Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' planned announcement of his 2024 campaign in a conversation with Twitter owner Elon Musk was stalled by technical difficulties on the social media platform Wednesday night, delaying the discussion for nearly half an hour.
When the discussion resumed in a Twitter Space, the network's live audio feature, hosted by DeSantis himself, the scattered discussion touched on COVID-19 policies, border security, Florida's restrictions on education, DeSantis' battle with Disney, tech companies' policies, cryptocurrency, and Elon Musk's decision to restore thousands of accounts that had been banned under Twitter's prior ownership.
What You Need To Know
- Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' planned announcement of his 2024 campaign in a conversation with Twitter owner Elon Musk was stalled by technical difficulties on the social media platform Wednesday night, delaying the discussion for nearly half an hour
- The Florida Republican is kicking off a campaign where he will attempt to outpace the race's frontrunner, former President Donald Trump, and a slew of other Republicans in a bid to face off with President Joe Biden in the general election
- DeSantis railed against the media, federal agencies that lead public health efforts during the pandemic, as well as the NAACP, which issued a travel advisory this week warning that Florida is “openly hostile toward African Americans, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals”
- He also called for major overhauls of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health
"We will reconstitutionalize the executive branch and will bring the administrative state to heel," DeSantis said in brief remarks at the beginning of the discussion. "You can't do any of that if you don't win. There is no substitute for victory. We must end the culture of losing that has infected the Republican Party."
Noting Republicans' recent electoral struggles was a not-so-subtle shot at his main rival and the race's frontrunner, former President Donald Trump, who DeSantis will have to outpace to earn his party's nomination to take on President Joe Biden in the general election. DeSantis did not mention Trump by name and was not asked about his former ally.
The Republican said the decision to use Twitter to launch his campaign was inspired by his disagreements with the scientific consensus and the federal government during the worst days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was very, very lonely … and part of the reason it was so lonely is because there was a concerted effort to try to stifle dissent,” DeSantis charged. “If we can't have an honest debate in a free country about issues that affect hundreds of millions of people like lockdowns, then what good is the First Amendment at that point?”
He heralded Elon Musk’s ownership of Twitter as a model for free and open discussion, contrasting it with other social media networks whose policies he disagreed with.
Musk has drawn controversy and criticism from Democrats and disinformation experts since buying Twitter for $44 billion last year. But conservatives and the American far-right have rallied around him, cheering him on as he wades into culture wars, spreads misinformation, and unblocked thousands of right-wing Twitter users.
Musk told the Wall Street Journal over the weekend he has no plans to endorse a particular candidate, but hopes to use Twitter as a forum to host candidates, something he reiterated at the end of the discussion on Wednesday. Sacks said there would be an open invitation to any candidate who wanted to participate in a similar conversation.
DeSantis went on to rail against the media, federal agencies that lead public health efforts during the pandemic, as well as the NAACP, which issued a travel advisory this week warning that Florida is “openly hostile toward African Americans, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals.”
“This is a political stunt,” DeSantis said of the NAACP. “These left wing groups have been doing it for many, many years. And at the end of the day, what they're doing is colluding with legacy media to try to manufacture a narrative.”
He also called for major overhauls of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health.
“I think the U.S. government needs to acknowledge the failures and I think all of those agencies need to be cleaned out,” the Florida governor said. “I don't have confidence that those agencies are up to the task, and I think you need major major overhaul of the whole enchilada with respect to public health in this country.”
The discussion featured other speakers beyond DeSantis, Mus and Twitter employee David Sacks, a longtime tech entrepreneur and Republican donor who moderated the conversation. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., chimed in to say he was one of Musk's "biggest fans" and asked DeSantis if he supports legislation that would gut the federal bueracracy and restrict the executive branch's ability to intepret policy. DeSantis said he did and pledged to make drastic changes to the structure of the federal government.
"This government, and these agencies are totally out of control, there's no accountability. And we are going to bring that in a very big way," DeSantis said.
Speakers, including DeSantis adviser Chris Rufo, also frequently praised the Florida governor's opposition to diversity programs and education on race and gender.
"You've eliminated [Critical Race Theory] from all Florida's public institutions, you've stopped gender ideology in its tracks in K-12, and just last week you elimitated [Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs] bureaucracy in all of Florida's public universities," Rufo said. "What you've done is established a blueprint for fighting back against the left's long march with the institutions."
DeSantis has spent the last few years using his office in concert with the Florida legislature to boost his credentials with the Republican party’s right-wing and attempt to win over Trump supporters by wading into the so-called culture wars and targeting educators, colleges, LGBTQ Floridians, and migrants with a series of tough laws and restrictions.
He sought to punish one of Florida’s largest employers, Disney, for opposing a controversial education law dubbed by critics as the "Don't Say Gay" bill. He’s signed legislation that makes it easier for schools to ban books, barred teachers from giving lessons on systematic racism and gender identity, and gutted a Florida university’s leadership as part of an effort to end diversity, equity and inclusion programs and, according to his administration, “course correct universities’ missions to align education for citizenship of the constitutional republic.”
After DeSantis and Florida lawmakers passed legislation restricting teachings on gender identity in public schools, Disney came out in opposition, triggering a long, ongoing feud between the governor and the entertainment giant. The dispute has culminated in a lawsuit accusing the state of "a targeted campaign of government retaliation."
"We believe jamming gender ideology in elementary school is wrong. Disney obviously supported injecting gender ideology in elementary school," DeSantis said on Wednesday. "So we ended their self-governing status. So Disney has to live under the same laws as everybody, they gotta pay the same taxes as everybody."
He also denied any books had been banned in the state, but PEN America, a nonprofit that advocates for freedom of expression, found that individual school districts banned 357 books between July and December 2022, the second most of any state in the country.
Musk and Sacks kicked off the conversation on Twitter Spaces just after 6 p.m. EST, but disruptions began and DeSantis had yet to speak as of 6:30 p.m.
“We've got just a massive number of people online. So its servers are straining somewhat,” Musk said about eight minutes in, after one outage.
After another two minutes of silence, Musk added “we're just reallocating more server capability to be able to handle load here. It's really going crazy. So yeah, I'm super excited to have Gov. DeSantis make this --"
The audio on Musk’s feed then cut out again and did not return. The conversation later resumed on a Twitter Space hosted by DeSantis, with hundreds of thousands fewer listeners.
Democrats were quick to respond, with President Joe Biden’s campaign Twitter posting a link for people to donate to his campaign captioned “this link works.”
“In true Ron DeSantis fashion, his presidential launch was quite literally not ready for primetime. Welcome to the race for the MAGA base, Ron!” DNC spokesperson Ammar Moussa said in a statement to Axios.
Just before the conversation’s scheduled start, DeSantis released a minute-long video announcing his campaign. Earlier in the day, he filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission.
"In Florida, we proved it can be done. We chose facts over fear, education over indoctrination, law and order over rioting and disorder," DeSantis said in the video. "I'm Ron DeSantis and I'm running for president to lead our great American comeback."
DeSantis also appeared on Fox News on Wednesday, touching on many of the same points, but also defended the state’s six-week abortion ban and said he’d prioritize moving toward energy independence over the Biden administration’s clean energy policies.
DeSantis' main advesary, Trump, has attacked his old ally at rallies, in interviews, and dozens of times on his social media network, Truth Social.
On Wednesday, Trump responded to DeSantis' announcement on Truth Social, referring to the governor as "Rob" and calling the launch "a catastrophe."
"Wow! The DeSanctus TWITTER launch is a DISASTER! His whole campaign will be a disaster. WATCH!" the former president posted.
In another post, he wrote: "Is the DeSantis launch FATAL? Yes!"
He also shared a video with a mock DeSantis campaign logo backed by a rocket built by SpaceX, another Musk company, falling over on its side and exploding.
DeSantis emerged as a key supporter of Trump during his presidency and was endorsed by the then-president during his successful campaign for governor in 2018. Trump has repeatedly said that his endorsement boosted DeSantis to victory.
Now with the former allies at odds, DeSantis heads into the race with a pretty substantial war chest. He has access to more than $110 million in campaign funds left over from his gubernatorial run, and some fundraisers he had before his official announcement.
In comparison, Trump’s campaign has raised over $18 million since November, and a super PAC has access to $55 million in cash reserves.
The governor also begin the year with a decent showing in the polls. On March 5, the polling aggregator FiveThirtyEight showed that on average, Trump earned 44.8% support among Republican voters, compared to DeSantis’ 29.6% support. On Tuesday, the disparity had grown to 53.5% for Trump and 20.8% for DeSantis, on average. No other contender was polling above 5.5%.
DeSantis attended Dunedin High School outside Tampa before going to Yale University. He later attended Harvard Law School, where he earned a commission in the U.S. Navy as a Judge Advocate General, or JAG, officer.
He served in Iraq as a legal advisor and earned a Bronze Star and an Iraq Campaign Medal. The future governor later served at Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. military base in Cuba where accused terrorists have been held during the post-9/11 wars. At least two detainees have since accused him of observing their force-feeding by U.S. officials.
After his service, he worked as a federal prosecutor before being elected to Congress in 2012. He was elected twice to be Florida’s governor, most recently last year.
He joins Trump, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, and former California gubernatorial candidate Larry Elder in the Republican primary race for president. Former Vice President Mike Pence, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and several other prominent Republican officials have been teasing runs, but have yet to officially announce.