(The Hill) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) finally launched his campaign for the presidency on Wednesday.
His declaration, keenly anticipated for months, turned into a debacle — at least regarding its most highly-publicized element, a Twitter Spaces event with Elon Musk.
The glitch-ridden Twitter event must have left DeSantis furious and his key aides embarrassed.
The misfire also happened at a crucial moment, with former President Trump well ahead of the rest of the GOP field, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) just getting into the race on Monday, other contenders searching for traction — and speculation mounting about a possible surprise entry by Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R).
Here are the key takeaways from one of the 2024 campaign’s biggest nights to date.
Twitter’s tech misfire undermines DeSantis’s central case.
The keystone of DeSantis’s launch was intended to be the Twitter Spaces event.
Praised beforehand as innovative, it turned out to be disastrous.
It was beset with technical difficulties from the start. Many users reported being unable to log onto the event, and those who did had to struggle with audio that was interrupted, garbled, or dropped out entirely.
For those who were able to listen live, the event turned into a cringe-fest.
At one point, a voice that appeared to be that of moderator David Sacks plaintively claimed: “We are kind of melting the servers, which is a good sign.”
As the minutes ticked by, Musk’s voice materialized to declare it “an incredible honor” for DeSantis to make his “historic announcement” on Twitter — after which the audio immediately crashed again.
On one hand, even an embarrassment on the scale that DeSantis suffered on Wednesday night isn’t politically fatal.
But it’s worth remembering that the governor’s central case is that he is a more competent and effective rival to the purportedly more chaotic Trump.
The Wednesday night debacle administer a deep, self-inflicted wound to that case.
“Ron’s Desaster” was the online headline on the Daily Mail’s website. “Don’t say glitch — DeSantis Jumpy Start,” blared the Drudge Report. Conservative news site Breitbart proclaimed, “Twitter launch DeBacle for DeSantis.”
Trump and Biden united for once — in gloating
DeSantis’s epic misfire achieved one unusual feat — putting President Biden and former President Trump on the same page.
Neither Team Biden nor Team Trump was going to let pass such a golden opportunity to capitalize on DeSantis’s misfortune.
Biden, characteristically, opted for a milder approach.
His official Twitter account posted a link where supporters could give to his reelection campaign, drily adding, “This link works.”
Trump, who had been sniping at DeSantis in the hours before the Florida governor’s launch, wrote on TruthSocial: “‘Rob,’ My Red Button is bigger, better, stronger, and is working (TRUTH!), yours does not! (per my conversation with Kim Jung Un, of North Korea, soon to become my friend!)..”
A short time later, Trump followed up with:
“Wow! The DeSanctus TWITTER launch is a DISASTER! His whole campaign will be a disaster. WATCH!”
Such rhetoric is par for the course for Trump. But it must be galling for the DeSantis campaign to have given the former president such powerful ammunition.
A great night for the other “not-Trump” candidates
Republican candidates who hope to position themselves as alternatives to Trump were the other big winners on Wednesday. That’s true of declared candidates but also of those who are weighing whether to enter the race.
For months, those other “not-Trump” names have had to watch polls that showed DeSantis to be the former president’s most serious potential challenger — usually by some distance.
The messiness of DeSantis’s campaign launch cracks the door wider open for others.
Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley had released an ad on Wednesday morning attacking DeSantis as a pale copy of Trump and arguing that voters deserved “a choice, not an echo.”
Amid DeSantis’s Twitter meltdown, Haley’s press secretary tweeted a reminder of her smooth mid-February campaign launch and expressed pride about the vigor with which she had “jumped into the arena.”
One Tim Scott aide mockingly suggested he was going to make a “very special announcement…on AIM.”
Even former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a mild-mannered, long-shot candidate, got in on the act, tweeting a fundraising link and saying, “Just like my policies, this link works.”
But there is also one more intriguing beneficiary: Youngkin.
The Virginia governor had appeared to rule out a 2024 bid a few weeks ago. But that seems to have shifted somewhat. There is chatter about GOP donors being newly interested in Youngkin as DeSantis has faltered. Youngkin released an ad just last week that was notably presidential in tenor.
Wednesday night’s DeSantis flop will surely increase the clamor for Youngkin among some conservatives.
DeSantis tries to repair the damage on Fox News
DeSantis at least had a prompt opportunity to repair some of the damage from Twitter. Within about an hour, he was on Fox News for a long, primetime interview with Trey Gowdy, a former GOP congressman from South Carolina.
On Fox, DeSantis hit all the notes expected, with no technical troubles.
He talked about his own landslide win in his reelection fight last November, insisted that he had “unprecedented policy success,” and attacked Biden as a “listless vessel.”
He hit out at another favorite target too: “The ‘woke’ mind virus.”
The polished DeSantis performance on Fox might win back some lost ground. After all, though TV ratings are not instantly available, the same hour on Fox News the previous night had more than 1.4 million viewers — a far bigger audience than the audio-only Twitter Spaces event with Musk on Wednesday.
But even on Fox, DeSantis has to glancingly acknowledge the embarrassment of what had occurred earlier.
As he appealed for donations through his website, he added, “Maybe we can break that part of the internet as well.”
DeSantis bad stumble comes at the start of a marathon
Bad as Wednesday was for DeSantis, it’s important to keep some perspective.
A moment as dramatic as the Twitter Spaces misfire seems far bigger now than it will even next month.
The first GOP debate is not scheduled until August. The date of the Iowa GOP caucuses has not even been set yet.
Everything can change between now and early next year. Other candidates may rise and fall. DeSantis will have better moments. Trump’s legal troubles aren’t going away.
DeSantis stumbled badly on Wednesday — but he did so at the starting line of a marathon.