Reactions to Ron DeSantis’s presidential campaign launch on Twitter were proportional to how much Elon Musk had hyped it beforehand, well summed up by the hashtag that immediately went viral online: #DeSaster.
The event, touted as the one that was supposed to enshrine the ultimate supremacy of online streaming over old-school TV, only succeeded in making both the candidate and the tech “genius” and alt-right agitator look bad. The live Twitter Space, in the form of a pseudo-interview that would also feature the South African billionaire/provocateur himself, was a display of never-ending technical hiccups, silences, echoes, random voices coming in and broadcast interruptions that lasted for 20 interminable minutes, punctuated by moderator David Sacks blaming too many users “melting the servers,” which he said was “a good thing.”
It was a display of technological ineptitude that showcased the current state of what used to be one of the world’s leading social networks after seven months of catastrophic management by Musk. The immediate online reactions were predictable, starting with those from the Trump campaign: a series of winking jokes about the Titanic and rockets exploding on the launch pad, to which, with inimitable style, Trump himself added a message about his own “red button,” which, he claimed, was “bigger, better, stronger” than DeSantis’s and “is working (TRUTH!).” Rather less effective were Musk’s tweets, who dismissed the criticisms of the launch as “lots of noise” and claimed success as it was an “all-time record for fundraising.”
When the troubled live broadcast finally got going, the Italian-American governor of Florida came with the predictable compendium of DeSantis-speak that boils down to a rehash of Trumpian themes about elites, the deep state, foreign invasion, and a reiteration of populist right-wing identitarian and sovereignist complaints, repackaged under the catch-all theme of being “anti-woke.”
Applied to Florida, the “war on woke” has produced a state where abortion is banned and gun toting is universal, where books are censored in schools and alternative pronouns banned, as well as discussing LGBTQ topics and the history of slavery. It’s an illiberal, McCarthyist dystopia that DeSantis proposes as a model for America, in an apparent attempt to outflank frontrunner Trump from the right.
As icing on the cake, the DeSantis campaign released a promotional video alternating between triumphant images of the governor himself and Musk’s own triumphant repertoire at Tesla and Space X events, a montage that prompted speculation about a possible DeSantis-Musk ticket.
In spite of everything, DeSantis is running as the most plausible of the alternatives to Trump in the GOP nomination race, in a pool that now includes a half-dozen official candidates, including three governors (DeSantis, Nicky Haley and Asa Hutchinson), a senator (Tim Scott), an entrepreneur (Vivek Ramaswamy) and a DJ (Larry Elder). Two other governors (Chris Christie and Glenn Youngkin) and former Vice President Mike Pence are expected to join the field soon.
Among the Democrats, there are few running for the nomination against the octogenarian Biden (always running low in the polls): to date, only the progressive Marianne Williamson and the environmentalist-turned-anti-vaxx-conspiracist Robert Kennedy Jr.
It’s a less-than-rosy outlook for a campaign that seems destined to replay themes and rhetoric from 2016 and 2020 but in a version even more rancorous and polarized (if that’s even possible), and with the predictable and unprecedented contribution of artificial intelligence and its potential for “deep fakery” to an already exhausted and exceedingly volatile political terrain.