Did DeSantis' 'glitchy' Twitter launch damage his campaign?

·4 min read
Ron DeSantis riding Twitter logo
Ron DeSantis riding Twitter logo Illustrated / Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) launched his long-awaited campaign for the 2024 presidential nomination in a conversation with Elon Musk that was streamed live on Twitter, which the controversial billionaire now owns. The unprecedented online event was supposed to catapult DeSantis into the race and help him regain some of the ground he has lost recently in polls, which show former President Donald Trump the overwhelming favorite in the GOP field.

But the live stream didn't go as planned. Glitches delayed DeSantis' announcement by 20 minutes. By the time he was finally able to deliver his remarks, more than half of the original online audience of 600,000 had left. Moderator and GOP donor David Sacks claimed so many people wanted to hear DeSantis they were "kind of melting the servers, which is a good sign." DeSantis' campaign said he raised $1 million online within an hour. But rivals had a field day mocking the event. "Glitchy. Tech issues. Uncomfortable silences. A complete failure to launch. And that's just the candidate!" a spokesperson for Trump texted reporters.

DeSantis, 44, talked about his anti-lockdown COVID policies and his anti-woke campaign, and promised to lead a "Great American Comeback" if elected. But the Twitter glitches, not his attacks on the left, dominated the coverage of his launch. Did the Twitter glitches derail DeSantis' campaign before it got started?

What are commentators saying?

This debacle was a "political disaster for DeSantis," said David Smith in The Guardian. When Musk invited DeSantis to make his announcement on Twitter, the governor apparently thought it was "a chance to make a bit of political history, show off his tech savvy, and poke his rival Donald Trump, once the undisputed world tweeting champion." But this "sorry experience did little to suggest" that DeSantis "is capable of governing a global superpower armed with nuclear weapons." He "has built the entire theory of his candidacy around the idea that he is an efficient chief executive of Florida who pays attention to detail," and now he has shown the world it's all smoke and mirrors.

"Technological stutters notwithstanding," this launch got DeSantis' campaign off to a great start, said Elle Pernell at The Federalist. The "gatekeeping media" of leftist activists would have panned DeSantis' announcement no matter what. But by becoming the first presidential candidate to take this huge step in a live Twitter Spaces event — instead of fielding "bad faith" questions from political hacks at The New York Times or CNN — Florida's rising star "had the chance to tell Americans his unfiltered opinions about issues such as the border crisis, woke corporatism, the threat of cancellation (financial or otherwise) to conservatives, digital currencies, and bureaucratic overreach."

There's no point denying these "tech snafus" made for a bad first impression, said Jim Geraghty at National Review. When curious voters show up when you told them to, and all they hear is a long silence, "that's bad." But anyone who thinks this will "doom DeSantis' campaign" must have amnesia. Presidential candidates have had "much-more-embarrassing moments," from Howard Dean's scream to Michael Dukakis in a tank to Jeb Bush's "please clap." Likewise, "insisting all the crash reflects is the enormous interest in the Florida governor's presidential campaign" is transparent and ineffective spin. The truth, as always, is in the middle. It's what happens next that matters. "When the history of the Ron DeSantis 2024 presidential campaign is written, his announcement will be just one chapter."

What's next?

"Ron DeSantis is already looking for a reboot," said Alex Leary in The Wall Street Journal. Some Republicans see DeSantis' "decision to eschew a more traditional kickoff" and the meltdown that ensued "undercut a central point he is trying to make: That he is a disciplined and competent alternative to the turmoil that surrounds his chief rival for the Republican nomination, Donald Trump." DeSantis got started immediately working on getting back on track "by announcing an aggressive travel schedule to early primary voting states" and lining up interviews with conservative radio hosts and fundraising speeches to show that, contrary to this first impression, he's ready for the national stage.

Despite this speed bump and his falling poll numbers, "DeSantis may be the only Republican who can defeat Trump in the 2024 GOP primary," said Geoffery Skelley at FiveThirtyEight. He has "a sterling fundraising record," with $80 million left from his $200 million 2022 reelection campaign, a record for a gubernatorial candidate. "The Florida governor is still held in high regard by Republicans, and his conservative accomplishments and fundraising ability could provide the means to a recovery — or even victory." But it won't happen unless he can pull off the difficult balancing act of "attracting Trump supporters while retaining support from Trump-skeptical Republicans."

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