Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Twitter debut in 2024 was a distraction from his chance to present himself as a serious contender to defeat former President Donald J. Trump.
It was a long-awaited moment for the Florida governor to reboot after months of falling in the polls, making Wednesday’s painful 20-plus minutes of failures on Twitter all the more disappointing for his followers.
Despite all the media attention on the Twitter fiasco — The Daily Mail called it a “De-Saster,” Fox News a “disaster,” Breitbart News a “DeBacle” — Mr. DeSantis appeared to have later found its footing on the familiar airwaves. from Fox News, a much more traditional and effective method of communicating with primary voters. His appearance there was the first time he had made a substantive case for what a DeSantis presidency would look like.
Still, it was a night his team will be eager to put behind them. And he highlighted both DeSantis’ potential successes as a candidate and a campaign still in the making as he comes under intense attack from a dominant Republican front-runner.
Here are five takeaways.
Taking risks on Twitter backfired
The delay was longer than some campaign speeches.
For more than 25 minutes, Twitter weaved its way through what was supposed to be DeSantis’ big pronouncement on his 2024 candidacy, long stretches of dead air punctuated by frantic hot-mic whispers before winding down and starting again. .
A presidential announcement is the rarest of opportunities. It is the time when a candidate can draw all the attention to himself and his vision. Instead, DeSantis ended up almost as a panelist at his own event, sharing the stage with Elon Musk and his malfunctioning social media site.
Fox News ran a banner headline at one point on its website that featured a photo of Musk, not DeSantis. “Do you want to see and hear Ron DeSantis?” read a breaking news alert on the site. “Tune in to Fox News.”
Even beforehand, the decision to start his Twitter campaign with Musk had drawn mixed reviews. It was innovative, yes, and a chance to reach a potentially huge online audience, but also risky.
The technically disputed result obscured some of Mr. DeSantis’ arguments and deprived him of listeners and potential donors. For a candidate whose promise of competition is a Republican sales pitch, it was a less than ideal first impression. Mr. Trump and President Biden mercilessly mocked the launch.
His aides said Mr. DeSantis raised $1 million in one hour, a sizeable amount but far from the record for a presidential inauguration, without providing details on how many individual donors gave small contributions.
Mr. Biden’s campaign was also looking to capitalize, buying Google ads to display Biden donation pages for those searching for terms like “DeSantis disaster” and “DeSantis failure.”
The candidate of the educated rightists
The DeSantis-Musk Twitter spat meandered at times into a hyper-right cul-de-sac online.
Here is a sampling of the highly ideological and twisted message Mr. DeSantis delivered:
“Some of the problems with the university and the ideological capture, that didn’t happen by accident, can be traced back to the accreditation cartels. Well guess what? To become an accreditor, how do you do that? You have to get approval from the US Department of Education. So we’re going to do alternative accreditation regimes, where instead of saying, ‘You’ll only get accreditation if you do DEI,’ you’ll have an accreditor saying, ‘We won’t accredit you if you do DEI. I want a merit-based colorblind accreditation scheme.’”
I have it?
Mr. DeSantis repeatedly highlighted his blue-collar roots. But it has long been clear that DeSantis polls better among college-educated Republicans than among those without college degrees, who heavily favor Trump and form the increasingly rural base of the GOP. And his campaign launch night showed why that’s the case.
The conversation turned to complaints about the horrors of The Atlantic and Vanity Fair magazines and to discussions of cryptocurrencies and the “unbanking” of “politically incorrect companies.”
Later, in his interview with Trey Gowdy on Fox News, Mr. DeSantis rattled off acronyms (ESG (environmental, social and governance investment) was just one) without explaining what they stood for.
DeSantis is ready to hit Trump, only indirectly
Mr. DeSantis made it clear Wednesday that he is not ready to hit Trump yet, but signaled where he will aim once he does.
He went through the Twitter Spaces session and two interviews, one on Fox News with Gowdy, his former congressional colleague, and the other on the radio with conservative host Mark Levin, without uttering Trump’s name. (The word was out of his mouth at one point: “Merit must trump identity politics,” the governor said during the Twitter chat.)
But his attempts to contrast himself with the nameless were frequent.
Mr. DeSantis said on Fox News that the reason Biden could get away with “mischief” on the southern border was because there was no wall protecting it. Mr. DeSantis has promised to build a “complete” border wall, a rebuke for Trump’s failure to follow through on that trademark promise.
DeSantis also anticipated a line of attack his campaign is expected to focus on: Trump’s first-term staff appointments.
DeSantis blamed the Federal Reserve (Jerome H. Powell was appointed Fed Chairman by Trump) for exacerbating inflation. And he said he would fire FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, another Trump appointee, on the 1st. (A senior Trump aide noted on Twitter that DeSantis publicly supported Wray’s selection at the time.)
DeSantis delivered his strongest blow to Trump in the final moments with Gowdy, who asked him what he would say to candidates they may not want to debate. It was a clear reference to Trump, who has indicated he might skip one or both of the early Republican debates. Mr. DeSantis, who needs the debates to have breaking moments, asked people to participate.
“No one is entitled to anything in this world, Trey, you have to earn it,” DeSantis said. “That’s exactly what I intend to do, and I think discussions are a big part of the process.”
DeSantis made his case like a China hawk
Mr. DeSantis anticipated his hardline policies to confront the Chinese Communist Party. While Trump focused largely on the trade dimension of the relationship during his presidency, DeSantis spoke more broadly about countering China’s influence, territorial expansion and military ambitions.
On Fox News, Mr. DeSantis called for a 21st century version of the Monroe Doctrine to counter China’s influence in Latin America. The Monroe Doctrine, introduced by President James Monroe in the early 1800s, warned European countries not to colonize America’s backyard.
Mr. DeSantis also said the US needed to build stronger partnerships with India, Australia and other allies to counter Chinese expansion in the Pacific. And he called for the relocation of critical manufacturing, saying the US was too mixed up, economically, with China.
His comments indicated that, as president, DeSantis would be more aggressive against China than Trump was in his first term. Trump spent the first three years of his presidency mainly avoiding China’s military expansionism and human rights abuses because he wanted a trade deal with Beijing. Mr. DeSantis has indicated that he wants to confront China early on on all fronts.
DeSantis plans extensive use of executive power
DeSantis laid the groundwork for what his allies say will be one of his biggest contrasts to Trump: his ability to use power effectively.
In his Twitter Spaces live chat, Mr. DeSantis discussed his extensive record of enacting conservative policies as Governor of Florida. He cited his talent for using government power for conservative purposes. He said that he had studied the “different points of influence under Article 2” of the Constitution and that he would put that knowledge to work if he were elected president. On Fox News, he repeated his plans to use Article 2 to remake the government.
DeSantis hinted that he would be tougher than Trump on the federal bureaucracy. It’s part of one of his central arguments: that he will not only fight harder than Trump, but will achieve radical change where the former president fell short.
In his Fox News interview, he portrayed the FBI as one of many federal agencies gone haywire and said it would exert a much tighter grip on the entire Justice Department.
He rejected the notion that presidents should view these agencies as independent, saying that if, as president, he found out that FBI officials were colluding with tech companies, a reference to requests from government officials to Twitter to remove content deemed harmful, then “everyone involved with that would be fired.”