After Twitter launch glitches, DeSantis plans traditional campaign stops
Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida plunged into his first full day of presidential campaigning Thursday after his abysmal Twitter outing the night before, holding a series of interviews with friendly conservative commentators and announcing in-person events in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina next week.
For Mr. DeSantis, the immediate challenge appeared to go beyond the rocky kickoff and attract a mainstream Republican following, after a Twitter chat with billionaire Elon Musk that often strayed into right-wing grievances online and away from issues voters say they care about most, like the economy.
Acknowledging that a “very small percentage” of Republican primary voters were on Twitter, Mr DeSantis defended his decision to announce his campaign on the social media platform.
“We felt there would be a lot of buzz about it,” he told conservative radio host Erick Erickson on Thursday afternoon. “And I think that was probably the biggest story in the world yesterday. And so hopefully we’ll get people interested in our campaign who might not have been interested otherwise.
Mr. DeSantis has also sought to draw attention to his clash with former President Donald J. Trump, whose staunch supporters are one of the biggest obstacles to running for governor. As he began his media blitz, Mr. DeSantis took a series of jabs at Mr. Trump, noting how often the former president attacked him.
“I think a lot of what he does shows everyone that he understands that I have a good shot at beating him, because he’s not criticizing anybody else now,” Mr. DeSantis at a New Hampshire radio station. “It is only me.”
Mr. Trump’s team “wouldn’t do this if they didn’t think I had a chance,” added Mr. DeSantis, who argued he had a better chance of winning independent voters.
At the same time, Mr. DeSantis suggested on ‘The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show’ that, if elected, he might consider pardoning Mr. Trump if he faces federal charges – as well as numerous other people, including defendants charged in connection with the January 6, 2021, storming of the Capitol.
“Day one, I will have people coming together and looking at all these cases, who are victims of militarization or political targeting, and we will be aggressive in granting pardons,” he said, responding to a question about January 1st. 6 pardons, but also citing other cases that he said represented a “militarization” of federal law enforcement.
“Some of these cases, some people may have a technical violation of the law, but if there are three other people who have done the same thing but just in a context like BLM and they are not prosecuted at all, it is an unequal application of justice,” he added, referring to the Black Lives Matter movement. “And so we’re going to find ways where that hasn’t happened, and then we’ll use the power of grace.”
Asked directly if his review could include Mr Trump himself, Mr DeSantis said: ‘I would say that any example of political or militarization-based disadvantaged treatment would be included in this review, regardless of its height or its size.”
The governor had avoided mentioning Mr. Trump during his deployment on Wednesday, a delayed live Twitter Spaces event with Mr. Musk, the owner of the platform, which was plagued with technical problems, causing dead air and an intermittently hot mic.
One of the people listening to the announcement on Twitter was Mr. Trump himself – at least for a while.
“I tried for the first half hour,” Trump said as he walked to the seventh tee at his golf course outside Washington. “After that, everyone just turned it off.”
Mr Trump touted the deployment, calling it a “disaster” and saying: “I don’t know if it’s salvageable”.
“He’s very disloyal, but he has no personality,” Mr. Trump said of Mr. DeSantis. “And if you don’t have a personality, politics is a very difficult business.”
Asked if he would participate in the debates, Mr Trump replied: “Unless he’s getting close, why would anyone debate?”
Next up for DeSantis is a return to more traditional campaigning, with stops scheduled in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, the top three candidate states, from May 30 to June 2. The campaign bills for this four-day swing through 12 cities. and cities as the first stop on his “Great American Comeback Tour”.
Mr. DeSantis will begin his first in-person campaign event in Des Moines on Tuesday. He will stay in Iowa on Wednesday before heading to New Hampshire on Thursday and South Carolina on Friday.
“Our campaign is committed to spending time to win these early candidate states,” Generra Peck, Mr. DeSantis’ campaign manager, said in a statement.
Campaigning in a presidential primary, especially in the early stages, is usually all about gripping and smiling.
How Mr. DeSantis interacts with people during the trip will be closely monitored. He had awkward moments meeting voters on the trail, which drew mockery from Mr Trump and other critics.
Mr DeSantis is expected to need a win in Iowa and at least a tight second place in New Hampshire to show he can effectively challenge the former president, especially that other candidates, potentially sensing a political opening for a bid, jump into the race.
Mr. DeSantis is due to attend a reception with major donors at a Miami hotel on Thursday night as his team ramps up fundraising efforts. Despite the Twitter incident, her campaign said it raised more than $1 million online in its first hour on Wednesday night.
Mr. DeSantis’ team had gathered the donors in a conference room at the Four Seasons Miami, in the city’s financial district, to listen to the Twitter Space.
It didn’t go well at first, according to two participants. The hotel’s audiovisual system was just as glitchy as the livestream, leaving donors trying to listen on their phones while having a drink at the bar and chatting to each other. But the general mood was one of excitement, people said.
On Thursday, senior members of Mr DeSantis’ campaign staff told donors they believed the evening had been a success, even though it hadn’t gone quite according to their original script. The campaign signaled that it wanted to act quickly, take risks and confound its doubters.
Still, the decision to make the announcement on Twitter, a platform Mr. DeSantis said Thursday he was not using — and to talk more about things like diversity programs at public universities than, say, inflation – has baffled many Republicans.
“He was appealing to 0.2% of likely Republican voters with this kind of ad,” said Whit Ayres, a seasoned Republican pollster. “His strategy is on a different dimension than anything I’ve understood in the past.”