“I think it was handled incredibly poorly,” said one Scott campaign official, who found out after others alerted him to Scott’s interview on Fox News.
Few of this year’s long-running presidential campaigns began the cycle with as much optimism as Scott. The South Carolina senator carried with him not only a sunny disposition but a well-honed acumen for raising hard-earned dollars and the admiration of his colleagues and constituents. His departure Sunday night illustrates the difficulties of translating a candidate who seems strong on paper into someone who can actually hit those marks.
For several weeks, there was a feeling that things were not going well. At a private lunch in Scott’s home state last week, a table of political operatives and longtime allies discussed the campaign’s worst crises. According to a lunch attendee, an associate jokingly asked if the campaign would last another 12 days.
No one expected it to be three.
Last weekend was quiet in the campaign. In the hours before his televised announcement, Scott spoke with various advisers without indicating any plans to call things off. Other members of Scott’s team conducted calls that day about ballot access and delegate operations. Scott still had plans to visit Iowa this week. Fundraising emails were going out minutes before Scott went on the air with longtime friend Trey Gowdy.
And then, suddenly, it all came to a standstill.
On Sunday night, Scott told two campaign staffers — campaign manager Jennifer DeGasper and communications director Nathan Brand — of his plans to leave, according to a senior adviser who spoke on condition of anonymity to speak freely. Other groups, including top advisers, found themselves bombarded with messages on live television or on their phones.
“The tears I saw in the mirror on my cheeks, because I never wanted to let down a team that sacrificed for this cause, for this cause, for lunch and friendship, so that you could work hard. For this country and through me,” Scott said in a zoom immediately after his announcement. told his team on the call, according to a recording obtained by POLITICO. He was scheduled to visit staff at campaign headquarters on Monday.
Tearing into the call, DeGasper, a longtime aide to Scott, who is running his first presidential campaign, assured employees that they would receive more information about their severance packages on Monday. She said, “I’ll take care of everything.” Scott himself assured the group that “when we get out of this campaign, we’re not going to cut you off,” and that we’ll “do everything we can to take care of the people here.”
Since Sunday night, Scott has spoken by phone with Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis and Chris Christie and exchanged text messages with fellow South Carolinian Nikki Haley, according to a person familiar with the calls who spoke on condition of anonymity to speak about them.
As of late last week, the campaign had about $5 million in cash on hand, according to two people familiar with the operations. But without the previously anticipated financial support of Scott’s billionaire friend, tech guru Larry Ellison, the super PAC supporting Scott’s effort was forced to make significant cuts to its programs. According to a person familiar with the super PAC’s finances, Mission PAC’s cash balance has dwindled to less than two million dollars in recent weeks. A spokesperson for TIM PAC did not immediately confirm or deny its financial position.
After setting aside nearly $40 million worth of ad time ahead of the Iowa caucuses, the outside spending committee cut nearly all of its fall ad bookings a month ago.
Money was not the primary driver of Scott’s decision, despite lackluster third-quarter campaign fundraising, according to several campaign advisers. But Scott figured there was no point in fanning what was left of the fire, a senior campaign adviser said on condition of anonymity to speak freely.
According to AdImpact, payments for the next round of TV ad bookings are due Monday, and the campaign spent more than $400,000 on television last week alone. Costing tens of thousands of dollars in each state, Scott ran into more state filing deadlines to secure access to the ballot.
All this could go towards paying employees on holidays, the senior adviser said.
But as of Monday afternoon, employees were left wondering how much longer their salaries would continue.
And many others joined the wider world of Scott allies in questioning why the senator chose to handle his exit the way he did.
Several staffers have already moved from South Carolina to Iowa after the campaign announced last month that Scott was moving to the first caucus state. Additional waves of employee transfers are planned before and after Thanksgiving, according to two people familiar with the plans.
“I’ve seen the City Council run better campaigns,” said one GOP operative who backed Scott in the primary. “A lot of people were pissed off last night. Giving your staff 30 minutes’ notice and having a conference call beforehand is the right thing to do. It’s typical of the whole effort.”
On a Sunday night call with staff, Scott, who was re-elected to the Senate last year, teased that he might try again in a future presidential run.
“When I said ‘not now, Tim,’ I believe the voters said ‘never,'” Scott told staff after his announcement. “So we will work every day to ensure that ‘not now’ becomes sooner rather than later.”