Ron DeSantis ‘ate pudding with his fingers’ – and other strange tales about GOP hopeful
Ron DeSantis is shying away from voters, hiding behind his wife and putting people off with his awkward eating habits, staffers said, as his popularity slides in the polls.
Critics said that the Florida governor, and Donald Trump’s likely White House challenger, appears to lack charisma and is socially awkward, with observers citing an incident when he ate chocolate pudding with three fingers.
Mr DeSantis is widely expected to announce a run for the 2024 presidential election, which would pit him against the former president.
The 44-year-old Republican has managed to harness conservative anger over culture war issues and rise to become something of an “anti-woke” darling of the Right.
However, some have begun to question whether he lacks the kind of charisma needed to turn his obvious statewide popularity into national appeal.
In the critical early primary states of New Hampshire and Iowa, candidates will need to demonstrate their ability to engage voters on a one-to-one level.
However, Mr DeSantis’ ability to connect on the campaign trail has been questioned by staff and former staff in an investigation by the Daily Beast website.
He has embraced a “Tallahassee basement strategy, mirroring that of [Joe] Biden in 2020, where he hides from press and real voters”, one Republican strategist said, referring to the capital of Florida, where Mr DeSantis’ office is based.
The Telegraph also spoke to former members of his Tallahassee office about his style.
One associate said: “You will be in the car with Ron and he’ll say nothing to you for an hour. He prefers it that way.”
Those who have worked with him said that he is a natural introvert who has the ability to turn the charisma on when needed.
Observers noted that Mr DeSantis tends to steer clear of the meet-and-greets and avoids the so-called retail politics that Mr Trump excels at.
At a recent Republican Party county event in Texas, supporters paid money to hear Mr DeSantis discuss his latest book, The Courage To Be Free, in a more intimate group.
However, he spent only a few minutes with the pared-down crowd before escaping out a back door, irritating some in attendance.
‘DeSantis is dry compared to Bush’
At other public events, Mr DeSantis has leaned heavily on his wife Casey, a former TV news anchor.
Several former members of the governor’s staff claimed that almost everything he does is scripted.
Francis Rooney, a former congressman and an influential donor in Florida, told Politico: “Ron is a little reserved and dry compared to George W Bush and Bill Clinton. He is what he is. So what he needs to do is organise his campaign to minimise that characteristic.”
One recent report even commented on some of his more bizarre-seeming awkwardness, including the chocolate dessert technique.
“He would sit in meetings and eat in front of people,” a former worker for Mr DeSantis told the Daily Beast. “Always like a starving animal who has never eaten before… getting s--- everywhere.”
While Mr Trump has taken aim at his one-time political protegee and now chief rival, calling him “Ron DeSanctimonious” and “Meatball Ron”, Mr DeSantis and his team have failed to respond to the attacks or shift the conversation.
In surveys taken since the 76-year-old began his anti-DeSantis offensive about two months ago, the Florida governor has steadily lost ground against Mr Trump, whose own numbers have increased.
A recent Quinnipiac survey showed Mr Trump making big gains over the past month, with his lead growing by 12 points. This is down considerably from the days and weeks following the November midterms, where Mr DeSantis won re-election by a landslide.
One pundit told The Telegraph that his recent posturing on Ukraine may further harm him in the polls. Mr DeSantis told a Fox News questionnaire that he considered Russia’s invasion of its neighbour a “territorial dispute”.
Reed Galen, the co-founder of The Lincoln Project, a political action committee made up of former and current moderate Republicans, pointed out the view put the potential 2024 candidate at odds with about half of his own likeliest supporters.
However, Mr DeSantis could still enjoy a rebound in the build-up to the GOP primaries. The new Quinnipiac survey showed him with an exceptional 72-6 favourability rating among conservatives.