The governor of Florida will wage a very online campaign to oust a very out of touch president.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ presidential announcement came in a very fitting style for a Republican who captured the hearts and minds of the conservative media and influencer classes: on their favorite platform, with their favorite billionaire.
DeSantis, who filed paperwork to run for president on Wednesday afternoon, finally made the announcement – delayed 26 minutes by technical difficulties – Wednesday night on Twitter alongside Elon Musk, who is increasingly best known for interacting with far-right commentators spreading misinformation. as it is for revolutionizing commercial space travel and electric cars.
The resulting disaster, mocked by his political opponents in both parties, served as a helpful reminder of the risk of DeSantis’ strategy of aligning himself with these commentators, many of whom – including Musk’s friend and capital- venture capitalist David Sacks and conservative education activist Christopher Rufo ― spoke at the event, but rarely about the issues at the center of most Americans’ minds.
DeSantis’ plan to win the nomination over party favorite, former President Donald Trump, is to tempt those same commentators with their favorite red meat issues: attacking transgender rights, corporate media failures, the bitcoin superiority, owning the libs, questioning how DeSantis’ handling of COVID was superior to other governors — Florida’s 18th highest per capita death rate in the country be damned — and cracking down on the immigration.
From that perspective, DeSantis played the hits on Wednesday night. Much of the event was dedicated to celebrating his decision to bypass “corporate media” and instead promote himself on a platform owned by the second richest man in the world. The governor attacked Joe Biden as “woke mob-controlled” and said the president was suffering from the “woke-mind virus.” DeSantis said he protects children from “sex toys”. The gathered right-wing commentators loved it all.
“We need a cold-headed, ruthless assassin to take on our woke government,” Sacks said at one point, praising DeSantis.
The problem? As Democrats found in the 2020 presidential contest, what gets online chatterboxes buzzing doesn’t necessarily translate into votes. (In modern political jargon, “online” means more in touch with the concerns of professional activists than the average voter. It’s an imperfect shorthand — who’s not online these days? — but we’re rolling with.)
Biden, 80, is notoriously offline. While his entourage’s alleged contempt for Twitter has sometimes been exaggerated — Ron Klain, Biden’s first chief of staff, sent nearly 70,000 messages on the platform — he was generally unafraid of go against the wishes of progressive activists that can shape the debate on the platform.
The Republican Party, shaped by a decades-long conservative movement, is far more ideologically cohesive than the Democrats, so chasing the whims of right-wing influencers is less likely to lead a candidate to fall flat in a GOP primary. A focus on culture war topics, however, could easily backfire in the general election.
DeSantis need only look to his own 2022 re-election campaign, where he smoked former Governor Charlie Crist by 20 percentage points, to see how winning campaigns typically don’t focus on bashing Disney. .
A third way memo, a centrist Democratic group, noted that DeSantis’ campaign ads focused on relatively “normal” issues: keeping schools open during COVID, raising teachers’ salaries, fighting crime and fighting inflation. GOP gubernatorial candidates in Michigan and Kansas who ran ads about transgender issues lost.
The danger for DeSantis, then, is that months of courting the right online could backfire if he heads into a general election against Biden, who is free to spend the next 18 months emphasizing his most popular positions on the issues most salient to a general electorate. .
“It’s going to be very difficult to run the kind of campaign he did in Florida after beating Disney and trans kids,” said Lanae Erickson, senior vice president of Third Way.
Another Democratic report, based on focus groups and polls of voters in small towns across the Midwest — the places where Biden has won back just enough working-class white voters to win the presidency in 2020 — found the GOP’s culture war message, focused on the “woke agenda,” was less effective than a simple economic agenda.
“Our strongest Democratic message on the economy easily beats the Republican culture war message,” wrote Democratic strategist Mike Lux, summarizing the report in February. “The Republican economic message is a bigger threat to us. Our strongest Democratic message on the economy easily beats the Republican culture war message. The Republican economic message is a bigger threat to us.
DeSantis featured a few posts on high-profile issues. He attacked Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell’s handling of inflation, which serves to attack both Trump and Biden. (Trump nominated Powell and Biden was reappointed.) He also criticized Biden’s handling of the US southern border, a clear weak spot for the president in public polls.
More broadly, the announcement ― as glitchy as it was ― has clear benefits for DeSantis and Musk. Musk can wield influence as a budding influencer and leader of a massive – but declining and very buggy – social media platform. DeSantis can enter the 2024 presidential race as the best-positioned candidate to fight online libs.
It was clear that Twitter Spaces was a less than ideal launch pad even before the event repeatedly crashed. It’s a rarely used sub-service of a platform that only 1 in 5 Americans use to begin with, it’s audio only and it’s notorious for bugs. While DeSantis posted a traditional campaign launch video at the same time, he would have skipped the traditional hometown rally that presidential candidates have launched with for generations.
But Twitter Spaces is used by right-wing influencers, and DeSantis has tried to woo a team of surrogates to sing his praises and fight his battles online. In January, DeSantis drank and dined a group of conservative influencers at the Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee. Afterwards, Dave Rubin, a television host and YouTuber who had just moved from California to Florida, tweeted to his one million Twitter followers: “I’m no longer an enemy of the state…La Florida is the future.”
Launching DeSantis on Twitter boosts his credibility online and spares him things he doesn’t like to do, like talking with a live reporter (Trump’s campaign was swept up after news of the launch leaked, which saves DeSantis from having to do a lot of interaction with anybody). Plus, it will have an established audience of blue checks ready to watch and comment, courtesy of Musk.
The symbolism of DeSantis using Twitter as a vehicle for his launch is not lost on anyone. The site was once synonymous with Trump, whose own supporters eventually began to find his tirades exhausting and reckless. The site launched it after using it to help eggs during the January 6, 2021 Capitol riot.
Trump has since launched his own social media site, Truth Social, a near Twitter scam where Trump shares “truths” instead of tweets to a much smaller audience. Musk invited Trump back on Twitter, but it’s unclear when the invitation will be accepted, if ever.
The Huffington Gt