Published18 hours ago
You have to imagine that someone somewhere has been fired. Maybe more than one person.
Elon Musk will be looking for scapegoats to blame for the fact that Ron DeSantis’s campaign launch was technically a laughable farce. With the sound cutting out and the link repeatedly crashing it took 20 minutes to get going.
Ron DeSantis must be regretting listening to the adviser who thought this was the way to launch a campaign that needs rocket boosters to propel him to the level of support the polls suggest his biggest rival Donald Trump currently enjoys.
In the Four Seasons hotel in Miami, where campaign volunteers were gathered for the launch, people were trying to put a brave face on – dismissing the technical difficulties as “unimportant” and “insignificant”.
“More embarrassing for Elon Musk than for Ron DeSantis,” one told me. “Find me one voter in Iowa who remembers this in January and I will give a hundred bucks,” he said.
Once the Twitter session got going, Mr DeSantis talked about his “war on woke”, his legal battle with the Walt Disney Company, and how he would reduce immigration.
With Mr Musk and the other contributors all agreeing with him, it was certainly not a challenging forum.
Even before the fiasco began Mr DeSantis was being criticised for launching this way. One Trump loyalist noted that the Twitter event was typical for Mr DeSantis – because he didn’t have to face either journalists’ questions or a live audience.
That remark gets to the heart of what could be Mr DeSantis’s greatest problem. How will he cope with interacting with people and the press?
He has a reputation for avoiding journalists and behaving awkwardly with voters. His critics claim he doesn’t have the charisma required for a successful presidential campaign.
“Trump without the charm,” is how rival Nikki Haley’s campaign described Mr DeSantis in an internal memo leaked this week.
Effective, if not exciting
I saw Mr DeSantis in action myself in the key state of Iowa just a few days ago. He addressed a room of about 600, mostly Republican, voters at a barbeque lunch in Sioux Centre.
It is often said that he is not a natural public speaker but I thought he was effective, if not exciting, as he outlined the conservative policies he has put in place in Florida.
He showed his political instincts when he made an unscheduled stop that evening in Des Moines where Trump had just cancelled a rally – citing bad weather warnings. “It’s a beautiful night,” Mr DeSantis proclaimed in a jab at his most significant opponent.
The New York Times headline the next day read: “DeSantis Impresses in Iowa”. Although it did note that expectations are so low that he fared well “merely by showing up and not committing any significant gaffes”.
He also did a rare photo call for the cameras – posing at the grill wearing a personalised apron and cooking a remarkably large pork chop. But he was excruciatingly uncomfortable with journalists trying to ask him questions.
If you want to avoid the reporters who have come to cover your event you need to find a way to gracefully brush them off.
I was running along beside him as he did a little walkabout so I could ask if he had made a mistake by not announcing his candidacy sooner. Was that why Donald Trump is so far ahead of him in polls?
The constipated grimace that was his only response is the kind of facial expression that makes press officers weep.
He keeps making faces and gestures that are embarrassing memes waiting to happen. Laughing really weirdly or wobbling his head oddly when asked a difficult question – body language that is strange enough to hamper his campaign.
After the disastrous Twitter launch the Florida governor appeared on the more traditional medium of cable TV – on the Republican-friendly Fox News network – where he was not asked a single tough question.
Ultimately Mr DeSantis will need to embrace a media strategy that goes beyond only giving very occasional interviews to supportive outlets or platforms.
Because he has had relatively little interaction with the mainstream media so far he may find he struggles, just when the stakes could not be any higher.
A presidential run is a hell of a moment to do your first really challenging, prime-time interviews.
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