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Five takeaways from a rocky 2024 debut for DeSantis

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ glitch-marred 2024 debut on Twitter was a distraction from his chance to introduce himself as a serious contender to take down former President Donald Trump.

It was a much-anticipated moment for the Florida governor to reset after months of dropping in the polls, which made the painfully long 20-plus minutes of Twitter malfunctions on Wednesday all the more disappointing to his supporters.

For all the media attention on the Twitter fiasco — The Daily Mail called it a “De-Saster,” Fox News a “disaster,” Breitbart News a “DeBacle” — DeSantis appeared to have later found his footing on the familiar airwaves of Fox News, a far more traditional — and effective — method of communicating to primary voters. His appearance there was the first time he laid out a substantive case for what a DeSantis presidency would look like.

More about the 2024 presidential election

Still, it was a night his team will be eager to put behind them. And it highlighted both DeSantis’ potential successes as a candidate but also a campaign still in formation while under intense attack from a dominant Republican front-runner.

Here are five takeaways.

Taking risks on Twitter backfired

The delay was longer than some campaign speeches.

For more than 25 minutes, Twitter wheezed its way through what was supposed to be DeSantis’ grand pronouncement of his 2024 candidacy, with long stretches of dead air interrupted by frantic, hot-mic whispers before they pulled the plug and started over.

A presidential announcement is the rarest of opportunities. It is the moment when a candidate can draw all the attention on themselves and their vision. Instead, DeSantis wound up almost as a panelist at his own event, sharing the stage with Elon Musk and his malfunctioning social media site.

Fox News splashed a banner headline at one point on its website that featured a photo of Musk, not DeSantis. “Want to actually see and hear Ron DeSantis?” read a breaking news alert on the site. “Tune into Fox News.”

Even in advance, the decision to begin his campaign on Twitter with Musk had drawn mixed reviews. It was innovative, yes — and a chance to reach a potentially huge online audience — but also risky.

The technically challenged result obscured some of DeSantis’ arguments and sapped him of listeners, and potential donors. For a candidate whose promise of competence is a Republican selling point, it was a less-than-ideal first impression. Trump and President Joe Biden both mercilessly mocked the rollout.

His aides said DeSantis raised $1 million in an hour, a sizable amount but far from the record for a presidential kickoff, with no details provided about how many individual donors gave small contributions.

Biden’s campaign was also seeking to capitalize, buying Google ads to show Biden donation pages for those searching for terms like “DeSantis disaster” and “DeSantis flop.”

The candidate of educated right-wingers

The DeSantis-Musk discussion on Twitter meandered at times into a cul-de-sac of the hyper-online right.

Here’s a taste of the highly ideological and wonky message DeSantis delivered:

“Some of the problems with the university and the ideological capture — that didn’t happen by accident, you can trace back all the way to the accreditation cartels. Well, guess what? To become an accreditor, how do you do that? You’ve got to get approved by the U.S. Department of Education. So we’re going to be doing alternative accreditation regimes, where instead of saying, ‘You will only get accredited if you do DEI,’ you’ll have an accreditor that will say, ‘We will not accredit you if you do DEI. We want a colorblind, merit-based accreditation scheme.’”

Got that?

DeSantis repeatedly highlighted his blue-collar roots. But it has long been apparent that DeSantis polls far better with college-educated Republicans than he does among those without college degrees, who heavily favor Trump and form the increasingly rural base of the Republican Party. And his campaign introduction night showed why that’s the case.

The conversation detoured into complaints about the horrors of The Atlantic and Vanity Fair magazines and into discussions of cryptocurrencies and the “de-banking” of “politically incorrect businesses.”

Later, in his interview with Trey Gowdy on Fox News, DeSantis rattled off acronyms — ESG (environmental, social and governance investing) was just one — without explaining what they meant.

DeSantis is ready to hit on Trump — only indirectly

DeSantis made clear on Wednesday that he isn’t ready to punch Trump just yet — but he signaled where he will aim once he does.

He went through the Twitter Spaces session and two interviews — one on Fox News with Gowdy, his former congressional colleague, and the other on the radio with conservative host Mark Levin — without uttering Trump’s name. (The word did come out of his mouth at one point: “Merit must trump identity politics,” the governor said during the Twitter talk.)

But his attempts to contrast himself with the nameless one were frequent.

DeSantis said on Fox News that the reason Biden could get away with “shenanigans” at the southern border was because there was not a wall protecting it. DeSantis promised to build a “full” border wall — a rebuke of Trump’s failure to keep that signature promise.

DeSantis also previewed a line of attack he is expected to center his campaign on: Trump’s personnel appointments in his first term.

DeSantis blamed the Federal Reserve — Jerome Powell was appointed the Fed’s chair by Trump — for exacerbating inflation. And he said he would fire the FBI director, Christopher Wray, another Trump appointee, on Day 1. (A Trump senior adviser noted on Twitter that DeSantis publicly supported the selection of Wray at the time.)

DeSantis took his sharpest jab at Trump in the final moments with Gowdy, who asked him what he would say to candidates who may not want to debate. It was a clear reference to Trump, who has indicated he may skip one or both of the first Republican debates. DeSantis, who needs the debates in order to have breakout moments, called for people to take part.

“Nobody’s entitled to anything in this world, Trey, you’ve got to earn it,” DeSantis said. “That’s exactly what I intend to do, and I think the debates are a big part of the process.”

DeSantis made his case as a China hawk

DeSantis previewed his hard-line policies to confront the Chinese Communist Party. While Trump focused largely on the trade dimension of the relationship during his presidency, DeSantis talked more broadly about countering China’s influence, territorial expansion and military ambitions.

On Fox News, DeSantis called for a 21st-century version of the Monroe Doctrine to counter China’s influence in Latin America. The Monroe Doctrine, laid out by President James Monroe in the early 19th century, warned European countries not to colonize America’s backyard.

DeSantis also said the U.S. needed to form stronger partnerships with India, Australia and other allies to counter Chinese expansion in the Pacific. And he called for the reshoring of critical manufacturing — saying the U.S. was too closely mingled, economically, with China.

His remarks indicated that as president, DeSantis would be more comprehensively aggressive against China than Trump was in his first term. Trump spent the first three years of his presidency mostly averting his gaze from China’s military expansionism and human-rights abuses because he wanted a trade deal with Beijing. DeSantis has signaled he wants to confront China from the outset on all fronts.

DeSantis plans broad use of executive power

DeSantis laid the groundwork for what his allies say will be one of his most important contrasts against Trump: his skill in using power effectively.

In his Twitter Spaces live chat, DeSantis talked about his extensive record of enacting conservative policies as governor in Florida. He cited his talent for using governmental power for conservative ends. He said he had studied the “different leverage points under Article 2” of the Constitution and would put that knowledge to work if elected president. On Fox News, he repeated his plans to use Article 2 to remake the government.

DeSantis hinted that he would be more heavy-handed than Trump was with the federal bureaucracy. It is part of one of his core arguments: that not only will he fight harder than Trump but that he’ll deliver sweeping change where the former president fell short.

In his interview on Fox News, he portrayed the FBI as one of many federal agencies run amok, and said he would exert much stronger control over the entire Justice Department.

He rejected the notion that presidents should view these agencies as independent and said if, as president, he learned that FBI officials were colluding with tech companies — a reference to requests by government officials to Twitter to take down content viewed as harmful — then “everybody involved with that would be fired.”

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