DeSantis launches US presidential bid in glitch-filled broadcast

DeSantis is seen as the most formidable opponent against former President Donald Trump for the Republican nomination.

Ron DeSantis
Ron DeSantis has championed conservative causes as Florida governor, calling his policies there a 'blueprint' for the nation [File: Sarah Silbiger/Reuters]

Washington, DC – After months of anticipation, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has officially launched his United States presidential campaign in a rocky, glitch-filled broadcast over Twitter.

“We need the courage to lead and we must have the strength to win,” he said after technical issues delayed Wednesday’s announcement by more than 20 minutes.

“If you nominate me, you can set your clock to January 20th, 2025, at high noon because on the west side of the US Capitol, I will be taking the oath of office as the 47th president.”

The broadcast, which was hosted by Twitter CEO Elon Musk and right-wing entrepreneur David Sacks, initially faltered multiple times.

“It just keeps crashing, huh?” someone was heard asking early on. The hosts later credited the technical difficulties to “scaling issues”.

“Just a massive number of people online,” one of the hosts can be heard saying. “So servers are straining somewhat.”

Republican field grows

Wednesday’s bumpy announcement sets up a fight between DeSantis and the presumed Republican frontrunner, former President Donald Trump.

Other Republican candidates include Senator Tim Scott, former envoy to the United Nations Nikki Haley and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. Former Vice President Mike Pence, who served under Trump, is also likely to launch a presidential campaign.

The teams for at least two presidential hopefuls — Trump and Haley — responded to DeSantis’s fumbling Twitter broadcast with social media posts of their own, showcasing their smoother campaign launches.

Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr, also weighed in on Twitter, comparing DeSantis to the failed campaign of 2016 candidate and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush: “DeSantis is making JEB!” He also dubbed the broadcast a “#DeSaster”.

The winner of the Republican presidential primary will face off against the Democratic nominee in the 2024 election, with current President Joe Biden the party’s likely nominee. Biden appeared to pan the governor’s technical difficulties on Wednesday, tweeting out a prompt to donate to his campaign with the caption, “This link works.”

Trump-endorsed governor becomes rival

DeSantis was endorsed by Trump during his first gubernatorial campaign in 2018, but he has since risen to national prominence in conservative circles as he champions right-wing policies in Florida.

Recent public opinion polls show DeSantis trailing Trump by a wide margin in a hypothetical primary showdown. But with the former president facing legal trouble, including criminal charges in New York, the Florida governor will be hoping to close the gap in the coming months.

The first Republican primaries will take place in Iowa early in 2024.

Trump has been regularly attacking DeSantis and touting his poll numbers on his Truth Social account. But so far, the Florida governor has largely ignored the criticism from the former president.

A 44-year-old US Navy veteran and former congressman, DeSantis will likely present himself throughout his campaign as an alternative to Trump. He also is expected to position himself as a candidate who can take the right-wing agenda he effectively implemented in Florida to the national level.

Many conservative commentators blamed Trump for the Republican Party’s worse-than-expected performance in the US midterm elections last year. In the same vote, DeSantis comfortably won re-election in Florida.

DeSantis recently suggested he would be a better nominee than Trump because he can serve for eight years and cement the Supreme Court’s conservative majority. The former president can only serve four years because of term limits.

“I think if you look over, you know, the next two presidential terms, there is a good chance that you could be called upon to seek replacements for Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito,” DeSantis said, referring to two conservatives on the top court.

On Tuesday, the governor’s wife, Casey DeSantis, tweeted a video in the style of a campaign advertisement showing DeSantis advancing towards an enormous US flag. A narrator speaks over dramatic music, saying the US is “worth” fighting for.

But early on Wednesday, Trump hit out at DeSantis, referring to him as “DeSancuts” for voting to cut social safety net programmes, including Social Security, when he was in Congress.

“Also, he desperately needs a personality transplant and, to the best of my knowledge, they are not medically available yet. A disloyal person!” Trump wrote in a social media post.

Florida ‘blueprint’ attracts controversy

Democrats have also been criticising DeSantis and calling his right-wing policies — including attempts to restrict discussions of racism and sexuality in schools — as bigoted and dangerous.

DeSantis has actively promoted his platform in Florida as a “blueprint” for the rest of the nation, including in his memoir The Courage to Be Free.

“Governor Ron DeSantis is an extremist who preaches about freedom while he strips away our freedoms as Floridians,” Democratic Florida State House Representative Anna Eskamani said in a statement on Wednesday.

“Whether it’s the six-week abortion ban, the targeting of LGBTQ+ people, the attacks on academic freedom, union busting or weakening gun laws and consumer protections, DeSantis does not care about the needs of everyday people, and Americans should reject him as a candidate for president.”

Laying out a presidential platform on Twitter

Sacks and Musk, the two hosts of DeSantis’s official campaign launch, sought to frame Wednesday’s broadcast as a “historic Twitter Spaces event” and “a first in the history of social media”.

But their introduction was cut short within seconds by the first of several significant pauses, as the audio dropped mid-sentence. Much of the first half hour was filled with dead air and occasional office noises like the sounds of typing and clicking.

After relaunching the broadcast through Sacks’s Twitter account, the three men embarked on a wide-ranging conversation that stretched over an hour long.

“We know our country is going in the wrong direction. We see it with our eyes, and we feel it in our bones,” DeSantis said in his opening speech, which touched on border issues, crime rates and the strain on the middle class.

“Our president, well, he lacks vigour, flounders in the face of our nation’s challenges, and he takes his cues from the woke mob,” DeSantis continued. “I don’t think it has to be this way. American decline isn’t inevitable. It is a choice.”

As part of his presidential platform, DeSantis vowed to declare a “national emergency” at the US border with Mexico within his first day in office and said he would continue to build the border wall — a controversial construction project closely associated with his rival, Trump.

He also promised to rein in government bureaucracy, which he depicted as “out of control” and subject to the “whims of unelected bureaucrats”.

“Buckle up when I get in there. Because the status quo is not acceptable,” he said, adding that government agencies are “not entitled to get the same level of funding every year”.

Among the agencies in DeSantis’s crosshairs was the Federal Reserve, the central banking system in the US. “They should not be the economic central planner for our country,” DeSantis said of the agency’s staff.

He called on the agency to “focus on maintaining a stable dollar” and indicated his support for Bitcoin, the world’s largest cryptocurrency, saying that the “central planners” in Washington, DC, perceive it as a threat.

During a question-and-answer segment, DeSantis took aim at familiar punching bags, including “legacy media” and “left-wing groups”.

He also weighed in on his ongoing feud with the Walt Disney Company, accusing the company of “trying to inject matters of sex into the programming for the youth”. Disney executives had previously criticised a piece of legislation dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill that limited classroom discussion of gender and sexual identity.

Despite the technical difficulties that started the broadcast, DeSantis ended on an upbeat note. “We should do it again,” he said before signing off.

Source: Al Jazeera