Well, Ron DeSantis Is Sort of Competitive With Trump in One Way
Two (and a half?) indictments in—and with one on the way—Donald Trump is watching his legal troubles, and legal fees, pile up. And they’re eating into his campaign funds. The New York Times has reported that the Trump campaign is currently diverting 10 percent of donations to a political action committee Trump has used to pay his personal legal fees. That super PAC has already spent$56 million on legal bills so far.
While Trump stands alone when it comes to multiple federal criminal prosecutions, his top rival in the GOP presidential primary has also begun to rack up a pretty impressive rap sheet of ever-expanding legal troubles.
At the start of 2023, DeSantis had somehow outspent Trump, his $16.7 million in legal fees outpacing the $16 million in legal fees paid out by Trump’s super PAC. A recent filing shows that the cost of Trump’s various legal defenses paid by the super PAC more than tripled in the past few months. No similar reports have yet been filed for DeSantis’ latest tally, but, like Trump, the suits keep coming. As Politico recently marveled, Ron DeSantis’ “seeming never-ending torrent of lawsuits keeps flowing onward.”
Earlier this month, as rumors swirled of a third forthcoming Trump indictment, DeSantis picked up three new lawsuits in just one week, on matters ranging from the governor’s immigration policy to the state’s recent voting rights law passed via ballot measure. Per Politico’s Florida Playbook: “There are at least two dozen legal actions now swirling around in federal and state courts that contend that laws and actions of the 2024 presidential candidate violate constitutional rights, voting laws and citizen-approved standards for redistricting.”
Most of these are not criminal cases like Trump’s, but they’re substantial. For starters, DeSantis is in court, famously, opposite Disney. The Mouse sued in April after the governor moved to exert more control over Disney World in retaliation for Disney’s opposition to his infamous “Don’t Say Gay” law. DeSantis recently asked a federal judge to dismiss the case. The judge did not. DeSantis’ legal team has tried to claim that the governor should be immune from being sued.
DeSantis is also fighting costly court cases over personnel decisions and signature policies. He has fought multiple cases over his suspension of Andrew Warren, a democratically elected state attorney who said he wouldn’t enforce DeSantis’ abortion ban. (The Florida Supreme Court, which DeSantis infamously packed, ruled in his favor; the case is still pending in federal appeals court.) And DeSantis has also been sued over the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, abortion bans, and the prohibition of African American studies. It’s anticipated there may be further lawsuits coming over his stunt earlier this year in which Central and South American migrants were flown to California and Martha’s Vineyard. The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office in Texas already recommended felony criminal charges against the DeSantis administration to the local district attorney over the transport of those migrants out of Texas.
DeSantis has projected confidence in a number of these cases, just as Trump has with his own legal troubles. And just as Trump has his own judicial appointees throughout the federal judiciary, surely hoping he can count on them for loyalty—Judge Aileen Cannon in the documents case in south Florida is a prime example—DeSantis has loyalists in the Florida Supreme Court he personally packed. And the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta, where DeSantis has had to show up frequently, is known for its conservative bent.
But the governor has already seen a number of setbacks in many cases. More distractingly, a number of the lawsuits look likely to extend well into the formal Republican primary calendar and drag on into the general 2024 election, if DeSantis does indeed make it that far.
So far, the biggest problem posed by DeSantis’ myriad legal troubles is that of time. Even with the best legal teams, DeSantis will need to direct at least some attention to the two dozen or so cases, many of which will be argued and decided during primary season—when he, in theory, should be committing all his energy to the campaign trail.
Money may eventually be an issue, too. Florida taxpayers, whether they know it or not, have generously sponsored the governor’s legal bills. The Republican supermajority in the state’s Legislature allocated $16 million of the state’s $117 billion budget exclusively for use in DeSantis’ own litigation expenses. Many of those cases are ongoing, with new ones being added to the docket all the time. In other words, it looks like that $16 million is merely a down payment.
It’s not clear just how much largesse the state GOP has in reserve. If DeSantis is required to take a page out of the Trump playbook and redirect his campaign funds to his legal defense fund, that could be yet another drain on DeSantis’ vanishing presidential hopes. The governor has already blown through his ill-gotten fundraising advantage at an astonishing rate, and can hardly afford to waste money on things that aren’t prime-time TV ads or paying for door knockers as he tries to manufacture something that looks like grassroots support.
A keen, dispassionate eye might observe that Republicans would probably be best served by nominating a presidential candidate who does not have to redirect millions of campaign dollarsto his own legal fees (or those of his allies), and who does not need to jump on and off the campaign trail for constant visits to the courthouse.
But, hey, as his polling gets worse, legal bills might be one area where DeSantis can accurately claim to be competitive with Trump!