There’s a standard move for presidential candidates when launching their campaigns: They and their team pick a location that has something to do with the candidate, find a nice backdrop, invite supporters, hand them signs, and deliver a rousing speech. It’s Campaign Management 101.
There are, of course, occasional exceptions. Some modern candidates have kicked off their candidacies by releasing videos online. Some have turned to Sunday shows such as “Meet the Press.” A few have turned to late-night comedy shows to make their announcements.
But given the circumstances, it seemed likely that Gov. Ron DeSantis would choose a more traditional route. After all, he’s a Floridian: The Republican could’ve held a rally filled with adoring supporters, against a backdrop of palm trees and beaches. It would’ve made for great visuals, both for broadcast media and newspaper front pages.
Or, alternatively, the far-right governor could make the announcement in an audio-only Twitter gathering while hanging out with the platform’s controversial CEO, Elon Musk.
On the surface, this was an odd choice, though overly generous observers tried to make the case that this route positioned DeSantis as forward-thinking and tech savvy.
But as you’ve probably heard, it quickly became obvious that this was not a wise choice. NBC News reported:
The start of a much-anticipated Twitter event in which Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis planned to announce his 2024 Republican presidential bid was repeatedly disrupted Wednesday when Twitter’s servers apparently could not handle the surge in traffic. The app crashed repeatedly as Twitter users tried to listen to the event where Twitter owner Elon Musk joined DeSantis for the announcement.
Musk ultimately created a new Twitter Space event, allowing the GOP candidate to announce his candidacy — to a fairly modest audience. NBC News’ report added that, according to Twitter’s public-facing data, roughly 161,000 users logged into the space, and by the time DeSantis reached his big moment, “there were fewer than 70,000 viewers remaining, a significantly smaller audience than is traditional for a major presidential campaign launch.”
Let’s not forget that the far-right Floridian’s national ambitions have been obvious for quite some time. This wasn’t a “Draft DeSantis” movement that came together quickly: The governor has effectively been running for president for at least a year, and he and his team spent months preparing for their big announcement.
To be sure, it’d be unfair to blame the Republican for Twitter’s technical breakdowns. It’s not as if DeSantis is responsible for Musk’s difficulties in managing the social media platform.
But DeSantis nevertheless thought this would be a good idea. It really wasn’t. The governor’s biggest achievement yesterday was bringing Democrats and Republicans together in mocking him relentlessly.
Making matters worse for the new presidential candidate is the potency of the broader message. Politico summarized it this way:
The risk for DeSantis is the prospect of the botched rollout forming a narrative and cutting against the very argument he is making to Republican primary voters — that he is a competent alternative to the chaotic presidency of former President Donald Trump. The governor has been portraying himself in public speeches and private donor meetings as a controlled, low-drama politician who embraces many of Trump’s policy positions without the trademark unpredictability. But on Wednesday, DeSantis — who fiercely values control — was the picture of disorder.
For months, DeSantis’ allies have used a simple, three-word phrase to summarize his burgeoning national candidacy: “Trump but competent.” The message wasn’t subtle: Those who love the former president’s reactionary and regressive vision, but find themselves uncomfortable with all the incompetence and bombast, can safely turn to DeSantis, who’ll offer the far-right agenda without the drama.
That pitch is suddenly a much tougher sell.
Making matters worse, yesterday’s Twitter fiasco comes on the heels of several weeks’ worth of DeSantis missteps, which has taken a toll on his polling support, and led other Republicans to increasingly see him as a "paper tiger" who’ll struggle to compete in the coming months.
Indeed, the governor’s biggest problem is the perception that his partisan resume looks great on paper, but the guy just isn’t ready for prime time. George Will, who’s hardly a liberal, wrote in a recent column: “In politics as in baseball, at which the young DeSantis excelled, ‘AAAA players’ are those who excel in AAA ball, the highest minor league, but fail above that. A presidential campaign is a rigorous apprenticeship that DeSantis, although still not an announced candidate, is, less than a mile into the marathon, flunking.”
That column ran in early April. The Florida Republican’s troubles are far worse now.