scorecardDeSantis' rise to fame was scripted and calculated. With his Twitter Spaces 2024 debut, he lost control.
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DeSantis' rise to fame was scripted and calculated. With his Twitter Spaces 2024 debut, he lost control.

Kimberly Leonard   

DeSantis' rise to fame was scripted and calculated. With his Twitter Spaces 2024 debut, he lost control.
PoliticsPolitics4 min read
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis listens to other speakers before signing a series of education bills at Cambridge Christian school in Tampa, Florida, on Wednesday, May 17, 2023.    Thomas Simonetti for The Washington Post via Getty Images
  • DeSantis' controlled message and discipline is a major part of his brand.
  • That was put to the test Wednesday when he chose a new forum to roll out his presidential run.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis spent the last two years crisscrossing Florida and then the rest of America, where he stayed on message and controlled his environment. During press conferences and political stops, he was rarely late. He homed in on the same points at every stop — often criticizing President Joe Biden — and came prepared with ready-made answers for the press, often weighing in on the latest news of the day.

But Wednesday evening, the audio-only platform he chose to launch his much-anticipated 2024 campaign for president, known as Twitter Spaces, was out of his hands. The discussion he had with Twitter CEO Elon Musk and entrepreneur David Sacks, one billed as "a first in the history of social media," was chaotically delayed almost 30 minutes after the site crashed.

"We've got so many people here that I think we are kind of melting the servers," Sacks said. At some points, roughly 600,000 people were in the room but by the time the conversation was over roughly 300,000 had joined in to listen.

When the technology did start to work, DeSantis pressed ahead with his talking points, reiterating many of the positions he has already made clear during stump speeches, on everything from Walt Disney World to immigration and cryptocurrency. He fielded largely friendly questions from numerous participants, and none were about former President Donald Trump.

All the while, the Twittersphere and rival campaigns were still focused on the early technical failings that could prove to be an embarrassment for Musk and DeSantis. #DeSaster started trending on the social media platform later in the evening.

"Technical glitches are not good foreshadowing," a Republican political operative texted Insider 10 minutes into the initial conversation, which was filled with starts and stops, robot music, and whispers.

Both the Biden and Trump campaigns pounced. "This link works," the Biden campaign wrote on Twitter, sharing a link to its fundraising page. The Trump campaign sent numerous press releases criticizing DeSantis' sagging poll numbers, accusing him of being a lifelong politician and part of the establishment.

"Tim Scott's presidential launch, even with the broken microphone (don't pay the contractor, Tim!), was by far the best Presidential launch of the week. Robs was a catastrophe!" Trump said, using the nickname "Rob" after a Daily Mail typo referring to DeSantis from a few weeks ago.

In lengthy news profiles, DeSantis has often been defined in relation to Trump, such as "Trump with a brain" and Trump "without the drama."

By that, they mean that DeSantis embraces similar policies, and doesn't back down when cornered, but he is also a careful planner whose administration in Florida has few leaks. He sometimes turns off his combativeness during solemn times and knows how to keep major news announcements under wraps until he's ready to share them. When he does, they often make national headlines.

Freewheeling Trump, on the other hand, is famous for being impulsive, saying what he thinks at the moment when asked, and firing off big decisions over Twitter that sent his aides scrambling.

On Wednesday, Sacks apologized to DeSantis for the technical difficulties and asked him why he chose to make the announcement with them instead of on cable television.

The governor said that he wanted to "cut against the grain" instead of "going with the crowd," then turned the conversation back to policy, to how he bucked federal health officials during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ron DeSantis
Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida holds a copy of his new book as he speaks to a crowd at the Adventure Outdoors gun store in Smyrna, Ga., on March 30, 2023.      AP Photo/John Bazemore

DeSantis allies: The governor broke the internet

The DeSantis campaign attributed the difficulties to the overwhelming interest in DeSantis' presidential run. "There was so much enthusiasm for Governor DeSantis' vision for our Great American Comeback that he literally busted up the internet," Bryan Griffin, campaign spokesman, said on Twitter. "Washington is next. $1 million raised online in one hour... and counting!"

Making the choice to launch a campaign with Twitter could have been viewed as a gamble, given that the site has only been under Musk's control for about seven months during a time that has included numerous layoffs, and as many Democrats have accused the site of becoming more right wing.

Nearly 1 million people tried to get into Twitter spaces, campaign manager Generra Peck said on Twitter after getting off the phone with Musk and Sacks. "They had more than 700k in the room to start with hundreds of thousands trying to get in," she wrote. "Had to relocate the room."

Presidential candidates generally opt for more traditional methods of announcing their candidacies, holding public events, or doing interviews with cable news outlets. Trump himself began his 2016 campaign by descending on his golden escalator at Trump Tower in New York and kicked off his 2024 campaign at his gold-encrusted grand ballroom at Mar-a-Lago.

Sam Nunberg, who worked on Trump's 2016 campaign, told Insider that he still thought DeSantis was smart to launch his campaign with Musk because the billionaire, who is also CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, is popular with conservatives. "If you'd told me there would be technical glitches but you would have Elon Musk, I'd take that option," he said. "It's recorded anyway." The hashtag #DeSantis2024 was also trending.

The money raised will help pay for the campaign's ground game in Iowa, Nunberg said. For comparison, it took 2016 presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas one day to raise $1 million. "Whatever Elon touches turns to gold," Nunberg said.

After the Twitter discussion, DeSantis headed to Fox News, where he has been a frequent guest while mostly avoiding other networks. "Fox News will not crash during this interview," the show's host, Trey Gowdy, joked to DeSantis when he came onto the program.

"It did break the Twitter Space, we are really excited about the enthusiasm," DeSantis said, before pivoting to his campaign message. On the Mark Levin show, where he went next, Levin said toward the end that there were some technical difficulties there because tons of listeners tuned in. Some of DeSantis' answers were spotty toward the end of the discussion.

Despite the technical glitches, DeSantis made it clear that he would be returning to Twitter.

"We should do it again I thought it was fun," DeSantis said at the end of the event. "This is a great platform."