Opinion: Why did Ron DeSantis think announcing his candidacy to Elon Musk was a good idea?
When the way in which you are making an announcement (and the technical difficulties that ensued) overshadows the announcement itself, you’re in big trouble. That’s my takeaway from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ audio announcement via Twitter Spaces that he is officially seeking the Republican presidential nomination.
The first impression Americans will have of the DeSantis campaign is that he declared his candidacy on a platform that’s been in a financial free fall ever since his announcement co-star, Elon Musk, took it over. There was no iconic image in front of American flags or video of him battling the harsh elements of winter, just a sanitized, controlled and unremarkable audio-only conversation with one of the world’s richest men.
Don’t get me wrong, on Twitter, DeSantis’ announcement will get a massive amount of views and engagement. It will be one of the most heavily consumed pieces of content of 2023 because Musk can make sure the back end of Twitter makes it so. But do not mistake engagement for enthusiasm or views for votes.
Ron DeSantis announced his presidential candidacy via Elon Musk’s Twitter, and it went about as well as you might have expected.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a candidate enter a presidential contest under so much duress. The fact that there are those in the political media using words like “reset” to describe this moment underscores how underwhelming DeSantis has been as a candidate thus far. Since March, former President Trump has managed to double his lead over DeSantis to a formidable 33 percentage points. That tells me the entire premise of DeSantis’ campaign is completely off base, in particular the flawed assumption that the Republican primary electorate was ready to abandon Trump in favor of a “Trump without the baggage” alternative.
DeSantis thought he could win over the Trump base without having to actually engage with him. Instead, Trump predictably unleashed an onslaught of haymakers against DeSantis that left him bloodied, bruised and cast as a lightweight not ready for prime time.
That’s the thing about power and people like Donald Trump — they will not surrender it easily. You have to take it from them. Just ask Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, etc. what happens when you try to run a conventional campaign against Trump. What happens when you try to avoid the knife fight and hit him with jabs instead of uppercuts.
For DeSantis to have ever had a real chance, he needed to come out of the gates swinging directly at Trump. Pulling no punches, not holding back, an offensive blitz that would’ve put Donald on his ass for the first time in a Republican primary fight. Instead, DeSantis made the idiotic calculation that his most alpha-male persona would be better spent fighting an animated mouse than his chief rival for the prize he so desperately wants.
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?
You never get a second chance to make a first impression, but officially announcing a campaign for the highest office in the land is the closest thing to a mulligan if you choreograph it right. Limiting himself to audio and Twitter Spaces feeds into the narratives that DeSantis isn’t a skilled enough politician to handle a contest of presidential pace and visibility. That an awkward loner who doesn’t like to glad-hand people doesn’t stand a prayer against the showmanship that has become the hallmark of Trump’s persona. Hiding behind Musk only reinforces those whispers. You’re running for president of the United States but you decide to share the stage with someone who is arguably more powerful and influential than you are — you’re casting yourself as the supporting actor when you should be the lead.
An occasion like this would be the perfect opportunity to do something bigger, grander, but instead, DeSantis is just going through the motions. Consider that his big post-announcement appearance is a Fox News segment with Trey Gowdy, that has more of a “check the box” feel to it than anything else. Again, underwhelming. Why not a town hall event with a live audience that can generate some energy, enthusiasm and emotion?
DeSantis regurgitated the laundry list of imaginary grievances that have become the hallmark of today’s Republican Party and while the GOP primary electorate might agree with every word he said, the reality is it is already getting that act from Trump. DeSantis just comes off as a cheap knockoff. The fact that DeSantis didn’t even directly take on his chief rival in his prepared remarks speaks volumes. Clearly, he doesn’t believe he can actually land a glove on Donald. It begs the question, how in the world could he possibly expect to beat him in a primary?
If anyone out there was thinking DeSantis is the one to lead the GOP out of Trumpism, go back and listen to the first 25 minutes of his launch event and you’ll get a reality check that should send you shopping for a new candidate immediately.
Kurt Bardella is a contributing writer to Opinion. He is a Democratic strategist and former senior advisor for Republicans on the House Oversight Committee. @KurtBardella
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