May 24, 2023, 7:06am EDT

Ron DeSantis’ extremely online campaign launch: Yea or nay?

REUTERS/Brian Snyder

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The News

Florida governor Ron DeSantis is set to announce his candidacy for president this evening at 6 p.m. ET from the glowing molten core of the internet: A live Twitter event with owner Elon Musk, moderated by tech investor David Sacks.

The announcement, first reported by NBC News, will be followed with more conventional plans: A biographical video, a meeting with donors at the Four Seasons in Miami, an interview with Trey Gowdy on Fox News the same night, and eventually an in-person launch event later on.

But the decision to launch on a streaming audio platform with one of the world’s richest men, who is currently on a monthslong lib-trolling bender on the app he purchased for $44 billion, quickly became the hot topic on, well, Twitter. Is this what DeSantis needs to give his campaign some lift? Or is he blowing up his first introduction to voters on the launchpad?

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Our View

Based on a quick survey of veteran politicos, DeSantis’ Twitter plans were polarizing. There were no shortage of voices calling it a stroke of genius, a disastrous self-own, and some who saw the potential for both.

First the obvious upside: It’s the world’s (sometimes) richest man. He’s a DeSantis fan and rapidly moving hard right on culture war issues. Plus, he has a large, similarly-minded online following all his own. Why not cultivate his support, politically and possibly financially?


At least one Democrat saw some savviness to the move, which gives DeSantis a chance to make his pitch to the kinds of “hyperpartisan” online political junkies who are going to be most involved in campaigns early on in the process.

“From a tactical standpoint, I understand what he’s trying to do and it makes sense,” Democratic strategist Rodell Mollineau told Semafor. “He’s not losing the Fox News primary. He’s losing the activist primary and having this rollout on Twitter could be advantageous to reaching some of those voices.”

Some also saw the move as a smart way to draw outsized attention to his rollout by adding some novelty that his rivals couldn’t match — especially heading into a holiday weekend when political interest is often waning. Reporters still live on Twitter and love talking about it, as evidenced by the article you’re reading.

“Having Elon part of it certainly makes a statement,” Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said. “That said, the folks DeSantis needs in the GOP primary are not creatures of Twitter, so it will be interesting to see what the reviews are in conservative media outside of Twitter after the event.”

But then there are the downsides.


So much of Trump-era Republican politics have been about demonstrating who’s the Alpha, and Trump has tried to humiliate DeSantis at every turn by portraying him as an unlikeable hanger-on. The Twitter team-up risks introducing the governor to voters as the Beta to a brighter conservative star who will also generate plenty of distracting coverage about what the event means for his own grand ambitions in media, business, and politics.

“Elon is more powerful, interesting and wealthy than Ron,” one unaffiliated Republican strategist said. “Sitting next to Musk risks looking like a junior varsity player from the jump — the exact diminished image Ron is trying to shake.”

The strategist added they were perplexed why DeSantis didn’t do the same plan in reverse — launch with a big in-person event and then give his first exclusive interview to Musk.

“It’s definitely risky,” another GOP strategist said, also citing Musk’s propensity to soak up attention.

There were also plenty of critics arguing that DeSantis was leaning into his worst instincts by appealing to an online minority who obsess over daily culture wars, but have little connection to more offline voters’ concerns.


“This announcement is a symptom of thinking random conservative Twitter personalities are the GOP base,” said one Republican strategist working with a rival campaign.

And then there was the presentation component. It’s an audio format on a website most Americans don’t use, where the candidate — whose every recent interaction is scrutinized for awkwardness — will be a tiny circular avatar in conversation with an unpredictable billionaire who is often mocked on a similar basis.

“I couldn't think of a more terrible way to spend my time than watching two socially awkward introverts talk about themselves,” one GOP strategist on a rival campaign said.

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Room for Disagreement

While debating the pageantry around a campaign launch is always a part of coverage, David Drucker, a senior writer at The Dispatch, said he saw little connection between candidate announcements and their later performances in his experience. “It really doesn't matter — it matters if the voters you need like what you have to say; it matters what kind of campaign you run,” he said on Twitter.

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  • The DeSantis announcement is a “blow to Fox News,” our own editor Ben Smith writes in Semafor. The conservative news juggernaut is under pressure from rival cable and online outlets and Musk appears to be building a right-wing competitor of his own, most notably by starting a new venture with Tucker Carlson on the site.

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