After months of anticipation and signaling, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to finally enter the 2024 presidential race officially Wednesday evening. But he’s going to be doing it in a highly unusual way: through a public conversation with Twitter CEO Elon Musk.
The launch has no precedent. Executives at major social media companies have sponsored nonpartisan election hubs to encourage voter participation, and they’ve privately met politicians to talk policy. But this development goes a step further. It publicly ties Twitter to a specific politician with a distinct MAGA-influenced ideological vision. It underscores Twitter’s ongoing evolution into a right-wing platform, and it could boost DeSantis as he struggles to loosen former President Donald Trump’s stranglehold on the Republican presidential race.
Everyone in this interaction will be getting a taste of a kind of power they don’t normally have.
NBC reported that DeSantis will announce his intention to run in a conversation with Musk on Twitter Spaces, the site’s platform for audio chats. The conversation will be moderated by David Sacks, a venture capitalist who has a close relationship with Musk, pours money into right-wing activism, and is a staunch DeSantis ally. Musk too has expressed support for DeSantis in the past. Last year, when a Twitter user asked him whom he was leaning toward supporting in 2024, Musk replied “DeSantis.”
Everyone in this interaction will be getting a taste of a kind of power they don’t normally have. Musk and, to a lesser extent, Sacks are tech titans who wield power through money, and increasingly in American culture through their purchase of media properties. (Musk, of course, used his tech wealth to purchase Twitter; Sacks co-founded the independent media platform Callin, recently acquired by Rumble). With this conversation, though, they’re trying to play political kingmakers.
Musk has insisted that the conversation is not an endorsement. But this highly unusual arrangement will likely introduce a significant number of his millions of followers to DeSantis and prompt them to view him more sympathetically. DeSantis is well known among politics junkies, but he has only a fraction of the mainstream cultural status that Trump has. Receiving attention and new followers from Musk’s hyperonline cult could help him as he looks to get traction in a race where Trump has pulled far ahead.
It’s unclear if Musk appreciates how this event comes across as making Twitter a platform for the right. Despite the new CEO’s managerial errors, Twitter remains by many measures the premier internet forum for political news and online activism in the U.S. But given Musk’s reputation for running Twitter as a personal dictatorship and his penchant for ad hoc decision-making, it is reasonable to ask if he would make content moderation decisions that are uniquely sympathetic to DeSantis or uniquely punitive toward his opponents. And even if Musk loses interest in DeSantis specifically, his apparent fondness for affiliating with specific politicians means those questions about fairness would persist for his future favorites. Even under Musk’s alleged free speech management of Twitter, the platform still suspends and disables accounts, and its algorithms are constantly shifting; an increasingly activist-oriented Musk could tweak any of those to benefit political figures he supports ahead of an election.
DeSantis for his part may hope that the Musk partnership acts as a signal to donors and the broader public. A source familiar with discussions between Musk and DeSantis' team told NBC News that Musk has indicated that he doesn’t think Trump can win the White House; that could be part of the reason why he’s boosting DeSantis. Musk’s stamp of approval could encourage tech megadonors to see DeSantis as a more attractive prospect. And regardless of the question of DeSantis’ viability, it can also be read as a signal that the capitalist class still prefers a more stable Republican in power to Trump.
Twitter and the MAGA right are becoming more deeply intertwined. The right-wing media network The Daily Wire recently announced that it's moving its podcasts to Twitter, and former Fox News host Tucker Carlson has said he plans to host a show on the platform as well. Twitter was never a neutral platform — there’s no such thing — but it’s now a platform that should be perceived with extreme skepticism as a fair arbiter of news and information. It’s one man’s playground, and the public good is not top of mind for him.