Don’t Blame a Puzzle for the Demise of Ron DeSantis’ Campaign

In defense of the jigsaw-loving head of DeSantis’ super-PAC.

After dropping out of the presidential race, Ron DeSantis looks like a guy ready for a relaxing hobby.Justin Lane/Zuma

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Hours before Ron DeSantis officially dropped out of the race on Sunday, NBC News published a nearly 4,000-word autopsy of his failed campaign that highlighted a fun detail: Scott Wagner, the head of DeSantis’ super-PAC, which played a major role in the Florida governor’s disastrous Iowa bid, spent “a significant amount of time in the precious final few days constructing a peaceful 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle of a landscape.” That’s according to PAC staffers apparently eager to badmouth their now former boss.

The story even features a picture of Wagner working on the puzzle, while around him colleagues dutifully type on their laptops. The puzzle in question appears to be called “Moon Cabin Retreat,” available for $17.99 from Target.

The article links Wagner’s puzzle work to larger problems that helped to bring down the Florida governor’s White House run: “The fact that one of the top people in charge of securing a win for DeSantis in Iowa was spending time on something unrelated to the caucuses was emblematic of the mismanagement and wasted efforts that many of DeSantis’ own supporters say have plagued the campaign from the very beginning.”

Maybe. But let’s be clear. This one dude working on a puzzle isn’t the reason DeSantis’ campaign crashed. And Wagner’s puzzle procrastination is pretty relatable—especially for those of us who know what it’s like to get sucked into those things. It makes Wagner likable. That’s a quality notably lacking in DeSantis, a guy famous for interpersonal awkwardness who based his campaign on acts of performative dickishness, like using Florida’s funds to fly migrants without their consent from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard. DeSantis’ staff, including press aides in Tallahassee who regularly attacked reporters critically covering culture war politics like his “Don’t Say Gay” law and book bans, could probably all have benefited from chilling out and doing some puzzles with a nonbinary friend or perhaps a librarian.

Wagner told NBC that the “office 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.” He added: “I could not be more proud of every person in our Iowa office.” Would you rather hang out with that high-road taker or the sanctimonious aide who anonymously told NBC, “Staffers are putting their dedication and devotion to electing Gov. DeSantis and they come in and the CEO…is sitting there working on a puzzle for hours.”

Another point in favor of Wagner’s puzzle work. It’s legal! The head of a super-PAC working hand-in-hand with a presidential campaign, on the other hand, is not. Election laws bar PACs from coordinating with campaigns. DeSantis’ PAC, Never Back Down, made a mockery of those laws, which the FEC has long been unable to effectively enforce, by largely funding the candidate’s ground game, seeming to openly coordinate with his campaign, and reportedly helping to pay for his flights. From the perspective of following the letter of the law, Wagner not busily taking charge of DeSantis’ Iowa push in the final days of the campaign seems like a good thing.

Donald Trump, of course, trounced DeSantis in Iowa. The NBC story doesn’t report if Wagner and his staff finished their office puzzle. But it would be nice to think that they at least got that done.

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Our team has been on fire lately—publishing sweeping, one-of-a-kind investigations, ambitious, groundbreaking projects, and even releasing “the holy shit documentary of the year.” And that’s on top of protecting free and fair elections and standing up to bullies and BS when others in the media don’t.

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