DeSantis' 2024 strategy: dominate the internet
Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, DC shares his perspective on US politics.
Is Ron DeSantis too online?
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced his 2024 presidential bid this week on a Twitter Spaces event hosted by its terminally online CEO Elon Musk. Amid dropping poll numbers and headline after headline criticizing his unfriendly nature, DeSantis’s decision to launch his campaign on Twitter raises an important question: is the Florida Governor too online?
Twitter has been an important hub for conservatives for years and has become more so since Musk bought the platform and became its CEO. DeSantis’s decision to launch his presidential campaign on Twitter instead of somewhere that caters to a more traditional media audience reflects the platform’s importance for conservatives and, perhaps more importantly, allows DeSantis to bypass the media and have more control over his announcement.
DeSantis, who last year was seen as the most credible challenger to former President Donald Trump within the GOP, has been described as standoffish, socially awkward, and even rude by colleagues from his time in the House of Representatives and the Florida governor’s mansion. Charisma is typically an indispensable quality for most people running for office, but DeSantis seems to be a rare example of an elected official who does not connect with people, and for the most part doesn’t even really seem to try.
Former president Donald Trump ripped DeSantis for needing a “personality transplant,” which he reminded readers are not medically available, which maybe helps explain why so much of the hype for DeSantis has come directly out of the internet, where human contact is less important. Trump himself is perhaps the most online person to ever hold public office. His reinstated Twitter account, which he does not even use, still has nearly 87 million followers despite his two-year ban.
Trump has maintained a unique ability to make his online statements matter offline, using the relatively new communication tool to steer national media better than anyone in history. Even the limited reach of his Truth Social account with its 5 million followers can still drive news cycles and provide him a platform for fundraising that DeSantis and other politicians would kill for.
This is a formidable challenge for DeSantis to overcome. Can the Florida governor out post the ultimate poster with his own brand of liberal trolling and conservative red meat? His two Twitter accounts (one personal, one governmental) have only a fraction of Trump’s following. He posts less than other prominent Republicans like Texas Governor Greg Abbott and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, and his posts don’t have Trump’s attention-grabbing magic that induce both rage and glee across the political spectrum.