Did DeSantis' Twitter Campaign Reveal Fail Bigly? One Graph Shows Why the Gamble May Have Been a Mistake
Once upon a time not too long ago — January, say — the sky looked like the limit for Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ presidential ambitions.
Not only had DeSantis crushed it in the 2022 midterms — winning a second term in the governor’s mansion by nearly 20 points after only narrowly beating Andrew Gillum in 2018 and turning deep blue areas of the Sunshine State Republican red — his chief opponent, former President Donald Trump, decidedly did not.
In several key races, Trump’s candidates faltered. Anti-Trump Republicans were quick to blame the former president for losing the Senate — and they may not have been wrong, considering the underwhelming performance of Trump-endorsed candidates like Blake Masters in Arizona, Herschel Walker in Georgia and Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania. Polls showed DeSantis closing in on Trump, if not outright leading in some cases.
Then, as soon as the Ron wave started, it began to peter out. Trump regained his footing, helped in no small part by an absurd indictment by Soros-funded Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg over non-disclosure payments made to Stormy Daniels and several other women. The rallies were back, as was the pugnacious side of The Donald. DeSantis, meanwhile, had yet to even declare.
But, on Wednesday evening, he made it official — and, not only that, but he eschewed the usual candidacy-announcement rally. No, shortly after he posted a video making his presidential challenge official, he sat down with Elon Musk and others in a Twitter Spaces streaming conversation.
I’m running for president to lead our Great American Comeback. pic.twitter.com/YmkWkLaVDg
— Ron DeSantis (@RonDeSantis) May 24, 2023
That was certainly a way to make headlines, both for DeSantis and for Musk: “Will Elon Musk Break the Legacy Media Stranglehold?” read the headline of a Ben Shapiro Op-Ed, which noted that “DeSantis’ decision represents yet another blow to the power of the legacy media.” Axios, meanwhile, declared that Twitter’s coup meant that “Elon Musk has displaced Rupert Murdoch and Fox News as the king of conservative media in recent weeks.”
After the event was over, DeSantis and Musk were still making headlines — albeit not in the way either would have liked.
Axios called the DeSantis Twitter event “glitchy,” which was a decided understatement: “The Twitter Spaces event got off to a rough start with an over 20-minute delay after the first link crashed. A second Twitter Spaces was started, but it was interspersed with occasionally dropped audio or disrupted connections for listeners,” the outlet noted.
This graph from DownDetector — which logs user complaints of website outages — summarizes just how bad the glitches and crashed links were affecting Twitter users who wanted to tune in to the livestream:
Talk about failing bigly, as a DeSantis rival might put it.
Now, there’s another way to look at this: DeSantis broke Twitter because the campaign announcement was so huge (or “yuge,” to use the terminology of the bigly one) that it broke Twitter’s capacity to handle that many simultaneous connections. It shows, at least, that there’s a certain level of excitement around the campaign — even if those excited to listen to the announcement were met with broken links and lagging conversations. It also would have helped if that excitement was requited.
When everything was working, alas, the event was decidedly uninspiring — and this is coming from a confirmed DeSantis fan, it must be noted. Musk was his usual entertaining self, but — despite having Trump’s chief rival for the GOP nomination and several other big names in the conservative movement present — the whole thing had the air of a bleary 8 a.m. all-hands Zoom call, just without the video.
In addition to Musk, DeSantis and moderator David Sacks — a Bay Area investor who’s backing the Florida governor — GOP Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie, conservative activist Christopher Rufo and anti-lockdown Stanford professor Jay Bhattacharya were there to lend their support.
I cannot pretend to be familiar with Sacks outside of seeing his name mentioned every now and then in something I’m reading, but I’m familiar with — and a major supporter of — every other participant in the Twitter Spaces discussion. And yet, even when the stream was working, it was only slightly more interesting than my last MRI.
Now, for Musk, the coup DeSantis’ Twitter Spaces campaign launch represents is probably worth the negative press from the technical difficulties. He can afford to consider the glitches as “a rapid unscheduled disassembly,” to use SpaceX’s lingo.
For DeSantis, whose campaign desperately needed a shot in the arm, the failed gimmick instead became an opportunity for opponents to take shots of their own:
Just like my policies, this link works:https://t.co/wzielsY4xD
Click here to support the consistent conservative candidate whose policies work every time.
— Gov. Asa Hutchinson (@AsaHutchinson) May 24, 2023
Donald Trump posted this on Truth Social 🤣
— Benny Johnson (@bennyjohnson) May 25, 2023
Those are two of DeSantis’ rivals for the GOP nomination; former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson took the more modest route, whereas Trump took the more … well, Trumpian route.
And it wasn’t just Republicans getting in on it, either:
This link works: https://t.co/9PzIJkseYI
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) May 24, 2023
When the people running President Biden’s official Twitter account feel confident enough to get away with poking fun at your gaffes, things have not gone exactly as planned.
Now, aside from the technical difficulties and the tedium, there was nothing wrong, per se, with DeSantis’ announcement. But then, there was nothing noteworthy, either. You’ve heard this from DeSantis before he was a candidate, and you probably liked it: He plans to run to the right of Trump. He thinks he’s a more viable candidate than either the former president or anyone else in his stable, and he plans to vigorously fight public-school indoctrination, government-enforced wokeness and big-tech bias. All of those are fantastic.
However, as you’ve probably heard once or twice from your significant other or spouse, it’s not what DeSantis said but how he was saying it — if, indeed, the glitchy feed allowed him to say it at all.
The knock on DeSantis has been that he’s effective as a governor, but boring and prickly as a candidate. What’s more, he’s quickly picked up a reputation as a guy who can’t seize momentum when it’s handed to him.
After the trainwreck that was the 2022 midterms — a red-wave derailment that, let’s face it, was partially Trump-induced — DeSantis’ fortunes skyrocketed. According to the RealClearPolitics polling aggregate, DeSantis had closed to within 13 points as of late February — and, more importantly, Trump was well under 50 percent at 43.2 percent to DeSantis’ 30.0 percent.
Considering that the GOP primary will probably come down to a two-person race — The Donald vs. whoever isn’t The Donald — it’s safe to say the Florida governor had good reason to hope that he could count on Mike Pence, Nikki Haley, Asa Hutchinson and Tim Scott supporters to vote for him if and when their chosen candidates abandon their single-digit campaigns.
Since then, things have taken a turn. As of Wednesday, Trump sat at 54.9 percent in the polling aggregate, an even 30 points ahead of DeSantis at 20.9 percent. It’s too early to see if Sen. Scott’s relatively conventional announcement speech registers in the polls, but it was clear from the hype leading up to Wednesday’s Twitter event that DeSantis was desperately trying to breathe life into a campaign that seemed to be dying before it even began.
Instead, the very-online stunt only proved that the knocks on DeSantis as a presidential contender weren’t just invented by his rivals. Yes, he may be a lockdown-fighting, wokeness-smiting hero in Tallahassee — but Wednesday’s gimmicky, glitchy, anemic campaign rollout indicated that, as a potential Donald-slayer, the man Trump calls “DeSanctimonious” isn’t necessarily ready for prime time. He’d better brush up in a hurry.
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