Anatomy of a Lie: What Team DeSantis Really Said About Abortion in a Secret Donor Meeting

On Friday, The National Pulse editor-in-chief Raheem Kassam published a story about leaked audio of a donor strategy meeting for Ron DeSantis’s presidential campaign where Kassam claims, “DeSantis strategists” confided in donors that the governor was really a moderate whose campaign would shift gears after the primary from a pro-life position to an embrace of Bill Clinton’s politically pragmatic mantra that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare.”

Soon after the publication of the National Pulse story, President Trump linked it on his Truth Social Account.

However, after listening to the entire call and correctly identifying the speakers, it is clear that the National Pulse story got it 100% wrong.

The story, which President Trump retweeted and which has been going viral on social media is, to use a term often used by the former president, nothing but fake news.

We break it dow for you in detail below.

CLAIM: DeSantis’s position is keeping abortion decisions at a state level (following Trump’s position)

The primary presenter in the audio, identified as pollster Ryan Tyson by Florida Politics and Business Insider, says that DeSantis’s “position is while he understands that there are ways that the federal government can be helpful to preserve life, the best way that you will preserve life is at the state level. If the federal government starts getting involved with abortion, then it’s actually going to open up the door for Democrats to roll back pro-life reforms in many states across the country.”

First, we see that this summary does not confine abortion to the states, but recognizes a federal role while also recognizing that states are taking the lead. Which is obviously true—nationwide equal protection of the preborn must absolutely be the long-term goal, but as a practical matter any federal abortion ban must contend with either the constitutional amendment process or overcoming the Senate’s sixty-vote filibuster threshold. So pro-lifers up to and including our presidents absolutely need to keep standing for the destination, while recognizing that we’re a long way from having an electorate willing to make it possible.

More importantly, Tyson was not purporting to relay DeSantis’s private thoughts, but to summarize an answer DeSantis gave on Fox, which is publicly available for people to review for themselves. And Tyson didn’t get it quite right.

What DeSantis said was that “Dobbs returned the issue to the elected representatives of the people, and so I think that there’s a role for both the federal and the states. I think that at the end of the day, fighting for life and protecting life really is a bottom-up movement, I think we’ve been able to have great successes at the local level.” He went on to say he was “concerned about a Democratic administration with a trifecta trying to nationalize abortion all the way up until birth” and “override every single pro-life protection in this country and allow abortion all the way up to the moment of birth,” but at no point did he suggest federal pro-life action would somehow give Democrats an opening to do so.

DeSantis then rejected the suggestion that some states protecting life while others allowing unlimited abortion was some unavoidable “price you pay for federalism,” saying instead there is “just a practical reality that the country’s just divided on the issue, and so the question is, how are you going to be able to save more lives, and I think obviously Idaho’s gonna be able to do a lot on their own, they would not be able to do as much if they ran it all through Washington, D.C. So some of this is a matter of strategy, some of it is a matter of what you could do to be able to advance the ball forward.”

Is it possible DeSantis thinks federal abortion restrictions would somehow “open up the door for Democrats”?

That would be unlikely given (a) his express recognition of a federal role, (b) he voted for every federal pro-life measure that reached the floor during his time in Congress, and (c) he obviously understands the Left well enough to know they would codify Roe v. Wade the moment they had the votes to do so, regardless of what pro-lifers do first.

Pro-life groups will seek greater elaboration from all the candidates in the weeks to come, via meetings, candidate surveys, written pledges, etc. But unless DeSantis’s responses hold an unpleasant surprise (in which case he should be criticized), this pro-lifer sees no cause for alarm.

CLAIM: “the Governor will shift to the middle during a general election

The first tell that something was amiss in the National Pulse story should have been that, despite Kassam putting “the Middle” in quotation marks, the actual quote is “you have to win a primary before you win a general,” which Kassam then editorializes “is political campaign speak for ‘we’ll move to the middle after we win the nomination.’” In fact, Tyson actually rejects any such pivot, telling its advocates that they’re describing a Nikki Haley or Asa Hutchinson candidacy, and that such candidates “just don’t have enough math.”

Tyson explains that Democrats will try to make abortion an issue “regardless of what your position is,” and that chasing pro-abortion votes is a fool’s errand because if, during a “historic recession,” you are still “voting on the issue of abortion as one of the top two issues, our data suggests that person has a very high correlation with typical Democrat voting behavior.” Most importantly, he makes the case against letting the GOP’s 2022 midterm underperformance scare candidates away from firm pro-life stands, and that abortion is only a “kill shot if you’re a piss-poor candidate,” whereas “if you’re a good candidate you can survive that.” 

So what was initially billed as audio of Team DeSantis echoing Trump’s weakness on the issue was actually audio of Team DeSantis articulating the antidote.

CLAIM: The campaign’s position on abortion can be described as safe, legal, and rare in Florida – a stunning deployment of President Bill Clinton’s infamous pro-abortion catchphrase.

“During the session, the hosts – including DeSantis pollster Ryan Tyson amongst others – can be heard lauding this a ‘major step forward for the Republican Party in moving to the middle [on abortion].’”

The most shocking allegation of the story is also the most telling example of Kassam’s dishonest coverage of the leaked donor meeting.

In fact, the pro-abortion, Clinton-inspired comments did not come from any of “the hosts” like the story says. As not only reported in the aforementioned Florida Politics story but also attested to by at least two attendees of the event—John Cardillo and Hal Lambert—the offending comments came from a donor in the audience musing about how to attract pro-abortion donors.

How does the actual DeSantis representative respond? By rejecting the donor’s suggestion.

“We don’t tell our candidate what his principles should be,” he says. “That’s not how it works. Our candidate, our Governor, he is who he is […] I totally understand how difficult that is when you’re talking to a pro-choice donor,” but “one of the things I’ve said for a long time is if we want a man in the White House capable of standing up to Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, we want him to be able to stand up to donor pressure on issues that are difficult.”

We don’t tell our candidate what his principles should be,” he says. “That’s not how it works. Our candidate, our Governor, he is who he is […] I totally understand how difficult that is when you’re talking to a pro-choice donor,” but “one of the things I’ve said for a long time is if we want a man in the White House capable of standing up to Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, we want him to be able to stand up to donor pressure on issues that are difficult.

DeSantis Campaign

When called out by Cardillo, Kassam updated the story to include his quote about who really made the pro-abortion comments, while disingenuously insisting that “The National Pulse did not attribute the comments to Mr. Tyson” (which conveniently sidesteps the clear attribution of the comments to someone on the campaign team).

However, Kassam then updated it a second time to remove the bolded “Update” note before Cardillo’s quote, then, bizarrely, a third time to remove Cardillo’s quote, and replace it with a convoluted attempt at damage control that must be seen to be believed—apparently in a fit of pique over Cardillo not letting Kassam get away with gaslighting that his eyewitness account “didn’t materially change the report.”

To summarize: every intended takeaway of this report by the National Pulse reads like a hit job, and is easily proven as being materially false.

What was originally presented as a smoking gun that one of the boldest conservative leaders in a generation is secretly an establishment squish, turned out to be a display of Team DeSantis making the very case against capitulation that pro-lifers have wanted Republicans to understand and articulate for years.

Why would Kassam tell such easily-disprovable lies? 

Two reasons: because he was counting on people not actually listening and closely analyzing the audio and because Kassam doesn’t actually respect the MAGA base he pretends to represent.

Kassam, who can be described as an “only Trumper,” just wanted some red meat to create a viral story and promote himself and his website.

Many of Trump’s 2024 supporters are Americans who have lost trust in the institutions which used to do the difficult work of scrutinizing information to ensure ethical standards. These Americans have seen the government weaponized against political opponents and have rallied, with blind faith, to the defense of those who they view as the victims of unfair persecution.

Unfortunately, unethical media is not a monopoly of the radical left and journalists and media outlets like the National Pulse are just as willing to manipulate the truth to promote themselves and get clicks.

In essence, journalists like Raheem Kassam routinely show as little respect for the American patriots who make up much of the MAGA movement as do the legacy media.

Unfortunately, much of the betrayal of the MAGA base can be traced back to President Trump and his 2024 campaign in their desire to attack a formidable political rival like Ron DeSantis.

The Trump campaign has demonstrably lied about DeSantis supporting amnesty, supporting the First Step Act, handling COVID-19 worse than Andrew Cuomo, closing beaches, enacting forced vaccinations, opposing a border wall, and even potentially taking sexual advantage of teenage girls as a teacher

On Sunday, Trump himself promoted the Pulse story on Truth Social, more than 24 hours after it was debunked.

Many on the Right who should know better are finding it lucrative to pander blindly to Trump’s campaign in order to boost their video and page views, to monetize premium content subscriptions, to sell books and drive merchandise sales. Still more—including the leading lights of conservative radio and television—avoid confronting it or picking sides for fear of alienating their Trumpier listeners.

This is the corruption American pro-life patriots are up against: a perfect storm of opportunistic dishonesty and political cowardice.

If pro-life Americans are to have any hope of a more honest, more effective pro-life political movement, we will have to pick up the slack and expose these lies, no matter how the truth might reflect on any candidate.

1 comment on “Anatomy of a Lie: What Team DeSantis Really Said About Abortion in a Secret Donor Meeting

  1. Frank Perry says:

    Thank you for this story and the explanations in it.

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