Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ presidential announcement came in a style appropriate to a Republican who has won the hearts and minds of the conservative media and the influential classes: on his favorite platform, with his favorite billionaire.
DeSantis, who filed for president on Wednesday afternoon, finally made the announcement, delayed 26 minutes due to technical difficulties, on Twitter on Wednesday night alongside Elon Musk, who is increasingly known for interact with far-right commentators who spread misinformation as it is to revolutionize commercial space travel and electric cars.
The resulting disaster, mocked by his political opponents in both partiesserved as a helpful reminder of the risk of DeSantis’s strategy of siding with those commentators, several of whom, including Musk’s friend and venture capitalist David Sacks and conservative education activist Christopher Rufo, spoke during the event but rarely. . on the issues at the center of the minds of most Americans.
DeSantis’ plan to win the nomination over the party favorite, the former president donald trumpinvolves baiting those same commentators with their favorite red meat topics: attacking transgender rights, corporate media failures, Bitcoin’s superiority, owning the bookstores, re-litigating how DeSantis’ handling of COVID was superior to that of other governors. Damn Florida’s 18th Highest Per Capita Death Rate in the Country — and crack down on immigration.
From that perspective, DeSantis performed the hits Wednesday night. Much of the event was devoted to celebrating his decision to bypass the “corporate media” and instead promote himself on a platform owned by the world’s second-richest man. The governor attacked Joe Biden as “controlled by the waking mafia” and said the president was suffering from the “waking mind virus.” DeSantis said that he was protecting children from “sex toys.” The assembled right-wing commentators loved it all.
“We need a cool-headed, ruthless killer to come in and take on our awakened government,” Sacks said at one point, praising DeSantis.
The problem? As Democrats discovered during the 2020 presidential race, what gets online chat classes excited doesn’t necessarily translate into votes. (In modern political jargon, “online” has come to mean more in touch with the concerns of professional activists than with the average voter. It’s a faulty shorthand—who isn’t online these days?—but we are. accepting).
Biden, 80, is famous for being out of touch. While his inner circle’s purported disdain for Twitter has occasionally been exaggerated (Ron Klain, Biden’s first chief of staff, sent nearly 70,000 messages on the platform), he has generally not been afraid of defy the wishes of progressive activists who can shape the debate on the platform.
The Republican Party, shaped by a decades-old conservative movement, is far more ideologically coherent than the Democrats, making it less likely that chasing the whims of right-wing influencers would lead to a candidate failing in a Republican primary. However, a focus on culture war issues could easily backfire in the general election.
DeSantis need only look at his own 2022 re-election campaign, where he bested former Gov. Charlie Crist by 20 percentage points, to see how winning campaigns typically don’t focus on criticizing Disney.
TO Third Way memo, a centrist Democratic group, noted that DeSantis’ actual campaign ads focused on comparatively “normal” issues: keeping schools open during COVID, raising teacher pay, fighting crime and fighting inflation. Republican gubernatorial candidates in Michigan and Kansas who ran ads on transgender issues lost.
The danger for DeSantis, then, is that months of courting the right online could backfire if he heads into a general election against Biden, who is free to spend the next 18 months emphasizing his most popular stances on the most prominent issues. for a general electorate. .
“It’s going to be very difficult to run the kind of general election campaign that you did in Florida after you hit Disney and trans kids,” said Lanae Erickson, Third Way’s senior vice president.
Other democratic reportbased on focus groups and voter surveys in small Midwestern towns, the places where Biden won back enough working-class white voters to win the presidency in 2020, he found the GOP’s culture war message, centered on the “wake up agenda, ” was less effective than a direct economic one.
“Our strongest Democratic message on the economy easily trumps the Republican culture war message,” wrote Democratic strategist Mike Lux, summarizing the report in February. “The Republican economic message is a bigger threat to us. Our strongest Democratic message on the economy easily trumps the Republican culture war message. The Republican economic message is a bigger threat to us.”
DeSantis presented some messages on central themes. He attacked Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell’s handling of inflation, which serves to attack both Trump and Biden. (Trump appointed Powell and Biden was reappointed.) He, too, criticized Biden’s handling of the US southern border, a clear soft spot for the president in public polls.
More broadly, the announcement, misguided as it may have been, has clear benefits for both DeSantis and Musk. Musk may show the clout of him as an aspiring influencer and leader of a massive social media platform, but declining mainstream influence and heavily flawed. DeSantis may enter the 2024 presidential race as the candidate best positioned to fight liberals online.
It was clear that Twitter Spaces was far from an ideal launch pad, even before the event repeatedly crashed. It’s a rarely used subservice of a platform that only 1 in 5 Americans use to begin with, it’s audio-only, and it’s buggy. While DeSantis released a traditional campaign launch video at the same time, he is reportedly skipping the traditional hometown rally that presidential candidates have thrown for generations.
But Twitter Spaces is used by right-wing influencers, and DeSantis has tried to court a team of surrogates to sing his praises and fight his battles online. In January, DeSantis drank and dined a group of influential conservatives at the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee. Subsequently, Dave Rubin, a television host and YouTuber who had just moved from California to Florida, tweeted to his millions of Twitter followers: “I’m no longer an enemy of the state… Florida is the future.”
DeSantis’ Twitter pitch boosts his online credibility and prevents him from things he doesn’t like to do, like talking to a live reporter (the Trump campaign stole it after news of the pitch leaked that it prevents DeSantis from DeSantis has to interact a lot). with someone). Plus, you’ll have an established audience of blue checks ready to watch and comment, courtesy of Musk.
The symbolism of DeSantis using Twitter as a vehicle for his launch is not lost on anyone. The site used to be synonymous with Trump, whose own supporters eventually began to find his tirades exhausting and reckless. The site banned him after he used it to help spark the January 6, 2021 riot at the Capitol.
Trump has since launched his own social networking site, Truth Social, almost a Twitter scam where Trump shares “truths” instead of tweets to a much smaller audience. Musk invited Trump back to Twitter, but it’s unclear when, if ever, the invitation will be accepted.