He needs her. She has, say some of his most reliable allies, what he doesnt. He sometimes handles the face-to-face retail part of politics with the grace and pace of that robot from Short Circuit. Handshake, handshake, handshake. Smile, smile, smile. Picture, picturewant a picture? The smallest of small talk makes him fiddle with his wedding ring. Rope lines might as well be zip lines. He knows he has to do it, so he does, but sometimes it seems like he just wants to find the quickest way back to the back of the SUV.
Its not only constituents and would-be supporters. Donors grouse they too infrequently hear from him just to chitchat in between the cutting of checks.
Its true, one donor told me. He does less donor maintenance than anyone I know of at his level. I raised half a million bucks for him. Its hard for me to get him on the phone. Literally, Ive got, you know, six senators and two governors that I can get to call me back within 24 hoursno problem. And he doesnt call you backitll take two or three times.
Kent Stermon, on a short list of DeSantis good friends, last year recalled for me a fundraiser in St. Augustine when DeSantis was in Congress. We get there, and he gets in the corner with me, and theres a long line of people waiting to say hi to him, he said. But DeSantis stayed there talking with Stermon about baseball cards. Not just any baseball cards. The 1987 Topps baseball card set, Stermon said, and whether I felt like the fact that it was overproduced changed the value of baseball cards forever. And he was going on for 15 minutes about it. Stermon could see the people with the deep pockets getting impatient. DeSantis didnt appear to care.
Said a Florida Republican strategist: I dont think he views fundraising as a priority.
He doesnt. Im not just calling people up all the time. My view is Im just doing my job, DeSantis said in his office last summer. If someone wants to support me, its just work harddo a good job.
And its not just donors. Its everybody.
People whove been with DeSantis in those SUVs or on flights on the state plane say hes loath to fill those hours (as many pols do) with call time.
They know the seven people they need to call when theyre in the car for the next 21 minutes, said a donor whos spent a good bit of time with DeSantis.
Whats DeSantis doing instead? I asked.
He sits there and stares into space, said a close associate.
You will be in the car with Ron DeSantis, and hell say nothing to you for an hour, this person said. He would prefer it that way.
Casey DeSantis is one of the most empathetic, charming, delightful human beings Ive ever been around. She has a Jackie O quality.
Christmas parties at the governors mansion? Said a regular attendee: He doesnt look like he wants to be there.
If youre this close with him, youre going to get your feelings hurt every once in a while, Stermon told me. But you learn its worth it. He admitted that it sounds strange. People who know him the best and are around him the most struggle to explain it. Theres no malice, they insist. Its not that hes mean. Its just that he cant. Its not how hes wired. I love my computer, said the senior DeSantis official. But I dont go to my computer for a hug.
It can be different, though, when his wife is around. He is better with her, said Gwen Graham, usually reluctant to say much of anything positive about DeSantis. When shes around, hes happier. Hes just more engaged.
We all have liabilities and weaknesses as human beings and one of the best ways to address your liabilities is to find a partner in life who has all of them as incredible strengths. And Casey DeSantis is one of the most empathetic, charming, delightful human beings Ive ever been around. She has a Jackie O quality, Gaetz told me.
Shes very smart, probably the most intuitive person Ive ever met, DeSantis told me last year. Just with her television career, she understands introducing me at a speechshe understands how to do that. Shes got no stage fright, at all, because she did this for years and years, in front of the camera.
And so now, after DeSantis was done talking at the lectern in front of the tents with the vaccines, the two of them walked toward the children pressed against the fence. Good to see you guys, DeSantis said in that nasal voice. His wife followed, careful to not let her heels sink too deep into the dirt and the grass. Im Casey, she said sweetly to the group, and this is Madison. The kids clustered close, and they took picture after picture, the governor shaking hand after hand.