WASHINGTON: Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s long-awaited entry into the 2024 presidential campaign descended into a fiasco on Wednesday as the opening of the live Twitter event intended to announce his candidacy was derailed by glitches. The conversation repeatedly crashed as the platform’s servers were apparently overwhelmed, and many of the 400,000-plus users who were hoping to listen in missed the 44-year-old conservative throwing down the gauntlet to Republican primary frontrunner Donald Trump.
DeSantis finally began speaking after almost half an hour of confusion and chaos — although what should have been an exultant launch had been thoroughly overshadowed by the time he was able to make his case for the Republican nomination. “I am running for president of the United States to lead our great American comeback,” he told the listeners, although tens of thousands had abandoned Twitter by that point.
As the website struggled to get the event back on track, its owner Elon Musk, performing hosting duties, could be heard noting the “massive number of people online” who had caused the servers to begin “straining somewhat”. While organizers sought to highlight the event’s popularity — the DeSantis camp said it had raised $1 million online in one hour — Biden’s team was quick to capitalize on the glitches, tweeting a link to a fundraising page and stating: “This link works.” Trump joked on his Truth Social platform that “My Red Button is bigger, better, stronger, and is working” — an oblique reference to a war of words he once had with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. The conversation eventually went on for more than an hour, but technical gremlins persisted — a setback mocked as encapsulating the downward turn the governor’s image has taken of late.
‘War on woke’
Long viewed as the most formidable challenger to twice-impeached Trump, DeSantis boasts deep midwestern roots, a large campaign fund, a list of ultra-conservative legislative wins and an unblemished record of election victories. While Trump has dominated headlines with his legal woes, DeSantis has presented himself as the tip of the spear in the struggle of ordinary Americans against progressive values he sees as authoritarian and divisive.
The governor gave a more traditional interview — minus the setbacks — on conservative TV network Fox News after the Twitter event, and tried to reclaim his reputation for order and competence. “If you nominate me, I pledge to you that on January 20, 2025, at high noon, I’ll be the guy on the west side of the Capitol with the left hand on the Bible and the right hand in the air, taking the oath of office as the 47th president of the United States,” he said. “No more excuses — we’ve got to get this one done.”
DeSantis has used his position as Florida’s chief executive to stack up a litany of conservative accomplishments, signing off on some 80 state laws targeting “woke indoctrination” in schools and other public institutions. They include a ban on discussing gender identity and sexual orientation in schools, a block on funding efforts to promote diversity at public universities and one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country. “The woke mind virus is basically a form of Cultural Marxism. At the end of the day, it’s an attack on the truth, and because it’s a war on truth, I think we have no choice but to wage a war on woke,” he told Fox News.
Trump on the attack
Refraining from explicitly criticizing Trump, the governor used the event to draw a distinction between his record of getting policy initiatives into the statute books and the former president’s reputation for legislative inertia and chaos in his personal and professional life. But DeSantis lacks the frontrunner’s national profile and the launch comes with his ratings in decline, as a number of policy missteps have prompted disquiet about his readiness to take on Trump. He now faces the daunting task of closing an enormous polling gap, with Trump posting leads of close to 40 percentage points, despite being indicted on felony financial charges and being found liable for sexual abuse in a New York civil trial. Behind the scenes, the Trump and DeSantis camps have been jostling to secure endorsements from state lawmakers while, at the national level, Florida’s congressional delegation has broken heavily for Trump.
But DeSantis is seen as lacking the natural charm needed to peel away some of the 14 million voters who backed Trump in the last competitive Republican primary, in 2016. Trump has not posted on Twitter since his two-year ban over the 2021 US Capitol riot ended in November, but has been using his own social network to attack DeSantis almost daily. In a Wednesday morning post, Trump said the governor “desperately needs a personality transplant and, to the best of my knowledge, they are not medically available yet”. — AFP