Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s official campaign launch on Wednesday underscored how the battle for the Republican presidential nomination will, to a large extent, be fought online.
DeSantis chose to launch his campaign via Twitter Spaces — a section on the app where you can have real-time audio-only conversations with other users — with Twitter chief Elon Musk and libertarian entrepreneur David Sacks.
The event was marred by technical difficulties. Once it was over, the DeSantis campaign released a video using audio from his conversation that was as heavy on imagery of Musk as it was the governor — making it almost seem as if the billionaire was his running mate.
Despite hosting his launch, Musk has not officially endorsed DeSantis and is ineligible to run for the presidency due to being born in South Africa. CNN reported Wednesday that the DeSantis campaign had scrapped plans for a traditional launch event in his hometown of Dunedin, a Tampa suburb.
Trump hits back
Former President Donald Trump, who has expanded his lead for a third Republican nomination in national polling despite a litany of legal issues, and his campaign had numerous response videos at the ready. Some were traditional attack ads, but others were more bizarre.
For example, Trump's social media account posted a two-minute parody video of DeSantis's launch that showed the governor trying to announce his candidacy alongside Satan, Adolf Hitler and Democratic megadonor George Soros, among others.
Additionally, Trump posted a video of a rocket launch failing with a "Ron! 2024" graphic over top of it, a likely allusion to one of Musk's companies, SpaceX. Another video showed the technical glitches of DeSantis's event contrasted with Trump walking out to give a speech on a flag-adorned stage.
“I know Ron,” Trump wrote on his Truth Social account. “The way he handled his announcement, he will handle the Country!”
President Biden's team also took a shot at DeSantis's glitchy launch, tweeting out a campaign donation page along with the message "This link works." Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who is also running for the GOP nomination, had a similar approach, tweeting out "Just like my policies, this link works," with a link to his fundraising page.
DeSantis, for his part, did not attack Trump by name.
A focus on base issues
Beyond the decision to launch his campaign through an audio-only event on a wobbly social network that is nonetheless popular with conservatives, DeSantis spent his time on Twitter Spaces and a subsequent appearance on Fox News focused squarely on the Republican base.
DeSantis criticized workplace diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs, but a Pew Research Center poll released last week showed that 56% of Americans think they are a good idea, with only 16% saying they are bad. He also went after the acronym ESG, which stands for environment, social and governance investing, a popular target among some conservatives.
According to a Gallup poll released Tuesday, a majority of Americans either have little or no familiarity with the concept of ESG investing. That poll found that 22% had a positive view of ESG, versus 19% that had a negative view. The vast majority of respondents (59%) were unsure.
"It's still a critical question for DeSantis whether this kind of talk will resonate with average voters, or whether the frequent references on Wednesday to acronyms like 'DEI' and 'ESG' will seem confusing to anyone but hardcore conservatives," wrote Semafor in its analysis of the speech.
Generally, the policies that earned DeSantis the praise of some conservative pundits are not supported by the broader American public, according to a Yahoo News/YouGov poll from March. The most recent example is a six-week abortion ban DeSantis signed last month, a policy opposed by even 75% of Floridians, according to a University of North Florida poll.