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Pro-DeSantis PAC hires senior team from Cruz, Trump, Youngkin campaigns

Never Back Down has set itself up to receive donations of unlimited value to support the Florida governor’s presidential ambitions

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) speaks on a book tour in Des Moines on March 10. (Rachel Mummey for The Washington Post)
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An independent effort backing the presidential ambitions of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has hired a high-powered senior leadership team in a clear indication of group’s central role in the coming GOP presidential nomination battle if DeSantis joins the race.

The upper ranks of Never Back Down, a group founded by former Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli, will include top strategists to Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign, a top adviser to Glenn Youngkin’s 2021 Virginia gubernatorial campaign and senior communications aides involved in former president Donald Trump’s 2020 presidential run, according to a person familiar with the plans, who, like others in this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private arrangements.

The sheer firepower of the senior team suggests that Never Back Down — which will be able to accept donations of unlimited value and transfers from DeSantis’s state political committee — will have a more expansive role in the 2024 campaign than past presidential super PACs, which have traditionally focused almost exclusively on television and digital advertising.

The group is also expected to have the blessing from the would-be candidate, according to multiple people briefed on the plans. A spokesperson for DeSantis did not respond to a request for comment.

Phil Cox, a senior adviser to the 2022 DeSantis reelection campaign who has been a point of contact for Republicans hoping to support a White House bid, will serve as a senior adviser to Never Back Down, the person familiar with the plans said. He will work with Axiom Strategies President Jeff Roe, the architect of the 2016 Cruz campaign and the 2021 Youngkin campaign, whose role with the group was disclosed last week.

Kristin Davison, an Axiom consultant who has worked as a top adviser to Youngkin, will join the group as chief operating officer, working with Chris Jankowski — a Virginia strategist who has worked with Cox — who has taken the title of chief executive. Both Roe and Davison plan to continue to advise Youngkin, who has not made moves in recent months toward launching his own presidential effort, the person said.

“Winning back the White House will take a leader unlike any this nation has seen, and that leader is Florida Governor Ron DeSantis," Jankowski said. "Never Back Down is the movement to get him there, and the team we’ve assembled is strong, with a depth of political experience to make history; 2024 is not 2016 — it’s a new day in the Republican Party.”

Chris Wilson, a Republican pollster at WPA Intelligence, will lead the data efforts for Never Back Down. He worked on Youngkin’s gubernatorial campaign, and served as director of research, analytics and digital strategy for the 2016 Cruz presidential campaign.

David Polyansky, Axiom’s chief strategy officer, will also join Never Back Down as a senior adviser. He previously worked as a senior adviser to the 2016 GOP presidential campaign of former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, as top adviser to the Cruz presidential campaign and as a Senate chief of staff to Cruz. He comes to the campaign with extensive Iowa experience, having worked as a top adviser to the 2014 campaign of Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst (R).

Two former communications advisers to Trump will also join the effort. On Monday, Matt Wolking, a deputy communications director for Trump’s 2020 campaign who works at Axiom, announced on Twitter that he was joining the group.

“Trump was the president we needed 8 years ago, but to make America great again, our movement needs a disciplined leader who wins instead of loses, never backs down, fights smart and puts the mission before himself,” Wolking wrote on Twitter.

He joins Erin Perrine, the director of press communications for the 2020 Trump campaign, who joined Never Back Down last week as communications director.

The group is raising money in smaller amounts that can be transferred to the DeSantis presidential campaign if he becomes a candidate. But it is also able to raise sums of unlimited value from wealthy donors and it can accept the more than $80 million that DeSantis has in his state political committee, if he chooses to transfer it.

DeSantis has been edging toward a presidential campaign in recent months, with visits to early nominating states like Iowa and Nevada, and a planned trip next month to New Hampshire. In a recent interview with British journalist Piers Morgan, DeSantis said he had not made a “final decision” and was going to focus for the moment on his work in Florida.

“I can tell you a lot of people realize the country is not going in the right direction and believe that what we’ve been able to do in Florida, if we can apply that nationally, we can get America back on track and back on our foundations,” DeSantis said.

2024 presidential candidates

Several major Republican candidates and three Democrats have officially declared they are running for their party’s 2024 presidential nomination, and plenty of others are making moves. We’re tracking 2024 presidential candidates here.

Republicans: Top contenders for the GOP 2024 nomination include former president Donald Trump, who announced in November, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Here is The Post’s ranking of the top 10 Republican presidential candidates for 2024.

Democrats: President Biden has officially announced he is running for reelection in 2024. Author Marianne Williamson and anti-vaccine advocate Robert Kennedy Jr., both long-shot candidates, are also seeking the Democratic nomination. Here is The Post’s ranking of the top 10 Democratic presidential candidates for 2024.