Ron DeSantis’s campaign has been predicated on his competence. Unlike the undisciplined Donald Trump, he won’t lash out on Twitter, get consumed by petty grudges, or even inspire an unruly mob to attack the US Capitol. Instead, DeSantis is running as the candidate who gets things done. He touts that he fights “the war on woke” and wins as he transformed the swing state of Florida into a Republican bastion.
Then, on Wednesday night, he announced his presidential candidacy on Twitter Spaces with Elon Musk and billionaire David Sacks.
To put it mildly, it was a disaster. The audio feed cut in and out, users were continually kicked off the app, and, for the first 20 minutes, all anyone could hear was feedback, wait music, and occasional crosstalk as Sacks and Musk tried to figure out just what was going on. It was chaos and anarchy.
Eventually, the Twitter Space was relaunched, and it eventually drew roughly 300,000 listeners at its peak as DeSantis largely read off a stump speech before engaging in a rather stilted conversation with Musk and Sacks that was interspersed with interjections from DeSantis supporters — like Steve Deace, a conservative personality, who was asked “Do you have a comment or question?” before receiving a reminder to unmute himself. Deace, like most of the handpicked guests on the Twitter Space, had both a comment and a question. During the event, Musk received almost as much praise as DeSantis as the conversation eventually drifted into Twitter-friendly topics like Bitcoin and DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion), a phrase that was never spelled out for those who had logged on but were not chronically online enough to get the reference.
Without any glitches, launching the campaign on a Twitter Space would have been bizarre. It was a medium where DeSantis was able to combine all the cliches of a conventional campaign speech with the visual appeal of a conference call. It attracted a cumulative audience that was smaller than he would have gotten on any single cable network, let alone a rollout that would have been covered live by all three and potential network television stations.
But with the bungled rollout, the size of the audience for DeSantis announcement became a side note. Instead, both the Biden campaign and the Trump campaign got to troll the Florida governor over the failure, and it became the dominant theme of the night. It was hard to think of a more bungled campaign announcement in recent times — save perhaps when, in 2015, Lincoln Chafee announced his presidential bid from a half-empty suburban Virginia college auditorium by urging the United States to adopt the metric system.
Afterward, DeSantis did some cleanup in a Fox News interview with his former congressional colleague Trey Gowdy of South Carolina. Gowdy served up basic policy questions for DeSantis to share his views on various topics from abortion to the environment to Ukraine. DeSantis actually advanced some substantive policy positions, pledging to remove FBI Director Christopher Wray from office on his first day as president and attacking the Federal Reserve for not simply focusing on “a stable dollar.” He touted familiar lines on the cultural war as well. “The woke mind virus is basically a form of cultural Marxism,” DeSantis told Gowdy. “At the end of the day, it’s an attack on the truth.”
But even DeSantis himself conceded what the headline of the day would be when the interview began, admitting that his announcement “did break the Twitter Space” after Gowdy joked that “I can’t promise you that I won’t crash, but Fox News will not crash during this interview.”
As embarrassing as the launch was, it wasn’t fatal. After all, there is more than half a year until the Iowa caucuses and, even by the standards of a normal presidential campaign, there are a remarkable number of variables in the 2024 GOP primary that could throw everything askew (after all, the frontrunner is under indictment). But, as the cliche goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. For millions of Americans, their introduction to Ron DeSantis as a presidential candidate will not be a chance to see him as a conservative culture warrior, nor as a Navy veteran and family man. Instead, they will first get to know him as the guy who screwed up his own campaign announcement.