Florida governor Ron DeSantis entered the race for the Republican presidential nomination Wednesday during an online Twitter event, calling for a restoration of sanity and new direction for the country that will “lead to an American revitalization.”
“I am running for president of the United States to lead our great American comeback,” DeSantis said in the online forum hosted by Twitter CEO Elon Musk and tech entrepreneur David Sacks that was marred by technical glitches and started nearly a half hour late.
“We know our country is going in the wrong direction. We see it with our eyes and we feel it in our bones,” he said, listing off national woes, including the border crisis and spiking crime. He took a swipe at President Joe Biden, saying the 80-year-old “lacks vigor” and “flounders in the face of our nation’s challenges, and he takes his cues from the woke mob.”
“American decline is not inevitable. It’s a choice,” DeSantis said, calling for a restoration of sanity to the nation, including fiscal and economic sanit. “This also means replacing the woke mind virus with reality, facts, and enduring principles.”
The decision to launch his campaign virtually may have appeared to have backfired when the Twitter Space feed initially struggled under the weight of more than a half million users. Musk and Sacks could be heard talking about their servers “melting” and “straining.”
The event, which was supposed to start at 6 p.m., didn’t really get rolling until closer to 6:30 p.m. “We’re really breaking new ground here,” said Sacks, the host, who used his position to take aim at of DeSantis’s critics. DeSantis often expressed his gratitude to Musk for buying Twitter and turning it into a haven for free speech.
When Sacks asked why DeSantis launched his campaign on Twitter, DeSantis responded by talking about not following the crowd, and pivoted to a discussion about his response to the Covid-19 pandemic. “It was very, very lonely in a lot of those decisions,” he said.
People who were offered the opportunity to ask questions of DeSantis were exclusively prominent right wing personalities and the governor’s allies, including Congressman Thomas Massie and critical race theory opponent Christopher Rufo. They asked about his plans to reform federal health agencies and limit the power of the federal bureaucracy.
DeSantis said public health agencies “failed” during the pandemic, and need to be “cleaned out.” As president, he said, he would rein in government agencies.
“Buckle up when I get in there,” DeSantis said. “The status quo is not acceptable.”
DeSantis officially filed with the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday afternoon.
He has long been seen by many on the right as the Republican best positioned to take on Trump, his one-time ally, in what is likely to be a grueling and potentially nasty primary race.
The Navy veteran, former congressman, and one-time tea party favorite, whom Trump endorsed in 2018, spent his first term as governor building a national reputation as a smart and pugnacious conservative willing to take on leftwing orthodoxy. He was one of the first governors to reopen his state from Covid-19 lockdowns, helping to turn Florida into a haven for Americans fleeing oppressive coronavirus restrictions in their states.
He’s used his time in office to chalk up high-profile economic, environmental, and culture-war wins, working with his allies in the Republican-dominated state legislature to build his political resume and to turn the “Free State of Florida” into one of the nation’s top testing grounds for conservative ideas. His nearly 20-point re-election win in November only cemented DeSantis’s position as a top-tier Republican presidential contender.
But DeSantis has not been immune to criticism from the right, including from prominent conservatives who have taken issue with his drawn-out feud with the Walt Disney Company and for telling Tucker Carlson in March that “becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia” is not a vital American interest.
He’s also been accused of having a prickly personality, and being a poor retail campaigner and a tough boss who has left behind a trail of former disgruntled staffers. On Tuesday, candidate Nikki Haley’s campaign released a letter stating that rather than being “like Trump without the drama,” DeSantis is more like “Trump Without the Charm,” adding that DeSantis has an “inability to interact directly with voters.”
And despite his efforts to build his resume and raise his political profile, and despite Trump’s long list of controversies – he was impeached twice as president, helped instigate a riot at the U.S. Capitol, had dinner with a white nationalist, was indicted recently for making alleged hush-money payments to a porn star, and found liable of sexually abusing a one-time magazine advice columnist – DeSantis is at this point still a decided underdog in the race.
The Real Clear Politics polling average has Trump with a more than 30-point lead over DeSantis, with all other Republican contenders barely registering.
A Rasmussen poll in mid-May found Trump winning 62 percent of likely Republican voters, the same percentage that a late-April Emerson poll found. DeSantis had support from 17 percent of Republican voters in the Rasmussen poll.
Trump’s poll numbers have only risen since his March indictment.
Still, DeSantis has appeared optimistic about his chances, while Trump has often come across as both aggrieved and concerned about the challenge.