Column: Ron DeSantis and Elon Musk give us a preview of the chaos of a DeSantis presidency

SpaceX's Starship
Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starship explodes minutes after launch on April 20. As good a metaphor for his hosting of Ron DeSantis’ presidential announcement on Twitter as you could find
(Eric Gay / Associated Press)

I was taking my customary siesta Wednesday afternoon when I was jolted awake by the sound of a truck straining to go uphill. Come to discover that I had my computer tuned to Elon Musk’s Twitter, where Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was struggling to get out the official announcement of his candidacy for president.

The noise turned out to be Musk trying to get the thing to work in real time, amid feedback, weird musical interludes and long stretches of silence. Scheduled to start at 3 p.m. Pacific time, it finally got going on Twitter Spaces, an audio-only application on the platform, about 18 minutes late. I listened, so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.

As he struggled to resolve repeated glitches in Twitter Spaces, Musk and the moderator, a Musk acolyte named David Sacks, kept trying to assert that the technical screw-up was, in fact, a triumph brought about by the large audience. (Sacks claimed that more than 300,000 users had logged in.) “We are melting the servers, which is a good sign,” Sacks said early on.


You can’t have a free society unless we have the freedom to debate the most important issues that are affecting our civilization.

— Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has been trying to punish Walt Disney Co. for speaking out against his education law

This reminded many listeners of the claim by SpaceX, another Musk venture, that its April 20 launch of a prototype rocket, which ended with the vehicle exploding in flight four minutes after liftoff, was a success. Never mind that the launch destroyed the launchpad, showered a neighboring community with debris and prompted the Federal Aviation Administration to mount a major investigation.

Once it got underway, the Twitter event unfolded as a love fest between DeSantis and Musk. The general theme was what my mother used to describe as “I like me, who do you like?”

It’s hard to say whose reputation was shredded more by the fiasco. DeSantis’ claim to be a politician in Donald Trump’s mold, but smart and competent, may not survive the decision to stage his most important political coming-out on an audio-only feed streamed on a platform that appeals increasingly only to a shrinking, ideologically homogeneous base of right-wingers. A politician with his eyes on the White House should know by instinct that his task is to expand his base, not narrow it.

As for Musk’s reputation as a smart herder of engineers, that’s been waning since he bought Twitter last year and hollowed out its technical staff. But his assertions that he could cut manpower costs without affecting the platform’s performance were conclusively refuted Wednesday. Twitter Spaces crashed because of an audience that was tiny compared with those that other platforms such as YouTube handle without glitches. And whose idea was it to launch this event without adequate testing in advance, anyway?


Musk and DeSantis praised each other for their dedication to free speech, and Sacks brought on several right-wing sophists to add their voices. They included Jay Bhattacharya, one of the drafters of the Great Barrington Declaration, which, as I reported this week, advocated letting the COVID-19 virus run rampant through the population in quest of the elusive goal of “herd immunity” — at the cost of hundreds of thousands of American lives.

Another was Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), whose claim to fame on a national scale was issuing a Christmas tweet in 2021 showing himself, his wife and their five kids brandishing assault weapons. “Santa, pls bring ammo,” the tweet read. (In December 2021, there were 39 mass shootings in the U.S., taking 36 lives and wounding 160.)

DeSantis said Florida was safer than blue-state cities, where “you got kids more likely to get shot than to receive a first-class education.” A reminder: One of the worst school shootings in American history took place in Parkland, Fla., in February 2018, when 17 people were killed and 17 wounded. In April, DeSantis signed a law allowing Floridians to carry guns without a permit.

It would be wrong to say there weren’t some lighthearted moments during the Twitter event. Unfortunately for DeSantis, the best joke came from President Biden: While Musk was struggling to get the event launched, Biden posted a tweet that read, “This link works,” pointing to a fundraising site for the Biden-Harris campaign.

If you were looking for policy prescriptions from the freshly minted candidate, you didn’t hear anything new. Put it this way: If you were at a party where you had to down a shot of whiskey every time DeSantis uttered the word “woke,” you were reduced to insensibility within 10 or 20 minutes. If the drinking game included a shot when DeSantis took a shot at “the legacy media,” you may have needed to get your stomach pumped.

Other than that, it was a festival of cynical lies and rank hypocrisies uttered by DeSantis.


He spoke up for free speech and open debate, for instance. “People should be exposed to different viewpoints,” he said. “You can’t have a free society unless we have the freedom to debate the most important issues that are affecting our civilization.”

This is the guy who has waged a ferocious battle with Walt Disney Co. because Disney had spoken out against his “Don’t Say Gay” law, which stifles the teaching of gender issues in the schools.

Ron DeSantis, who is expected to run for president, has turbocharged his attack on LGBTQ+ people, racial minorities and gun safety. How much lower will he sink?

May 17, 2023

When Sacks primed him with a question about the fight with Disney, DeSantis replied, “We believe jamming gender ideology in elementary school is wrong; Disney obviously supported injecting gender ideology in elementary school.” He added that Disney’s “corporate culture had really been outed as trying to inject matters of sex into the programming for the youth.” One doesn’t have to be a fan of Disney to see that as fatuous claptrap.

DeSantis also dismissed accusations that Florida is a hotbed of book-banning as “a hoax.” All his administration has done, he said, has been “to empower parents with the ability to review the curriculum, to know what books are being used in school.” That’s one way of looking at it.

The right way is to observe that he’s empowered a tiny cadre of reactionary activists to force books they don’t like off the shelves of Florida schools. As the Washington Post reported Wednesday, a majority of the complaints about schoolbooks nationwide have come from just 11 complainants. Florida ranks second among the states in the number of schoolbook challenges, after Texas.

By the way, one of the Republican toadies DeSantis appointed to the board created to oversee Disney’s development district (as part of his retaliation against the company) is Bridget Ziegler, co-founder of the right-wing censorship-happy organization Moms for Liberty.


When Bhattacharya came online, DeSantis took the opportunity to boast about his success against the COVID pandemic. The truth is that Florida’s record is one of abject, lethal failure. Florida’s COVID death rate of 411 per 100,000 population is the 10th worst in the nation. DeSantis has appointed Bhattacharya to a state panel investigating federal COVID policy.

DeSantis claimed to have based his COVID policies on his determination to “look at the data. ... There was a concerted effort to try to stifle dissent.” This can be interpreted only as some kind of gag. DeSantis installed a COVID crackpot, Joseph Ladapo, as Florida’s surgeon general.

Ladapo has promoted useless anti-COVID nostrums such as ivermectin, and counseled against the COVID vaccines. “Looking at the data”? As the Tampa Bay Times has reported, based on official state documents, Ladapo deliberately removed data from an official state report on the vaccines that contradicted his claim that the vaccines were unsafe for young men; in fact, studies show that the vaccines are far safer for them than being infected by the virus.

The event ended with a paean by Musk and DeSantis to cryptocurrency, which is tantamount to enticing innocent small investors into immolating their nest eggs in a scam.

“We should do it again,” DeSantis said in closing the feed. “We’ll make sure that we come back and do it again. This is a great platform.”

We shall see. The next DeSantis appearance on Twitter could be just as buggy, or worse. All that we can be sure of is that whatever happens, Elon Musk will deem it a great success.