Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a run for president Wednesday, making official his ambitions that have been an open secret nationwide for months — and, in Florida, for years. He posted an official video announcement to Twitter and filed campaign paperwork with the Federal Election Commission.
But what was supposed to be a 6 p.m. post-launch follow-up conversation with tech billionaire Elon Musk almost immediately crashed as hundreds of thousands of listeners tuned into the Twitter Spaces platform.
“Servers are straining somewhat,” Musk said at one point as the listener count neared half a million. The line then went dead for several minutes before a new Twitter Spaces event was eventually launched.
Once it was up and running, DeSantis gave a brief stump speech, then took questions from prominent conservative supporters. For more than an hour, they discussed immigration, gun rights, the federal bureaucracy and cryptocurrency regulations, among other topics. Although every speaker was a supporter of DeSantis, they all agreed on the need for more robust public debate in America.
Although former President Donald Trump, DeSantis’ chief rival for the Republican nomination, was not a focus of the discussion, DeSantis did take an oblique shot or two at his onetime political benefactor.
“Governing is not entertainment,” DeSantis said during his stump speech, perhaps an allusion to Trump’s past as a television personality. “It’s not about building a brand or virtue signaling. It is about delivering results.”
A run for the presidency is the culmination of a stunning rise by Florida’s 44-year-old governor, who with breakneck speed has carved a path from political unknown to household name.
For the past few years, DeSantis has made news with relentless consistency, championing one hot-button issue after the next and setting the agenda for Republicans nationwide — often straining the nation’s divisions over race, immigration and the rights of LGBTQ+ people in the process.
As governor, DeSantis has dramatically expanded the powers of his office, in keeping with his philosophy that executives should have a firm grip. On Wednesday, DeSantis signed a bill clarifying that Florida elected officials do not have to resign their offices to run for president.
Over the past several years, DeSantis has evolved from a small-government conservative to arguably the nation’s leading voice advocating for the government to forcefully correct cultural shifts in American society. He has portrayed these efforts as a battle against “the woke” in private businesses, public education and the news media.
Recent weeks have shown that DeSantis’ continued ascension is far from guaranteed. As scrutiny has increased, several missteps combined with constant attacks from Trump have led to him experiencing a dip in the polls and some insider chatter that his momentum may have peaked too early.
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After calling the Russian invasion of Ukraine a “territorial dispute” in March, DeSantis had to clarify his stance in response to bipartisan criticism. Weeks later, Trump’s team convinced more than half of Florida’s Republican members of Congress to endorse the former president over him. And DeSantis raised eyebrows after he left for an international trade mission days after areas of South Florida experienced extreme flooding in April.
Still, polling and campaign finance data suggest that DeSantis remains by far the most competitive Republican challenger to Trump. Although a polling average compiled by RealClearPolitics has him more than 30 points behind Trump nationally, he’s the only candidate besides Trump who’s getting 20% or more respondents to say they’d prefer him for president.
DeSantis’ former state campaign committee is also sitting on $86 million. Campaign finance experts expect that money to be transferred to a super PAC supporting DeSantis’ presidential run.
Trump has focused the early days of his campaign almost exclusively on cutting down DeSantis. On Monday, Trump welcomed U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina to the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
“Tim is a big step up from Ron DeSanctimonious, who is totally unelectable,” Trump posted on a social media account.
On Wednesday, Trump posted to that same account that DeSantis is in need of a “personality transplant.”
Trump’s campaign has accused DeSantis of advocating for cuts to Social Security and Medicare years ago. On social media, the former president all but accused DeSantis, without evidence, of having inappropriate relationships with students he taught at a Georgia high school two decades ago.
In March, a super PAC backing the former president filed a state ethics complaint against DeSantis accusing him of running a “shadow” campaign for president while still in office. (The state ethics committee found the complaint to be unsubstantiated.)
And Trump supporters made fun of DeSantis’ Twitter discussion following his campaign launch.
“DeSedative,” tweeted U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a onetime ally of DeSantis who supports Trump in 2024.
Now that he is officially in the race, DeSantis will be free to more directly counter attacks from Trump. But he will have to toe a difficult line of hitting back without alienating Trump’s loyal political base.
Robert Cahaly, the founder of the Trafalgar Group polling firm, said DeSantis’ cash reserves and his name recognition give him a fighting chance to claim the nomination.
“When you’ve got over $100 million and you’re in second place, that’s a great place to start,” Cahaly said.
Times staff writer Romy Ellenbogen contributed to this report.