaders and activists in all of the early battleground states,” Thomas explained. “We’re going to be organizing with them, and so any intellectual property we put together, grassroots lists, organizing lists, those kinds of things, we’re going to hand over of whatever we can legally hand over to the governor when he, if he becomes a candidate, so to kind of allow the governor to hit the ground running.”
He added that the effort would include hiring top “staffers and organizers in places like Iowa, New Hampshire, so they don’t accidentally go take the paycheck for Trump.”
Despite his support for DeSantis, Thomas said he wants to “make clear” that he and many of DeSantis’s other backers still like Trump.
“The problem is, for Trump, is he needed to announce and pretty much steamroll everybody. He needed all the donors to capitulate his way. He needed all the party leaders to come his way, and while he’s had some success, it’s not been unanimous, and he needed it to almost be unanimous because the cracks that are appearing are going to turn into canyons very soon,” he explained. “He’s going to be constantly trying to, like, plug these leaks. I think his legal challenges, whether they have merit or not, I would think are going to turn his relation into more of a sclerotic beast.”
“I still like the guy. I just think he should move from a party leader to a party elder. That’s kind of the nuanced dynamic here that I want to make sure it’s not lost in the media, and also voters are reminded that it’s OK to vote for somebody else. It doesn’t mean you don’t like Trump,” Thomas continued. “I think at the end of the day, particularly primary voters want to get excited about their nominee, but it really is a sport about winning. If you don’t win, you can’t enact your legislative agenda. It’s not just about rallies and having a good time. It’s about winning, and Trump has kind of called into question at best his ability to do that anymore.”
Thomas stressed that should DeSantis fail to secure the nomination or even get into the race in the first place, the PAC will be reconfigured to back Trump or whoever else wins the Republican nominee.
Still, two other Florida Republican operatives suggested to the Washington Examiner that Thomas is simply “grifting” off DeSantis’s recent success. One specifically pointed to an August interview in which Thomas urged DeSantis not to run unless Trump is legally barred from seeking office.
The DeSantis team, in addition to playing coy about the governor’s actual 2024 plans, has also actively distanced itself from Thomas. DeSantis’s legal counsel Benjamin Gibson sent a letter to donors after the PAC’s launch stating that Thomas “[continues] to use Ron DeSantis’ name and likeness to raise funds without his permission or authorization.”
“Whether well intentioned or not, the organizers of these PACs have not been in contact with DeSantis leadership and such efforts may create confusion amongst supporters of the Governor and his policies,” the letter said.
Some Republican officials previously expressed concerns to the Washington Examiner that should DeSantis win the nomination over Trump, the former president would run as a third-party candidate and split conservative votes in the general election, securing a win for Democrats in the process.
However, Thomas said his “friends that are in the Trump orbit” have told him that Trump has no plans to launch a “kamikaze independent bid.”
“I’ve had those conversations. I’m not giving too much thought to it particularly because I think the former president is smart enough to know that there’s no path to victory for him if he were to relaunch a third-party bid.” Thomas concluded. “I think the president — I haven’t heard from his lips but from people close to him — the president knows that that would be a fool’s errand that would not be productive for him, so I don’t think he would go down that road.”