Two things can be true at the same time:
Ron DeSantis did not lose the 2024 Republican presidential primary on Wednesday night
His campaign kickoff on Twitter was not only an unmitigated disaster but also has real and potentially lasting effects on his efforts going forward.
Let’s deal with the disaster part first.
Announcing on Twitter was supposed to be an edgy, attention-grabbing ploy — allowing DeSantis to get loads of attention while cozying up to the edgelord himself Elon Musk.
Instead it turned into a glitch-filled amateur hour that primarily showcased the limitations of Musk’s platform and DeSantis’ lack of prime-time readiness.
Here’s how the New York Times described it:
The social media site’s servers were apparently overloaded, crashing repeatedly. Twenty minutes into the “broadcast,” Mr. DeSantis had yet to be heard from, though Twitter personnel could be heard lamenting the situation.
Nearly a half-hour in, Mr. DeSantis got the microphone to declare, “I am running for president of the United States to lead our great American comeback.” But by then, hundreds of thousands of listeners had abandoned the platform, Mr. Trump’s super PAC was mocking him, and even President Biden’s campaign had joined the schadenfreude.
POLITICO was more blunt, headlining their piece on the announcement: “DeSantis’ launch marred by horrendous tech failures”
The Atlanta Journal Constitution called it a “Zoom call crossed with a Space X launchpad explosion.”
Donald Trump and his team quickly leapt on the DeSantis’ mistake — posting an image of a rocket with “Ron 2024” on the side toppling over and blowing up. You get the idea.
Put simply: The Twitter “launch” was one of the worst unforced errors you will see at this high level of politics. Just a huge unforced error. And a reminder that the traditional way of announcing for president — give a speech in an early-voting state then do a bunch of TV appearances — is traditional because, well, it works.
(Sidebar: Mike Hudome, a longtime Republican consultant, made an interesting point to me even before the Twitter event went kaput — suggesting that by appearing with Musk, DeSantis was making a mistake. “He is using Musk as a crutch,” said Hudome. “Big mistake on the level of colossal…Will Musk be speaking on behalf of DeSantis? Will he act as formal advisor? No matter the answer, DeSantis will reek of any stench Musk emits.” Good point! Hudome also rightly predicted the possibility of Twitter glitchiness!)
DeSantis and his team tried desperately to spin things in a favorable direction. In a fundraising pitch send after the debacle, they said that DeSantis had “broke the Internet.”
They also tried to downplay the impact of the announcement, noting that you barely ever remember how someone announced for president — and that voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and beyond aren’t going to care.
Which, sort of? I mean, I remember how Donald Trump announced…
But, I get the overall point they are trying to make. I just disagree with it.
Consider the following facts:
DeSantis’ campaign-in-waiting has been in free fall for months
There are questions about whether he and his campaign are ready for the big stage
The campaign was billing this announcement as a pushing of the “reset” button
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Now consider what actually happened. Did anything about DeSantis’ botched announcement make you (or any voter paying attention) reconsider your doubts about DeSantis’ capability to take on a race this big? Do you think anything that happened on Wednesday night will help DeSantis’ poll numbers?
Of course not!
The truth of presidential campaigns is that you only get so many chances — so many times when the public is paying attention to what you are saying.
And your formal announcement is a biggie. (It’s why campaigns often announce twice — an exploratory committee and then the formal run. Gets you two bites at the apple.)
It’s a day — or even a week if you do it right — where you get lots and lots of positive press attention. The media usually writes straight takes on your announcement speech and gives attention to all the money you raise in your first day as a candidate. Win-win.
It’s a time that you completely choreograph to go as right for you as possible. To make a mess of it is, therefore, campaign malpractice.
Which brings me back to what this means for DeSantis. Out of all the candidates in the field, he most badly needed a reset with his announcement. He needed to show competence and readiness, to prove that the moment wasn’t too big for him.
He proved the exact opposite. And rather than the announcement being the start of a new phase of his campaign — one in which he surged back into competitiveness with Trump — it looked, instead, like another data point for his decline.
That isn’t going to go away. At best, it’s a missed opportunity to change the conversation around DeSantis. At worst, it’s a sign that he and his campaign just can’t cut it at this level.
I’d put that event right up there with Rudy’s Four Seasons gig.
How is his campaign so bad at this? You said what I was thinking, by associating himself with Musk, he gets drawn into whatever controversy he creates next, manufactured or otherwise.