5 weird moments from Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign

DeSantis lost big, but there were some memorable episodes.
A supporter holds up a sign in support of Ron DeSantis for President during the Florida Freedom Summit on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023, in Orlando.
A supporter holds up a sign in support of Ron DeSantis for President during the Florida Freedom Summit on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023, in Orlando. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Jan. 21|Updated Jan. 22

In a decision surprising only because of its timing, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced he was dropping out of the presidential race Sunday.

After a 30-point shellacking at the hands of former president Donald Trump in Monday’s Iowa caucuses, there were serious doubts about DeSantis’ viability as a candidate. But the governor left the race more abruptly than expected — just two days before the New Hampshire primary.

The announcement ended a campaign marred by lavish spending, negative press and a seemingly never-ending stream of surreal episodes.

Not even the video announcing his exit, which DeSantis posted to X, was totally normal. The governor posted the video to his official account along with the quote, “‘Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.’ - Winston Churchill.”

According to the International Churchill Society, an organization dedicated to the memory of the former British prime minister, Churchill never said this.

Here are four other weird moments from the campaign.

The glitchy Twitter launch

Instead of a more traditional campaign rollout, DeSantis decided to announce he was running for president in an audio-only conversation with the billionaire Elon Musk on the website that was then known as Twitter.

The site, now known as X, almost immediately crashed, with thousands of listeners unable to hear any of the participants.

Musk and co. were eventually able to get things up and running, but much of the coverage out of DeSantis’ launch focused on the technological glitches.

“Awkward Silence: Ron DeSantis’s Bold Twitter Gambit That Flopped,” read a New York Times headline about the event.

“Twitter Spaces crashes repeatedly during DeSantis 2024 announcement,” a Fox News headline said.

In the end, X marked the same spot where DeSantis started and finished his campaign.

Twitter videos from an extremely online campaign

DeSantis’ team spends lots of time on X. The dedication to a small but vocal online contingent of the Republican electorate arguably got DeSantis into trouble on at least two occasions.

The first came when DeSantis’ team reportedly created a video criticizing Trump for what it said was his support of LGBTQ-friendly policies. Aides then tried to pass the video off as one created by a supporter, according to the New York Times.

The video, set to a thumping club beat, included DeSantis shooting lightning out of his eyes, and interspersed shots of the governor with other men and characters such as Christian Bale’s character Patrick Bateman from the film “American Psycho” and Brad Pitt’s character Achilles from “Troy.”

The video was criticized as homophobic and was eventually deleted by the account that first posted it.

A few weeks later, a DeSantis staffer reportedly created and then posted a video supportive of the governor that included a Sonnenrad, an ancient European symbol used by the Nazis and that is still used by some modern white supremacist groups, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

The staffer, Nate Hochman, was fired.

The whole boots episode

Trump is taller than DeSantis. In a normal world, this wouldn’t matter much.

In the world of 2024 politics, amateur online investigators took to TikTok and Instagram to try to discern if DeSantis was inserting lifts into his cowboy boots, poring over footage of DeSantis’ gait like it was the Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination. This was a real thing that people talked about for days last fall.

The campaign denied that DeSantis put height-boosting inserts in his boots.

Chatter like this about DeSantis’ personal quirks seemed to get louder the more his campaign slid in the polls. But one bizarre allegation dogged the governor from the campaign’s outset.

In March, before he was even a candidate, the Daily Beast published a disputed report that DeSantis once ate pudding with his fingers while on a private plane.

Trump’s team had fun with that one.

The Iowa caucus puzzle

DeSantis’ campaign orbit was beset by infighting for months before he dropped out. A key pro-DeSantis Super PAC, Never Back Down, lost several top staffers just weeks before the Iowa caucuses.

Amid strategy disagreements between top aides, a second Super PAC, Fight Right, was formed to handle DeSantis’ television advertising.

The problems were apparent for months. But on Sunday, NBC News reported a different kind of story about DeSantis’ backers.

Scott Wagner, Never Back Down’s leader, spent hours in the week leading up to the Iowa caucuses working on a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle in the Super PAC’s headquarters, the network reported. It cited anonymous sources but published an image of Wagner bent over a puzzle at the group’s headquarters.

In the end, Never Back Down’s get-out-the-vote efforts netted DeSantis a total of zero counties in Iowa.

• • •

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