Ron DeSantis is set to officially announce his presidential candidacy this Wednesday in an online chat with Elon Musk on Twitter Spaces. Yes, we can easily over-think what this means, especially since DeSantis has been running pretty overtly for at least half a year. The political system knows he is running for president, and what he says on Twitter Spaces will be reported on conventional media throughout the the day. But it’s telling that he’s choosing this fairly niche platform.
For one thing, it’s yet another reminder of what Julia Azari and I wrote about yesterday in our MSNBC piece: a lot of the informal rules and practices of presidential nomination cycles are in flux. Often a presidential announcement is a well-attended speech in a highly visible place, or maybe an interview on a well-watched news program with a respected journalist. By contrast, Twitter Spaces didn’t exist four years ago, and it’s been available for mainstream Twitter users for less than two years. My impression is that not very many people currently utilize this service, although it could well grow in popularity in the near future.
It’s exciting that it’s new. (Brian Stelter makes a good analogy to Ross Perot announcing on Larry King Live in 1992.) It also might be something of a concession. Maybe Fox News isn’t the central conservative news resource it once was. Or maybe Fox is much more Donald Trump’s milieu, and DeSantis needs to find his own sandbox.
Another thing it signals is Twitter’s (and Elon Musk’s) pivot to being identified with the Republican Party. It is certainly possible that some prominent Democrats will choose to make important career moves in interviews with Musk, but as far as I know, none has so far, nor has he invited them. Rather, one of Musk’s major changes to Twitter since last fall has been to reach out to conservative voices and to reinstate those who had been removed from the site for stoking the January 6th riots, promoting election lies, or spreading pandemic misinformation.
Relatedly, Musk officially reinstated Trump’s Twitter account last November, but Trump hasn’t used it, preferring to speak to his supporters with his own Truth Social network. Indeed, Trump mocked Musk last year, claiming Musk repeatedly begged for his help for his businesses, and mocked the safety record of Musk’s rockets and cars. All this is to say that if Musk wants a big name to legitimize him in the eyes of conservative Twitter users, he probably needs a different horse than Trump. DeSantis might just do.
Does the medium accentuate DeSantis’ strengths? We’ll have to wait and see on that. He’s not a particularly dynamic public speaker, and a conventional public address in front of an audience would likely have been fine but done him no favors. This announcement might actually be slightly better for him, and will stimulate some conversation among a small but very techy and very connected audience. I doubt DeSantis’ policy approach in Florida, defined by aggressive use of government to punish businesses for political stances and to enforce a conservative moral vision, will have much cache with libertarian Silicon Valley types, but again, it can’t hurt to have them talking about him for a few days.
In the end, I doubt the particular venue of DeSantis’ campaign announcement will matter very much. But it signals something new in the tech world and in the Republican Party, and for that, at least, it deserves some attention.
Twitter is trying to promote Twitter Spaces by telling me which spaces people I follow are in, and both Tech and NBA Twitter seem to have reasonably adopted them.