By CASEY HARPER
THE CENTER SQUARE
(The Center Square) – Florida Governor Ron DeSantis kicked off his 2024 presidential campaign Wednesday night, reshaping the Republican primary field and forcing Republicans to take sides.
Former President Donald Trump welcomed Gov. DeSantis to the primary race with a barrage of attacks on his platform of choice, 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!),” he wrote.
Mr. Trump posted several videos of Gov. DeSantis as well. One video points out how a Trump endorsement likely propelled Gov. DeSantis to victory in his Florida governor’s race in 2018. The video features old campaign videos where Gov. DeSantis held a Trump sign, praised Mr. Trump, and thanked him for standing by him, even “when it wasn’t necessarily the smart thing to do.”
Gov. DeSantis secured billionaire Elon Musk’s endorsement as well as praise from U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., during the Twitter Spaces event. U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., wore a “Make America Great Again” hat to Capitol Hill Thursday morning, hours after DeSantis’ announcement.
On Twitter, pundits and popular conservative voices chose sides, posting in favor or against Gov. DeSantis through the night and into the morning depending on their allegiances. The announcement has divided the party more than any other.
Many Republicans hope Gov. DeSantis can provide the party with a more effective, drama-free, post-Trump future while others think Mr. Trump is the only way to take on the deep state and liberal establishment.
Gov. DeSantis was widely mocked for the technical glitches of his announcement, which was delayed more than 20 minutes as Mr. Musk and entrepreneur and author David Sacks, who moderated the Twitter Spaces event, tried to get the production working.
Mr. Sacks waved off the technical glitches, saying they were likely “melting the servers” and likely breaking records with their Twitter announcement. There is dispute over the actual number of online attendees with different outlets reporting different figures, but Gov. DeSantis had several hundred thousand users listening in for his event to begin before many gave up because of the technical difficulties. Gov. DeSantis’ team claimed that within 15 hours of the announcement, it had more than 30 million views.
Gov. DeSantis’ camp tried to reframe the technical issues as “breaking the internet,” a sign of overwhelming interest. Mr. Musk said on the broadcast that breaking new ground online, especially while live, naturally comes with these kinds of issues.
Liberal media outlets poured in criticism of Gov. DeSantis for the launch with a string of blistering headlines. Politico called the tech failures “horrendous” while the Washington Post said it “didn’t work.” CNN called the launch “embarrassing,” and NBC said the launch “melts down.”
It is worth noting, though, that both Mr. Trump and Gov. DeSantis have built their brands by mocking and disregarding those very same media outlets.
Mr. Trump jumped on this opportunity as well, sharing a video on Truth Social of one of Mr. Musk’s rockets failing to launch and then exploding with Gov. DeSantis’ logo overlaid on the crashing missile.
“I know Ron,” Mr. Trump said. “The way he handled his announcement, he will handle the Country!”
During the Twitter event, Gov. DeSantis took subtle shots at Mr. Trump without naming him, saying he had frustration with the former president’s inability to enact his agenda and blasted the “culture of losing” in the GOP.
Gov. DeSantis hit on several key issues for Republican voters during his announcement, namely the border crisis, rising crime, critical race theory, media bias and censorship as well as the government response to COVID-19, saying his response in Florida kept states around the country from “rolling lockdowns.”
“First, we need an honest reckoning about what happened during COVID,” Gov. DeSantis said, calling the federal pandemic response “authoritarian” and not in line with the data. “I saw an interest in the narrative and politics over evidence…”
The first GOP caucus is in Iowa on Jan. 22, 2024, while the first GOP primary is Jan. 30 of the same year in New Hampshire. The first group of states holding their presidential primary votes is in March of next year.
Polling from Morning Consult surveyed Republican primary voters and put Gov. DeSantis in second place among the contenders with 18% support, though far behind Mr. Trump, who came in at 61% support.
Radio host and commentator Larry Elder, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy have announced their 2024 ambitions as well. The Morning Consult poll put Gov. Haley and Mr. Ramaswamy both at 4% support. U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., announced he is running on Monday.
Former Vice President Mike Pence is still considering a bid.