Awkward silence: Ron DeSantis’ audacious bet on Twitter that failed

It was the announcement that went unheard around the world.

Ron DeSantis plotted to open his presidential campaign early Wednesday night with a pioneering social media gamble, appearing at an audio-only Twitter forum with Elon Musk. His 2024 effort instead began with a moment of silence. Then several more.

A voice spoke, then two – that of Mr. Musk? – to disappear again.

“Now it’s quiet,” someone whispered. It was true.

“We have so many people here that we’re melting the servers,” said David Sacks, the nominal moderator, “which is a good sign.” It was not true.

Soon all the signs were bad. Keep the music playing during a spell. Some users were summarily booted from the platform, where hundreds of thousands of accounts had gathered to listen.

“Servers are stretched a bit,” Musk said at one point, perhaps unaware that his mic was hot, at least briefly.

For 25 minutes, the only person who was definitely not speaking (at least on the microphone) was Mr. DeSantis.

The Florida governor’s chosen deployment location was always going to be a risk, an aural gamble on Mr. Musk, a notoriously temperamental, oxygen-stealing co-star, and the persuasive powers of Mr. DeSantis’ own disembodied voice. . (“Whiny,” Donald J. Trump called it.)

But the higher-order disadvantages turned out to be more relevant. Twitter’s streaming tool, known as Spaces, has always been glitchy. Executive competence, central to the DeSantis campaign message, was conspicuously absent. And for a politician credibly accused over the years of being incorrigibly online — a former DeSantis aide said he regularly read his mentions on Twitter — the event amounted to firm confirmation, an exercise in the zeitgeist turning instead into a hellish conference call.

“You can tell from some of the errors that it’s real,” Musk said.

At 6:26 p.m. Mr. DeSantis finally announced himself, long after his campaign had announced its intentions, reading from a script that often featured an introductory video and an email sent to reporters more than 20 minutes earlier.

“Well,” he opened, “I’m running for President of the United States to lead our great American comeback.”

After perusing a curated biography that noted his military background and “energetic” demeanor, Mr. DeSantis stuck to the line. Mr. Sacks, a tech entrepreneur close to Mr. Musk, acknowledged the earlier mess.

“Thank you for putting up with these technical issues,” he said. “What made you want to take the risk of doing it this way?”

Mr DeSantis immediately deviated to his handling of Florida in the Covid era.

“Are you going with the crowd? he asked, remembering his expert decision-making, “or do you look at the data yourself and cut against the grain?”

Rivals agreed: if he hoped to differentiate himself, Mr. DeSantis had succeeded, in his own way.

“This link works,” the @JoeBiden account mocked, inviting followers to donate.

“‘Rob’,” Trump posted on Truth Social, a standard misspelling troll, turning into a confusing (if potentially juvenile) punchline: “My red button is bigger, better, stronger and works .”

Even Fox News piled on.

“Do you really want to see and hear Ron DeSantis?” read a pop-up banner on its website. “Tune into Fox News at 8 p.m. ET” (Asking for donations once it aired, Mr. DeSantis wondered if supporters might “crack that part of the internet, too”).

As minor as a technological hiccup may prove to be in the long run, it was a disheartening turn for Mr. DeSantis after months of painstaking political choreography.

Much of his strength as a candidate over the past year has been moot — the mystery box candidate building a national profile on his terms: liberal killer, foe crusher, the Trumpy non-Trump.

He would conquer and coast. He would make America Florida.

It would be a sight to behold. Probably.

The reality of Mr. DeSantis’ pre-candidacy has been less towering, clouded by worried public appearances, wayward donors and a large polling gap between him and Mr. Trump.

With better technology, perhaps, a visual-free start to the campaign might have been a smart way to rediscover that aura of the past, to let listeners fill in the mystery box as they pleased, before Mr. Trump tried to throw it away. off stage.

Or maybe the governor’s apparent perks — watching the part, before the full audition — were always doomed to mistranslate on Wednesday when there was nothing to see. It’s hard to project indomitable bluster and lash out at everyone at an unseen gathering devoid of unfriendly questions or daily voters.

Mr. DeSantis suggested that he did not need such contributions. “I just instinctively know how normal people feel about a lot of these things,” DeSantis said of culture war issues, amid musings on “woke banking” and “accreditation cartels.”

But then, it wasn’t meant to be a typical kick-off event, governed by visual cues and administrative precision: a stately lectern, unwrinkled American flags, plausibly enthusiastic supporters optimally positioned behind the candidate. .

“It’s not about building a brand or signaling virtue,” Mr. DeSantis said of his leadership at one point. And if his ambition was to generate organic buzz, the governor granted his wish.

It was unique, compelling, basically viral.

It was a sight to behold. Probably.


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