CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Never Back Down, the main super PAC backing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign, installed its third chief executive officer in less than two weeks on Friday, according to five people familiar with the latest development in the slow-motion shake-up.
Scott Wagner, a longtime DeSantis loyalist, took over as chairman and CEO of the super PAC. Two of the people familiar with the move said Wagner is serving as CEO in an interim capacity.
Wagner replaced interim CEO Kristin Davison, who was let go, the sources said. Davison, a key strategist for Never Back Down since its inception, lasted nine days in the top job after the original CEO, Chris Jankowski, stepped down from the role late last month.
Davison did not respond to NBC News’ request for comment. Erin Perrine, a spokesperson for Never Back Down, did not return a phone call seeking comment. Her profile on the social media site X no longer mentions Never Back Down.
The switch at the top of Never Back Down was first reported by P olitico on Saturday night.
Behind-the-scenes super PAC staff moves wouldn’t normally merit much attention. But Never Back Down — launched before DeSantis entered the campaign and in large part funded through transfers from his Florida political account, as well as contributions from his top donors — has played an outsize role in DeSantis’ bid for the presidency, often overshadowing the official campaign.
And the chaos at the super PAC reflects frustration within DeSantis’ orbit about his failure to gain traction in the Republican primary.
He is running a distant second to former President Donald Trump in national polls and is now trying to fend off Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor, in Iowa before the first-in-the-nation caucuses on Jan. 15. Haley is in second place in New Hampshire and South Carolina, according to multiple polls.
On Nov. 21, NBC News re vealed a fight between Wagner and Jeff Roe, the top Never Back Down consultant, that nearly turned physical.
“You have a stick up your a–, Scott,” Roe told Wagner, then just a member of the Never Back Down board.
“Why don’t you come over here and get it?” Wagner responded, as he rose from his chair, according to a person who was in the room. Wagner was ultimately restrained by fellow board members.
But Wagner has gained the upper hand — for what that’s worth — at Never Back Down. DeSantis’ disappointment with the super PAC led to the creation last month of a second super PAC, Fight Right, that is now handling outside advertising boosting his campaign. And Davison’s departure is a clear blow to Roe’s influence, as she was a top deputy at his firm, Axiom, before joining Never Back Down as its chief operating officer.
The timing came as DeSantis was celebrating his completion Saturday of a 99-county tour of Iowa that was underwritten by Never Back Down and largely conducted on a bus bearing the super PAC’s branding.
Dasha Burns reported from Cedar Rapids; Matt Dixon reported from Tallahassee, Florida; Jonathan Allen reported from Tilghman, Maryland.
Dasha Burns is a correspondent for NBC News.
Matt Dixon is a senior national politics reporter for NBC News, based in Florida.
Jonathan Allen is a senior national politics reporter for NBC News, based in Washington.