By Myra Adams – RealClearPolitics Contributor
File this discussion under “Zany 40-second political ad/opposition mind-games.” That is an apt description of a web ad recently reported by Axios under the headline “ ‘Ron’s coming for you’: New ad pits DeSantis against Trump for donor dollars.”
The ad’s snarky female narrator scoffs at and demeans the former president. He is called a “loser,” “old news,” “weak,” and “pathetic” as the narrator asserts that Donald Trump is declining while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is rising — and taking Trump’s donors in the process.
Indeed, DeSantis is widely considered a GOP rising star. Republicans believe he will cruise to reelection in 2022 and is a top-tier contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024. But, accusations that the governor is “taking” Trump’s donors are false, since both men have recently reported robust fundraising.
And while it is plausible that this taunting ad might incite a Trump tirade behind closed doors, its main objective is “to end Ron DeSantis’s political career” — according to Daniel Uhlfelder, the man behind the spot in a call this week with RealClearPolitics.
Uhlfelder is the controversial Florida attorney who founded Remove Ron, the political committee that financed the ad. Uhlfelder is controversial because in the spring of 2020, he made national headlines costumed as the “Grim Reaper” amid the first COVID-19 surge (more on that below).
Uhlfelder stated that since his organization started in February, “we have received $250,000 in donations from over 7,000 small contributors who keep giving.” He also said that Remove Ron has raised approximately $11,000 since its new ad was released on July 28, an amount that is “increasing daily.” The ad has nearly 67,000 views on Twitter with the message, “Donald Trump can’t stand this ad, so retweet it and ruin his day.”
Here is the provocative script:
“We tried to warn you — DON-ALD.
Ron’s coming for you — and now he’s taking your donors.
They’ve given millions more to Ron than you — DON-ALD
It’s because they know you are weak, old news, pathetic. It’s clear they don’t want to give to losers like you — DON-ALD.
How will you compete with Ron in 2024 if he wins in 2022?
He has your supporters, your merch, and your donors.
You’d better stop Ron — DON-ALD — before he stops you.”
When Uhlfelder and I discussed the strategy behind the ad, he asked, “Who is the one person on the planet who can take down DeSantis?” Uhlfelder believes the answer is Trump, who “got Ron where he is, and now Ron appears to be eclipsing Trump.” Uhlfelder explained the “ad’s purpose is clear” — to facilitate a growing divide between the two, hoping that both will implode since “either of them will damage the country.”
It’s no surprise that the Remove Ron donation platform is ActBlue — the Democrats’ comprehensive grass-roots donor site. (The success of ActBlue prompted the Republican National Committee to launch “WinRed” in 2019.)
With the 2022 gubernatorial election centuries away in political time, Uhlfelder says his organization is “building infrastructure for its message” He adds that “our approach is both traditional and creative” — emphasis on “creative” given Uhlfelder’s flair for theatrics. As alluded to earlier, he donned a black-hooded Grim Reaper costume and walked Florida beaches when Gov. DeSantis refused to close them during the initial pandemic outbreak. Several national broadcast networks gave him publicity that he later parlayed into Remove Ron.
(Over a year later, Uhlfelder is dealing with “Grim Reaper” legal repercussions. A June Tallahassee Democrat headline read: “Judge tries to untangle case of ‘Grim Reaper’ lawyer accused of ‘unprofessional conduct.’ ”)
In February, Uhlfelder goaded the 2021 CPAC gathering in Orlando by paying for an airplane banner message proclaiming, “Welcome Insurrectionists!” (as reported by Mediaite). And in May, local television news reported that Uhlfelder again hired a plane to fly a banner, this time over an Orlando federal courthouse with the message “Tick Tock Matt Gaetz” — insinuating that the congressman would soon be charged with sex trafficking of a minor. As of this writing, Gaetz has not been charged.
With Uhlfelder’s “Grim Reaper” days behind him, his Trump/DeSantis ad campaign is keeping him and Remove Ron in the news. Four ads are linked to on the organization’s website, including the one referenced above and another released on July 1 when Trump held a rally in Sarasota.
Uhlfelder proudly said that “in only six months, the success of Remove Ron shows there is a movement of interested and concerned voters around the country” because “the Florida gubernatorial race will be the premier election of 2022, not just for Florida, but for the future of the nation.”
Uhlfelder is convinced that DeSantis will lose, especially with his recent COVID response amid rising case numbers. He notes that “Trump winning Florida in 2020 does not mean that DeSantis will win in 2022.” Later, Uhlfelder sent me a new poll showing DeSantis’s reelection prospects could be in trouble given declining job approval ratings.
Uhlfelder circled back to Trump and predicted a clash: “Trump is motivated by power and money. DeSantis infringes upon both, and Trump has no loyalty to DeSantis.”
I asked Roger Stone to weigh in on Uhlfelder’s efforts since Stone is an expert on Trump and politics in Florida — his adopted home state. Stone replied:
“Donald Trump’s dominance of the Republican Party at the grassroots level is both overwhelming and complete. This ham-handed effort to foment turmoil between former President Trump and Gov. DeSantis is both obvious and transparent. In truth, DeSantis cannot succeed in moving to a national leadership position in the party without the support of President Trump. And I believe that he is smart enough to know that. President Trump has raised over $100 million since leaving the White House. I seriously doubt if he is concerned about DeSantis encroaching on his fundraising capability. The bottom line on the ad: too clever by half.”
Finally, with COVID raging in Florida and DeSantis resisting mask mandates in his commitment “to keep Florida free,” I asked Uhlfelder if he is itching to don his Grim Reaper costume in the Florida summer heat to keep the “heat” on DeSantis.
“I can’t because the costume is hanging at the History Miami Museum,” he said. “They called and asked if I would donate it, so I did.”
Uhlfelder’s efforts may not impact the results of Florida’s gubernatorial election next year or who wins the GOP nomination in 2024. However, he represents today’s grassroots “anything goes” politics-as-entertainment, playing on a vast Florida stage and capturing the attention of local and national media.
Myra Adams is a media producer and writer with numerous national credits.