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Trump vs. DeSantis: The 2024 presidential campaigns are about to get weird

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ glitchy Republican presidential campaign launch with Elon Musk on Wednesday night is grabbing all the attention. But don’t sleep on the utter weirdness that followed – and which, apparently, will continue.

Shortly after the event, DeSantis’ campaign set about trying to make lemonade from his lemons. His Rapid Response Team released a bizarre web video featuring DeSantis’ stilted, almost disembodied opening statement of the event, superimposed over seemingly random b-roll shots of not only DeSantis but also, extensively, Musk.

There was Musk with a flamethrower. There was Musk promoting his Teslas at an elaborate, visually appealing event that was essentially the polar opposite of DeSantis’ launch. There was young Musk just… sitting in front of a keyboard. There was DeSantis talking about the fentanyl toll as the image showed him smiling and waving. It might have made sense as a video if DeSantis announced Musk as his running mate — a particular emphasis on “could.”

Then came the response from Donald Trump. Seeking to capitalize on the botched rollout, he posted a vulgar AI video mocking the Twitter Spaces event. It featured a repeatedly coughing “Dick Cheney” over a hot mic. It featured the “FBI” (seemingly, at random, using Anderson Cooper’s voice) asking, “So how are we going to take down Trump, guys?” “Adolph Hitler” and “The Devil” argued about homosexuals. “Trump” explained how Cheney would soon be dead and how DeSantis could embrace his “big beautiful ass from 2024.”

Trump also posted on Truth Social at the event, “‘Rob,’ my red button is bigger, better, stronger and works (TRUTH!), yours doesn’t! (from my conversation with Kim Jung Un from North Korea, soon to be my friend!).”

By the end of the night, Musk summed it up nicely. Responding to a tweet about all the adjectives the media used to describe the failed DeSantis-Twitter launch event, Musk shot back, “I call it ‘massive attention.’ Top story on Earth today.”

All attention is good attention. The important thing is that the people who noticed and noted how completely weird the whole thing was were possessed in one way or another. The DeSantis team retweeted Musk’s sentiment.

Trump’s 2016 campaign set the precedent for bizarre. There was the suggestion that Ted Cruz’s father had killed John F. Kennedy. There was Trump quarreling with the Pope. There was the taco salad tweet. There was Trump giving Lindsey O. Graham’s personal cell phone number.

But aside from Marco Rubio’s hint at the size of a certain part of Trump’s anatomy, Trump was running against normal Republicans in a mostly pre-library era who didn’t really indulge in such trifles. . (Rubio even apologized later.)

What the 2024 campaign portends is something quite different.

Not only has Trump become increasingly confrontational and extreme, as The Washington Post reported this week, but DeSantis has also built his brand around provocation.

More than Trump, he is content to focus on getting things done rather than just gushing. But it’s obvious his campaign will go hand in hand with Trump when it comes to bringing in the very online and far-right crowd to try and stay part of the conversation. He previously outsourced that to a particular pugnacious member of his staff and people named as his critical coronavirus vaccine surgeon general, but a presidential campaign demands more than a few staffers can deliver. And there’s not much slack you can do through official actions, especially when the legislature is adjourned.

The decision to launch with billionaire-troll Musk – and then align so strongly with him afterwards – also suggests where this is headed. DeSantis is clearly going to operate as a version of Trump, and that requires hitting some of the same notes on the trolling front, particularly if Trump is going to keep doling it out, as he always does.

In some ways, this is the campaign the modern Republican Party deserves. For years, Republican members of Congress have dismissed or ignored Trump’s social media provocations as the rantings of a conspiratorial uncle. But it gradually allowed the market for this stuff to grow.

And judging by last night, the 2024 GOP primary will include a fight for market share.


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