The main super PAC supporting Ron DeSantis’s presidential campaign has been rocked by another significant departure, as Adam Laxalt, a friend and former roommate of the Florida governor, has stepped down as chairman of the group.
Mr. Laxalt, who unsuccessfully ran to become a Republican senator in Nevada in 2022, lived with Mr. DeSantis when he was training as a naval officer. He joined Never Back Down in April, soon after his own campaign ended and before Mr. DeSantis officially joined the presidential race, in a move that was widely seen as Mr. DeSantis and his wife seeking to have someone they trusted monitoring the activities of the well-funded group. He also suffered the unexpected death of his mother over the summer, a friend said.
“After nearly 26 straight months of being in a full-scale campaign, I need to return my time and attention to my family and law practice,” Mr. Laxalt wrote in a letter to the board on Nov. 26 that was reviewed by The New York Times. He said in the note that he was still committed to Mr. DeSantis’s becoming president.
The departure represents the second major departure from Never Back Down in the last two weeks. On the eve of Thanksgiving, the group’s chief executive, Chris Jankowski, resigned. In a statement put out by the group after the resignation, Mr. Jankowski said that his differences at the group went “well beyond” strategic arguments, without explaining more.
It was Mr. Laxalt who announced that Kristin Davison, previously the chief operating officer, would replace Mr. Jankowski in an email that evening. “We look forward to hitting the ground running with all of you after the holiday,” Mr. Laxalt wrote.
But now Mr. Laxalt is gone, as well.
With the Iowa caucuses less than seven weeks away, people associated with the DeSantis campaign encouraged the creation of a new outside group called Fight Right to take over negative attacks on his closest competition in the nomination contest, former Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina.
The DeSantis campaign has embraced Fight Right, which was created in November by three of the governor’s allies in Florida. In a memo on Monday, Mr. DeSantis’s campaign manager, James Uthmeier, outlined how he envisioned a division of responsibility between the two groups, with Fight Right responsible for television ads and Never Back Down continuing its door-knocking operation.
Mr. DeSantis and his wife, Casey, have expressed discontent with some of Never Back Down’s advertising, according to people familiar with their private comments. The group had been portrayed as essentially a shadow campaign, and has been paying for some of Mr. DeSantis’s travels. But over time, the candidate and his wife have complained about the group to associates, according to people familiar with the comments. More recently, people familiar with the matter said that certain ads the group ran tying Ms. Haley to China had backfired and rebounded on the candidate.
“We are blessed to have both an NBD-army and Fight Right-air force out there fighting for us,” Mr. Uthmeier wrote. The memo also said that Fight Right had announced “minimal overhead, and 100 percent of contributions go direct to TV ads” — a notable point of emphasis amid questions about Never Back Down’s spending.
Still, the group was initially seeded with a transfer of $1 million from Never Back Down, a move that another Never Back Down official, Ken Cuccinelli, questioned in an email to other members of the group that he asked to be preserved as part of the board’s records. He called the funding plans “exceedingly objectionable” in the email.
Never Back Down had initially been funded with $82.5 million from Mr. DeSantis’s leftover political funds from his 2022 re-election campaign. On Monday, Mr. DeSantis met with prospective donors for the new group, Fight Right, in Palm Beach, according to a person familiar with his schedule.