Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has officially launched his battle with Donald Trump for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination — and he was supposed to announce it live on Elon Musk’s Twitter, but repeated crashes by the social media site delayed the announcement by nearly half an hour.
On Wednesday, the conservative politician eventually announced the long-expected news on Twitter, joining the billionaire on a live audio stream.
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“Well, I’m running for president to lead our great American comeback,” DeSantis said in a Twitter Spaces live audio chat. “We know our country is going in the wrong direction… American decline is not inevitable; it is a choice.”
DeSantis praised Musk’s purchase of Twitter and the tech mogul’s commitment to free speech: “You recognized that you can’t have a free society unless we have the freedom to debate” issues, the governor told Musk, and “that didn’t happen” during the COVID pandemic under the previous ownership. More broadly, DeSantis decried “censorship” of content by big tech platforms including YouTube.
Musk, who acquired Twitter in a $44 billion deal (but now values the company at $20 billion), responded, “Free speech is priceless.”
The original Twitter Spaces for DeSantis’ announcement, set to launch at 6 p.m. ET, was on Musk’s account and had more than 660,00 listeners at one point — and the session crashed multiple times. “The servers are straining somewhat,” Musk could be heard saying. “I think we are kind of melting the servers, which is a good sign,” said moderator David Sacks, a Republican donor, venture capitalist and friend of Musk.
The DeSantis session relaunched on a Twitter Spaces session that kicked off a little before 6:30 p.m. ET hosted by Sacks. That had a peak of about 300,000 concurrent listeners. “You broke the internet,” Sacks said to DeSantis, noting the historic occasion of a presidential candidate throwing their hat in the ring live online. Musk apologized for the snafus: “That was insane, sorry.”
DeSantis had posted a campaign video on Twitter prior to the discussion with Musk and Sacks which he captioned, “I’m running for president to lead our Great American Comeback.” Earlier in the day, he had filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission declaring his candidacy.
DeSantis, 44, has gained national prominence for pursuing an “anti-woke” agenda as governor of the Sunshine State. That has included his very public fight with Disney, ignited by the media conglomerate’s opposition to Florida’s so-called Don’t Say Gay law.
“First of all, Florida stands for the protection of children,” DeSantis said when asked in the Twitter chat about the dispute with Disney. He alleged Disney wanted to “inject gender ideology” into the state’s schools. Some Republicans who are supporting Disney in its fight with DeSantis “are showing themselves to be corporatists,” the governor added. DeSantis also claimed “nobody made Disney more money than me” because Florida allowed theme parks to reopen during COVID while California kept them shut down for much longer.
Also on the Twitter Spaces livestream, DeSantis spoke about his plans to erect more walls on the border with Mexico on “Day One” of his presidential administration and to crack down on Mexican drug cartels to try to address the fentanyl drug crisis. He called out Florida’s ban on sanctuary cities and boasted about his role in transporting immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S. to Martha’s Vineyard. DeSantis also bragged about Florida’s recently enacted law to eliminate diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs at publicly-funded schools in the state.
In using Twitter for the announcement — eschewing a more conventional televised press conference — DeSantis, who has 1.8 million followers on the platform, is mimicking Trump in fully embracing social media as a primary communications channel. “We should do it again,” DeSantis said at the end of the Twitter Spaces. Musk concluded by saying it was “important for people to hear directly from candidates.”
That said, after DeSantis’ audio conference on Twitter, he subsequently appeared on Fox News for an interview with Trey Gowdy. Fox took a veiled jab at Twitter with a promo on its website that read, “PROGRAMMING NOTE: Want to actually see and hear Ron DeSantis? Tune into Fox News at 8 p.m.”
Trump garnered a massive Twitter base leading up to and during his occupation of the White House, before he was banned in 2021 over his encouragement of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol attackers. Last fall Musk reinstated Trump’s Twitter account, but the ex-president hasn’t resumed tweeting. Trump’s preferred platform is Truth Social, the Twitter-copycat app his company launched last year, where he regularly takes potshots at DeSantis (including calling the governor a “deep state puppet” and “Ron DeSanctimonious”).
Musk professes to have centrist political views, but he has shared right-wing conspiracy theories on Twitter, including a now-deleted tweet linking to a baseless homophobic conspiracy theory about the brutal attack on Paul Pelosi, husband of Rep. Nancy Pelosi. Musk, who also is CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, affirmed in November he would support DeSantis in the 2024 election. Last summer, Musk opined that DeSantis would “easily win” a general election against President Biden.
For Twitter, DeSantis’ decision to use the platform to formally launch his bid for the GOP presidential nomination is a feather in the struggling company’s cap, of sorts. Musk has claimed that the internet platform is faster and more accurate in disseminating news than traditional media outlets.
“As Twitter pursues the goal of elevating citizen journalism, media elite will try everything to stop that from happening,” Musk tweeted in November. “Mainstream media will still thrive, but increased competition from citizens will cause them to be more accurate, as their oligopoly on information is disrupted.”
Ex-Fox News host Tucker Carlson recently announced plans to relaunch his show on Twitter, setting up a legal fight with Fox Corp.; Musk said Twitter does not have a deal of “any kind whatsoever” with Carlson.
Meanwhile, Musk has hired Linda Yaccarino, previously NBCUniversal’s top ad sales exec, as CEO starting in the next month. She’ll oversee business operations, including trying to rebuild Twitter’s ad revenue, while Musk says he will serve as CTO. Musk has decimated Twitter’s workforce in an attempt to cut costs, slashing headcount by 80% to about 1,500 staffers, and he said last week the company will likely try to rehire some of them at this point.
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