In Shaky Start, Ron DeSantis Joins 2024 Race, Hoping to Topple Trump

Ron DeSantis’ long-awaited official entry into the 2024 presidential campaign went sour early on Wednesday during a glitch-filled livestream on Twitter.

Despite the problems, Mr. DeSantis, the 44-year-old embattled Republican governor of Florida who has championed conservative causes and spent years punching America’s left, provides the Republican Party’s strongest challenger to Donald J. Trump. does what they have been facing ever since. Climbing in 2016. His candidacy comes at a critical moment for the Republican Party, which must choose between aligning itself once again behind Mr. Trump — who lost in 2020 and falsely angry about a stolen election — Or uniting around a new challenger. On President Biden.

But on Wednesday, the official launch of Mr DeSantis’ run for the White House got off to an embarrassing start as a planned live stream with Elon Musk, the eccentric billionaire owner of Twitter, was marred by technical problems and dead air. The audio cut in and out between “server meltdowns,” the whisper of a hot mic, and on-the-spot troubleshooting talk.

When, after more than 25 minutes, Mr. DeSantis finally spoke, he announced, “I am running for president of the United States to lead our great American comeback.”

The extended social media hiccup – as more than 500,000 people waited – was cheered by the same platform that Mr DeSantis was supposed to command for his campaign. Donald Trump Jr. wrote one word: “#DeSaster.” Mr. Biden posted a donation button to his re-election campaign with the words, “This link works.” The audience when Mr. DeSantis delivered his remarks was smaller than in the opening minutes when no one was speaking.

Despite its inauspicious start on Wednesday Mr. Trump slipped well behind. In elections in recent months, Mr. DeSantis has maintained several strengths: a mountain of cash, a strong campaign and a string of conservative policy victories in Florida, including a landslide re-election victory last fall. After receiving The governor, who has gained national notoriety for avoiding restrictions over the coronavirus pandemic, argues that his “Florida Blueprint” could be a model for turning the United States into a conservative mold, especially But on social issues.

“American decline is not inevitable,” Mr. DeSantis said. “It’s a choice. And we must choose a new direction, a path that will lead to American renaissance. He accused Mr. Biden of “taking his cues from the waking crowd.”

Mr. DeSantis did not mention Mr. Trump by name. But he did outline some of the contradictions that are expected to intensify in the coming months. “We must look forward, not backward,” he said on a TwitterSpace livestream. “We need the courage to lead and we must have the strength to win.”

The DeSantis campaign invited prominent donors to a fundraising event in Miami on Wednesday, hosted at a conference venue at the Four Seasons, as the Twitter debate was projected on a big screen. . Then they waited. And waited.

“Alvin had to add a little more staff to increase the capacity of that server,” said Brandon Rosner, a donor from Milwaukee. He was not discouraged. “Once we got past the actual breakdown there, I think people were pretty excited,” he said.

Mr. DeSantis is facing a difficult attempt to oust a former president whose combativeness and loyal base of support have prevented most leading Republicans from launching a frontal attack against him. Mr. Trump, who has a growing list. legal Difficultiesclearly sees Mr. DeSantis as a political threat and has been coming down on him for months, mocking him as “Ron DeSanctimonious” and criticizing his stewardship of Florida.

“Trump is not as invincible as he once seemed and DeSantis is a serious contender,” said Mike Murphy, a veteran Republican strategist. “Republican voters here are looking for someone who can go beyond Trump, someone who can fight liberals but also win an election. That’s where DeSantis is trying to be.

Mr. DeSantis’ chances of securing the nomination could hinge on whether the Republican primary turns into a crowded, Trump-dominated food fight — something that unfolded in 2016 — or if he makes the contest a two-man contest. Can turn into a race. The Republican field has slowly opened up with Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina. Announcing the bid this week and Vice President Mike Pence Hope to join soon.

To win back the field, Mr. DeSantis will likely need strong rallies in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two swing states in which anti-Trump voters are rallying around him. His advisers and allies see victory in socially conservative Iowa as a must, and believe he needs to finish at least second in more moderate New Hampshire.

Mr. DeSantis has the financial ammunition to compete: He is likely to start with more money in an outside group than any Republican primary candidate in history. He is expected to have more than $80 million. moved From his estate account to his Super PAC, which says it is too. picked up $40 million, in addition to tens of millions more in donor pledges, according to people familiar with the fundraising.

A key focus of the primary, and the general election if Mr. DeSantis makes it this far, will be his record as governor. He has and Florida has a fair legislature. Controversial laws passed That has excited the right and angered many Democrats in Florida, including black and LGBTQ people, students and abortion rights advocates. The bills appear to reflect Mr. DeSantis’ plan to run to the right of Mr. Trump in the primary, which could leave him vulnerable to moderate and independent candidates.

Florida Republicans in just the most recent legislative session Ban on abortion After six weeks of pregnancy; Extension use of the death penalty; Floridans allowed take away Concealed guns without permit restricted Gender transition care For minors; Limited education about gender identity and sexual orientation; defend diversity, equity and inclusion programs in public colleges; And saved his record. A journey of self-examination from the public.

Mr. DeSantis has also shown a willingness to use executive power in ways rarely seen before in the state capital, Tallahassee, which has led some Democrats and civil rights leaders to worry that he might Share Trump’s forceful style but have more ability to execute. First goal.

he has Chose a long fight Along with Disney, one of Florida’s largest employers and a A major political opponent. He removed from office a local prosecutor whose record showed a. A politically motivated decisioninstalled his allies in a public liberal arts university. changed It will be made a bastion of conservative thinking. rejected A high school Advanced Placement course on African American studies had students “raise concerns” and state law enforcement officers. Monitor Holiday drag shows for immoral behavior.

While his stump speech focused on a lengthy recount of his and other conservative policy achievements, Mr. DeSantis is expected to begin talking more about his biography with the help of his wife. . Casey DeSantisa former television journalist who plays an influential role in his office and decision-making.

Raised in Dunedin, a suburb of Tampa, Mr. DeSantis grew up in a working-class home. He excelled in baseball, captaining the squad as a hard-hitting outfielder at Yale University.

He later attended Harvard Law School, then served in the Navy as a military attorney, stationed at Guantanamo Bay and Iraq. He served as a federal prosecutor in Florida before winning election to Congress in 2012. He was a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of anti-establishment conservatives.

After three terms in Washington, he ran for Florida’s open governorship, winning the Republican primary thanks to Mr. Trump’s endorsement. But he dropped out when Mr. DeSantis began making noises about running for president in 2024.

The pandemic turned Mr. DeSantis into a Fox News fixture. He has criticized social distancing measures, masks and vaccines – the tools. Properly employed by the Trump administration — and he has already signaled that his actions in Florida will contrast with Mr. Trump’s approach. In particular, Mr. DeSantis has gone after Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, who led the country’s pandemic response.

But the transition from a statewide campaign, even with Mr. DeSantis’ nearly 20 percentage point lead, to a presidential campaign is not easy. As early Twitter space erupted on Wednesday, Mr. Musk was forced to post a new link, severely curtailing the audience for Mr. DeSantis’ announcement.

While more than 500,000 people joined the first Twitter space, the second had just 163,000 listeners by the time Mr. Musk and technology entrepreneur David Sachs began interviewing the governor. The conversation quickly turned into a surprisingly dry discussion about federal agencies, the merits of Twitter and such odd tangents as the license plate number of Representative Thomas Massey, Republican of Kentucky, who endorsed Mr. DeSantis and the online conversation. I joined.

Mr DeSantis’ campaign tried to put a positive spin on the technical glitches, writing on Twitter: “Looks like we broke the internet with a lot of enthusiasm.” One supporter announced that they had raised $1 million in an hour. All the while, Mr. Trump’s team cheered. “It’s criminal for a campaign,” said Chris LaCevita, a senior adviser to the former president.

Mr. DeSantis had waited months to announce his candidacy, citing the need for the Florida legislature to first finish its session in early May. The delay allowed Mr. Trump to check the attacks on Mr. DeSantis and to secure the endorsement of several members of Congress, including several from Florida.

As Mr. DeSantis ramps up his presidential preparations this year with a book tour and overseas travel, he appears to be struggling at points.

Awkward moments – incl Cute facial expressions – Generated negative headlines. So did some poor policy announcements, most notably his declaration to protect Ukraine from Russian aggression. was not a vital American interest.. Some big donors who once saw him as the most suitable Trump challenger. retreated.

At the heart of the criticism is the idea that Mr. DeSantis, so confident in his own abilities, can seem aloof and quick to anger. Even his allies admit he’s not the back-slapping, baby-kissing type — concerns he’s tried to address by spending more time greeting voters and taking selfies. Is.

“He’s an introvert in an extrovert’s job,” said state Rep. Alex Andrade, a Republican from the Florida panhandle, who says he appreciates the governor’s specific and analytical style.

In recent weeks, Mr. DeSantis has appeared to recover from his shock, striking back more forcefully against Mr. Trump. He has criticized the former president for not endorsing Florida’s six-week abortion ban and described the “culture of defeat” that has overtaken the Republican Party under Mr Trump. they also told the donors in a private call That Mr. Trump cannot beat Mr. Biden.

At the Twitter event, Mr. DeSantis took a few side swipes at the former president, a one-time reality television star, at one point saying, “Government is not entertainment. It’s about building a brand or signaling virtue.” not about

As he wrapped up the hour-long conversation, which ranged from Article 2 of the Constitution to bitcoin, Mr. DeSantis said, “We should do it again. I mean, I think it was fun.”

Mr. Sachs agreed. “It’s not how you start,” he added, “it’s how you finish.”

Jonathan Swann And Alice McFadden Cooperation reporting.

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