It was the announcement that was not heard around the world.
Ron DeSantis planned to kick off his presidential campaign early Wednesday night with a groundbreaking social media move, introducing himself during an audio-only Twitter forum with Elon Musk. His commitment in 2024 began instead with a moment of silence. Then many others.
One voice stopped, then two: Mr. Musk’s? – only to disappear again.
« It’s quiet now, » someone whispered. This was true.
« We have so many people here that we’re disbanding the servers, » said David Sacks, the nominal moderator, « which is a good sign. » This was not true.
Soon, all signs were bad. Keep the music playing for one spell. Some users were summarily booted from the platform, where hundreds of thousands of accounts had gathered to listen.
“The servers are straining a bit,” Mr. Musk said at one point, perhaps unaware that his microphone was hot, at least briefly.
For 25 minutes, the only person who unequivocally didn’t speak (at least into the microphone) was Mr. DeSantis.
The Florida governor’s chosen launch site was always going to be a gamble, an aural gamble on Mr. Musk, a notoriously temperamental, oxygen-stealing co-star, and the persuasive powers of Mr. DeSantis’ disembodied voice. (“Whiny,” Donald J. Trump called it.)
But the higher-order negatives turned out to be more relevant. Twitter’s streaming tool, known as Spaces, has historically been glitchy. Executive competence, central to the DeSantis campaign message, was conspicuously absent. And for a politician credibly accused over the years of being incorrigibly online — a former DeSantis aide said he regularly reads his Twitter mentions — the event was a stark validation, a zeitgeist exercise that instead turned into a conference call from hell.
“You can tell by some of the mistakes that it’s real,” Musk said.
At 6:26 p.m., Mr. DeSantis finally announced himself, long after his campaign announced its intentions, reading from a script that often parroted an introductory video and email sent to reporters more than 20 minutes before.
« Well, » he opened, « I’m running for president of the United States to lead our great American comeback. »
After scrolling through an edited biography that noted his military background and « forceful » bearing, Mr. DeSantis stayed on the line, where Mr. Sacks acknowledged the bungling.
« Thank you for enduring these technical issues, » he said. “What made you want to take the risk of doing it this way?”
Mr. DeSantis immediately moved on to his administration of Covid-era Florida.
« Do you go with the crowd? » he asked, recalling his own decision-making scoffing at the experts, « or do you look at the data yourself and cut against the grain? »
The rivals agreed: if Mr. DeSantis had hoped to differentiate himself, he had succeeded, in his own way.
“This link works,” the @JoeBiden account mocked, urging followers to donate.
« ‘Rob,' » Mr. Trump posted on Truth Social, a standard misspelling troll, which winds up with a confusing (if potentially juvenile) punchline: « My red button is bigger, better, louder and it works ».
Fox News also piled up.
« Do you really want to see and hear Ron DeSantis? » read a pop-up banner on his website. “Tune in to Fox News at 8 p.m. ET” (Surging donations once it aired, Mr. DeSantis wondered if supporters could “break that part of the internet too.”)
However minor a long-term technological snag it may turn out to be, it was a daunting turn for Mr. DeSantis after months of meticulous political choreography.
Much of his strength as a contender over the past year was theoretical: the mystery box candidate building a national profile on his own terms: slayer of liberals, destroyer of enemies, the non-Trump Trumpy.
He would conquer and coast. He would have made America Florida.
It would be a sight to behold. Presumably.
The reality of Mr. DeSantis’ pre-run has been less impressive, overshadowed by uneasy public appearances, shady donors and a large polling gap between him and Mr. Trump.
With better technology, perhaps, an image-free campaign debut might have been a clever way to rediscover that bygone aura, to allow listeners to fill the mystery box however they like, before Mr. Trump tries to knock it out of the box. stage.
Or perhaps the governor’s ostensible perks—looking the part, before the full hearing—were always bound to translate wrong on Wednesdays when there was nothing to see. It’s hard to project indomitable bravado and grip on everyone in an invisible gathering devoid of unfriendly questions or daily voters.
Mr. DeSantis suggested he didn’t need such inputs. “I just instinctively know what regular people think about a lot of these things,” DeSantis said of culture war issues, amid musings on “woke banking” and “credit placards.”
But then, this was not to be a typical kickoff event, governed by visual cues and administrative precision: a stately lectern, unwrinkled American flags, plausibly enthusiastic supporters positioned optimally behind the candidate.
« It’s not about building a brand or signaling virtues, » DeSantis said at one point of his leadership. And if his ambition was to generate organic buzz, the governor has made his wish come true.
This was unique, compelling, viral on its own merits.
It was a sight to behold. Presumably.