Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, pictured with his wife Casey in Tampa, in November 2022
Washington (AFP) - Ron DeSantis is to announce his bid for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination in a livestreamed Twitter chat with the platform’s billionaire owner Elon Musk on Wednesday, touting his ultra-conservative record as governor of Florida as a blueprint for the nation.
DeSantis will be banking on borrowing some of the tech mogul’s star power to outshine clear frontrunner Donald Trump, who has swept all before him in the early stages of the contest and is polling in greater numbers than all the other contenders combined.
“I will be interviewing Ron DeSantis and he has quite an announcement to make,” Musk confirmed on Tuesday, promising the 6:00 pm (2200 GMT) event would be unscripted, with “real time questions and answers.”
“It’s going to be live. Let it rip,” Musk told the Wall Street Journal CEO Council conference.
The announcement will come with a campaign launch video and the start of a three-day retreat in Miami for some of DeSantis’s wealthiest donors, who will be briefed on the campaign before the governor makes a swing through several early voting states next week.
Ron DeSantis is to announce his bid for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination in a livestreamed Twitter chat with the platform's billionaire owner Elon Musk
Long viewed as the most viable challenger to twice-impeached former president Trump, DeSantis is better known than most of the hopefuls in the chasing pack for the Republican nomination – but still lacks the frontrunner’s national profile.
The format offers him a dual advantage – giving him precious access to Musk’s 140 million followers, many of whom are in Trump’s base, and, if he wins the nomination, the attention of a chunk of younger, less conservative voters that he will likely need for a shot at the White House.
- Ratings in decline -
DeSantis has used his platform as Florida’s chief executive to burnish his conservative credentials, signing off on some 80 new state laws this spring, many targeting “woke indoctrination” in schools and other public institutions.
They include a ban on the discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in schools, a block on funding for efforts to promote diversity at public universities and one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.
But the 44-year-old’s official launch comes with his ratings in decline despite a slate of right-wing legislative wins in his state.
Former US President Donald Trump has been relentlessly attacking Florida Governor Ron DeSantis
A number of policy missteps have prompted disquiet about his readiness to take on Trump, with donors worried he may have peaked too soon.
He faces the daunting task of closing an enormous polling gap, with Trump posting leads close to 40 percentage points, despite being indicted on felony financial charges and being found liable for sexual abuse in a New York civil trial.
But DeSantis goes into the campaign with a large cash advantage over his rivals in the pack chasing Trump – a war chest of potentially more than $100 million – and buoyed by strong turnout at a series of recent campaign events.
Never Back Down, a super PAC that has acted as the governor’s de facto campaign arm before he announced, has a ground operation in most of the early nominating states and is making plans to expand.
Behind the scenes, the Trump and DeSantis camps have been jostling to secure political endorsements from state lawmakers while, at the national level, Florida’s congressional delegation has broken heavily for Trump.
- Personal touch -
Musk is a well-known DeSantis admirer, although he was clear that Twitter would remain neutral on the nomination and that his hosting of the campaign launch should not be taken as an endorsement.
“I’ve said publicly that my preference, and I think the preference of most Americans, is… to have someone fairly normal in office,” he said, without making any explicit criticism of Trump.
The former president was banned from Twitter after the 2021 assault on the US Capitol by his supporters, and has not returned since being reinstated in November.
He has been attacking DeSantis almost daily on his record, character and fitness for office but responded to Wednesday’s announcement with relative restraint – simply posting favorable polling on his own online platform, Truth Social.
“Announcing on Twitter is perfect for Ron DeSantis. This way he doesn’t have to interact with people and the media can’t ask him any questions,” a Trump aide said.
Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been making wife Casey DeSantis and children Madison, Mason and Mamie a focus of his campaigning
The governor has also been criticized for lacking the personal touch that Trump’s supporters say is one of the former president’s biggest assets.
But the former naval officer and congressman has been redoubling his efforts more recently to stay behind after speaking engagements to press flesh, sign autographs and have his picture taken with supporters.
“If we make 2024 a referendum on Joe Biden and his failures and we provide a positive alternative for the future of this country, Republicans will win across the board,” DeSantis said during a visit this month to Sioux Center, Iowa.