If the medium is the message, the message was a mess.
Ron DeSantis’s presidential announcement started with Twitter Spaces going down for 20-plus minutes that felt more like 20-plus years. It only improved moderately from there.
Twitter boss Elon Musk had billed a 6pm ET start with the slogan, “Preparing to Launch.” But the joke on Twitter soon became, “Failure to Launch.” Joe Biden even trolled DeSantis and Musk, tweeting “this link works” while linking to a Biden-Harris donation page. (When Biden dunks on you…)
Tech glitches happen, but this was a very important and much anticipated event. The big threat for DeSantis is that this becomes a sort of metaphor for a campaign that, even before the failure to launch, already felt like it had exploded on the launch pad.
The good news is that Twitter Spaces eventually worked. But we were left with DeSantis, whose opening remarks sounded like he was reading a bad script. Much of what he had to say was trite, although the line about “the woke mind virus” (which he would later repeat on Fox News) was both weird and memorable.
For those hoping DeSantis would finally take the fight to Donald Trump, DeSantis continued his trend of not mentioning or confronting his former ally, while occasionally subtly “subtweeting” him, as it were.
This strategy seemed to be telegraphed earlier on Wednesday by a quote Jeff Roe, the top consultant for DeSantis’s Super PAC, gave The New York Times: “Well, you beat Trump by beating Trump. And where Ron DeSantis has beaten Trump is by doing what Republican voters want him to do the most.”
Roe’s theory assumes that GOP primary voters prioritize conservative legislative accomplishments. It sounds plausible, but is there any evidence? Not really.
DeSantis has spent the last several months fighting “woke ideology,” and passing conservative legislation in Florida. Yet, during that time, DeSantis has only lost ground to Trump.
Back to the “announcement.” DeSantis was joined by Musk and David Sacks, who moderated questions from prominent supporters like Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), Chris Ruffo, Dana Loesch, and Iowa radio host Steve Deace. They mostly back slapped DeSantis and Musk, while lobbing softballs.
A good bit of time was devoted to focusing on how “historic” this announcement was (despite the fact that it was a glorified radio broadcast that didn’t really work), how Twitter is a “bastion of free speech,” and how bad “corporate media” is.
It’s entirely possible that Musk was implicitly praised more than DeSantis.
So why did DeSantis choose to launch his campaign on a platform that even I, a habitual tweeter, had never before utilized. Was it brave and innovative, or stupid and weird?
There is speculation that this was an attempt for Twitter to displace Fox News as the cool place for a new generation of cool, young right-wingers in the vein of DeSantis and Musk. After all, Tucker Carlson is reportedly moving there. That explains why Musk would want to do this, but I’m not sure why DeSantis would go along with it.
Another theory: DeSantis is very online, which is to say he is too online.
The problem with being very online is that most Americans aren’t. Twitter is not the real world, yet for many of us, it feels like it is. This distorts our perception, which is a bad problem for a politician to have.
I mean, do normal Americans love Elon Musk, or do they think he’s a weird foreigner? I’m not sure (because I’m on Twitter). Have they even heard of David Sacks? Seems unlikely.
That didn’t stop DeSantis from using terms like “the narrative,” “Bitcoin,” “ESGs” “debanking,” and “elite cabals.” It felt more like a right-wing podcast than a mainstream campaign launch.
It’s hard to imagine most of what was said connecting with “normies” living in places like Iowa or New Hampshire. Then again, it’s unclear how anyone less tech savvy than me (a Gen-Xer who works on the internet every day) could navigate this process, to begin with.
To be sure, if you are a fanboy who lives in this niche, having a presidential candidate talk about these issues (FINALLY!) must feel refreshing and edgy. Like Trump, DeSantis seems more committed to narrowcasting to a concentrated fan base than broadcasting to the masses.
You might think DeSantis would have learned this lesson. As recently as 2020, Joe Biden won the Democratic primary by virtue of ignoring Twitter, while his opponents like Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and Beto O’Rourke, et al, seemed obsessed with chasing blue checkmark values.
Musk’s Twitter has a different class of people with blue check marks, but the notion that Twitter represents mainstream public opinion is just as mistaken.
The good news for DeSantis is that his so-called “announcement” was followed by an actual interview on Fox News. But his earlier failure to launch couldn’t be ignored, even if it was spun as DeSantis breaking the internet due to all the traffic he generated.
“I can’t promise you that I won’t crash,” host Trey Gowdy said, “But Fox News will not crash during this interview.” Fox News did not crash. But DeSantis’s chances might have.
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