‘It turned out to be a mistake’: Botched rollout puts DeSantis on his heels

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You only get one chance to make a first impression. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ was a glitch.

The Florida governor announced his presidential campaign on Twitter Spaces, in an appearance meant to be a veritable launch hosted by an actual rocket man.

But within seconds, it was clear that Tallahassee had a problem.


The feed broke, connections got cut off, the hosts seemed confused. It was inauspicious. It also was a black mark on the candidate’s supposed trademarks — expert organization and a comfort with the vanguard of modern media.

“It was bold. It turned out to be a mistake,” radio host Erick Erickson emailed supporters about the mishap. “It is recoverable. But it is a reminder that some things should be under full control of the candidate, particularly the launch day.”

The risk for DeSantis is the prospect of the botched rollout forming a narrative and cutting against the very argument he is making to Republican primary voters — that he is a competent alternative to the chaotic presidency of former President Donald Trump. The governor has been portraying himself in public speeches and private donor meetings as a controlled, low-drama politician who embraces many of Trump’s policy positions without the trademark unpredictability. But on Wednesday, DeSantis — who fiercely values control — was the picture of disorder.

The governor’s team was quick to spin the moment as a sign of unprecedented enthusiasm for the 44-year-old candidate, with hundreds of thousands of Twitter users trying to tune into the event throughout the hour.

“Hi, this is Governor Ron DeSantis. I’m running for president of the United States to lead our great American comeback. We announced that on Twitter spaces earlier tonight and it broke the internet because so many people were excited about being on the Twitter space,” DeSantis said in a hastily-recorded video that doubled as a fundraising pitch.

But in corners of the conservative press, including outlets pining for an alternative to Trump, there was little willingness to sidestep the face plant. The National Review’s Philip Klein called it a “disaster.”

The Florida governor entered the presidential race Wednesday to much fanfare — polls showing him in second place, substantial money in supportive PACs and a record of Republican accomplishments. But his unconventional decision to launch his bid in a live chat on Twitter went awry when the talk failed to take off for more than 30 minutes, leaving supporters and listeners wondering when the governor would actually announce his campaign.

Once it started, the nearly hour-long event offered DeSantis an opportunity to deliver his stump speech and field easy questions from allies like Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) about the more controversial aspects of his record. It also, for all its problems, seemed to generate interest. His campaign spokesperson, Bryan Griffin, said the team raised $1 million online in one hour and top adviser Gennera Peck tweeted that more than 700,000 people had joined the virtual rollout — more than triple the 200,000-plus people in the room later in the discussion.

But it also invited an onslaught of mockery, including from Trump.

“Glitchy. Tech issues. Uncomfortable silences. A complete failure to launch. And that’s just the candidate!” a spokesperson for the Trump campaign sent out to reporters.

Trump world had been hinting that the former president would do something to potentially overshadow or distract from DeSantis’ launch, and there was speculation that Trump himself would even make a reemergence on Twitter Wednesday night. That didn’t materialize. Instead, Trump watched the DeSantis roll out with some of his advisers, who were reveling in the technical difficulties and mocking the DeSantis team both publicly and privately.

By the end of the night, Trump’s campaign released a video comparing Trump’s announcement at Mar-a-Lago with the static and awkward beginning of the DeSantis Twitter event and a flurry of statements on everything from the Florida governor’s record to accusations his team swiped a line from a Trump State of the Union speech.

“Ron DeSantis’ botched campaign announcement is another example of why he is just not ready for the job,” said Karoline Leavitt, a spokesperson for the pro-Trump super PAC MAGA Inc., in a statement.

DeSantis’ original plan had been for him to do his first post-announcement interview on Fox News with Tucker Carlson, according to two people familiar with his plans. When the Fox News host was fired, the governor kept his commitment to the network. He appeared with fill-in host Trey Gowdy in the 8 p.m. hour although the cable news channel has seen evening viewership plummet since Carlson’s ouster.

An official with DeSantis’ political operation said they couldn’t confirm the details of the planning.

Gowdy poked fun at Twitter’s technical problems early in the interview, but also covered substantive issues with DeSantis, like inflation, China, abortion and immigration. DeSantis said he would declare a national emergency on his first day in office and “mobilize all forces” to rebuild the border wall. He talked about his plans to fire FBI Director Chris Wray and reorganize the “weaponized” Department of Justice. Neither Gowdy nor DeSantis discussed Trump by name.

As the night progressed, some Republicans did rush to DeSantis’ defense.

“He was consistent, passionate and modern. He stood for what he believes in,” said Dan Eberhart, a Republican donor and DeSantis supporter. “DeSantis announced this way: Future focused and bypassing traditional media.”

One attendee at a DeSantis donor event in Miami, meanwhile, said that the room was unmoved by the launch’s problems. Instead, they were focused on raising a major sum of money that would put those problems on the backburner. At the Four Seasons Hotel, they congregated in a packed room, munching on finger food, mingling with top figures on the governor’s campaign, including former Nevada Senate candidate Adam Laxalt. DeSantis is expected to speak to the group tomorrow and there is expected to be a political briefing from the top advisers as well.

But the incident appeared likely to linger well past launch day, serving as a cudgel not only for rival Republicans, but Democrats looking ahead to the general election.

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression!” tweeted political media consultant Lis Smith, a Democrat. “Which is why most presidentials agonize over the most minute details of a launch- the location, music, shot, program, speech, etc. Unfathomable that you’d blow that *once* in a campaign free media op for whatever this was.”

Alex Isenstadt and Daniel Lippman contributed reporting.