Picking up the pieces: DeSantis campaign chief draws criticism for jigsaw

Staff claim Scott Wagner was distracted by a giant jigsaw puzzle in the run up to the Republican presidential vote in Iowa
Staff claim Scott Wagner was distracted by a giant jigsaw puzzle in the run up to the Republican presidential vote in Iowa - Matt Dixon /Matt Dixon
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A key figure behind Ron DeSantis’s presidential bid has been criticised for doing a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle during a critical point in the Florida governor’s campaign.

Scott Wagner, head of the Never Back Down political action committee, has come under fire from staff within the group after Mr DeSantis finished in a distant second place in Iowa.

They shared a photograph with NBC News of Mr Wagner working on the puzzle at the group’s headquarters in West Des Moines, just days before the caucuses.

“Staffers are putting their dedication and devotion to electing Governor DeSantis and they come in and the CEO, the chairman of the organisation, is sitting there working on a puzzle for hours,” one member of the group said.

Mr Wagner told the network the puzzle was “there when we arrived” and “became a sense of pride for the entire team and everyone chipped in a few minutes a piece to get it done”.

“We worked non-stop together on operations in terrible weather conditions,” he added. “I am so proud of what we achieved in Iowa and will achieve beyond.”

The multi-million dollar Never Back Down operation had staked much of its capital on a strong showing in the first state to vote in the Republican nomination contest.

Ron DeSantis came a distant second to Donald Trump in the Iowa ballot
Ron DeSantis came a distant second to Donald Trump in the Iowa ballot - Randall Hill/REUTERS

Mr DeSantis was so confident of victory, he declared just last month: “We’re going to win Iowa”. However, he trailed Donald Trump, who secured 51 per cent of the vote, by 30 points.

It is just the latest criticism of Never Back Down, which entered the 2024 race with more than $80 million and spent huge sums recruiting staff to knock on hundreds of thousands of doors and make phone calls to potential voters in Iowa.

The New York Times suggested the effort “could go down as one of the most colossal bonfires of cash in American political history”.

Mr DeSantis’s political campaign group is now laying off staff as it shifts operations out of Iowa.

Throughout the latter half of last year several prominent Republican donors pulled or paused their contributions to the governor’s coffers as his poll numbers plateaued.

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