Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ flawed 2024 pitch has raised the question of whether he really is the best-equipped Republican to take on former President Trump in the primary.
DeSantis announced his presidential campaign on Twitter Spaces on Wednesday alongside Elon Musk, but the event was cut short by technical glitches and largely mocked by critics afterward.
Republicans who would like to see someone other than Trump win the party’s nomination largely believe that DeSantis has what it takes to win; DeSantis’s campaign said it raised $1 million within an hour of launch. Then on Thursday, the campaign revealed that it raised a whopping $8.2 million within 24 hours of launch.
“That’s a huge haul for the first 24 hours and shows there are thousands of donors large and small behind the governor,” said Dan Eberhart, a DeSantis donor who said he was in the room for the raise.
But the rocky launch of his Twitter campaign, as well as declining poll numbers in recent months, have dented his reputation and given some of his rivals an easy opportunity to attack him.
Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R), trailing much of the primary field in the polls, tweeted a fundraising link Wednesday, writing: “Like my policies, this link works.” Meanwhile, the press secretary for the former United Nations ambassador’s campaign, Nikki Haley, tweeted a video during DeSantis’ launch that harks back to “our incredible campaign launch.”
But the attacks on DeSantis by some of the other candidates in the field have been going on since before he launched his campaign. On Tuesday, Haley’s campaign released a memo in which she called DeSantis a “charmless” Trump and accused him of having an “inability to engage directly with voters.”
The tone of emails from Haley’s team to the press has also become noticeably more sarcastic towards DeSantis. On Wednesday, Haley’s team highlighted their upcoming campaign stops in New Hampshire with the caption “There’s Twitter… and there’s New Hampshire.”
Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy criticized DeSantis in a tweet before the announcement for having DeSantis’ donor David Sacks moderate his conversation with Musk.
“Interested in knowing if [Ron DeSantis] would have supported bailing out Silicon Valley Bank depositors.”. “Since his mega-donation [David Sacks] he was the biggest supporter of that bailout and is moderating Twitter Spaces with Ron tonight, you should ask. A legitimate political question for a presidential candidate.”
However, DeSantis and his allies are shrugging off criticism over the event. When asked about the launch of Twitter in an interview with Newsmax on Thursday, DeSantis said, “Actually, I’m not a big social media guy.”
“I’d rather see you than be on an app, but it’s important to a lot of people,” he said.
The governor also noted that “there were more people trying to register than even Twitter had anticipated,” which has promoted his campaign. On Thursday, the campaign tweeted a link to the merchandise, writing “Smashing Twitter was just the warm up… Help us Smashing Washington after.”
The Twitter announcement had approximately 300,000 concurrent listeners and 3.4 million total listeners as of Thursday.
DeSantis’s allies have also pointed to his interview on Fox News, which averaged 2 million viewers, following his conversation on Twitter Spaces.
“I think the governor did a great job of describing not only who he is but also his vision for the country,” said Republican pollster Robert Blizzard, who is working with the DeSantis campaign. “When you think about who the audience is here, it’s the Iowa and New Hampshire Republican primary voters.”
And many DeSantis supporters and critics were quick to point out that his conversation with Musk on Twitter likely won’t resonate with voters in the early states of the race.
“Some people’s hand-wringing and bed-wetting is not rational,” said Jason Cabel Roe, a Republican strategist. “I don’t think there is anyone in the professional political class who doesn’t understand that a new platform within a Twitter platform that has a technical difficulty is not, per se, the fault of Ron DeSantis or his campaign. It’s Twitter’s fault.”
That hasn’t stopped the former president from pestering DeSantis about the event. Trump called DeSantis’ launch a “disaster” in a post on his social media platform Truth Social and posted a doctored video on Instagram of a rapidly launching and exploding rocket with “Ron! 2024” on it.
DeSantis responded to Trump’s criticism, telling “The Pulse of New Hampshire” on Thursday that Trump “understands that I have a good chance of beating him, because now he’s not criticizing anyone else. It’s just me.”
But others say Trump is likely to continue to invoke the launch of Twitter in an effort to undermine the Florida governor.
“The issue here is going to be the turn of events,” said Ford O’Connell, a Florida-based Republican strategist. “If you’re the Trump team, you’re basically going to say, ‘If he’s not ready to pitch, then he’s not ready to run the country.'”
The latest spate of attacks by Trump and his team is part of an effort to define the governor for primary voters before DeSantis has a chance to fully reach the Republican primary constituency.
“It just wasn’t the best start for them. I think they are going to try to move forward,” said a Republican strategist. “I think the problem they’re going to have is trying to change the narrative, that’s not going to happen unless they win Iowa.”
An Emerson College poll released Thursday showed Trump holding a whopping 42-point lead over DeSantis among Iowa Republican Caucus voters.
DeSantis allies have recognized the former president’s leadership, but say the race is much closer than Emerson College reported.
“There have been other polls that have the race much closer,” Blizzard said. “I don’t believe for a minute that’s a semblance of reality in Iowa.”
“I think it’s been very clear for months that this is a two-man race,” he said.
DeSantis’ effort to reach Republican primary voters in early states is just beginning. On Thursday, the campaign announced its first early statewide blitz, dubbed “Our Big Back to America Tour.” The tour will begin in Iowa on Tuesday and will include stops in New Hampshire and South Carolina.
“Everyone wants this election to be tomorrow, but it is not. It’s a primary process,” said Alex Stroman, a South Carolina Republican strategist. “I don’t think any of the candidates’ ads have shown anything except that the race is open and will not be decided on cable TV and within the echo chamber on Twitter.”
Blizzard echoed that point, saying that the conversation taking place around the campaign will shift to the Iowa Caucus.
“We’re what, five, six, seven months away from the Iowa Caucus?” Blizzard said. “I don’t think anyone is talking about this for a week or so.”
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