DeSantis sees a path to the White House — 240 characters at a time

Most politicians will tell you that Twitter isn’t actually real life. Ron DeSantis is making a big bet that it is.

On every red-meat, internet-fueled controversy of the day — from Bud Light to Critical Race Theory to gas stoves — few Republican politicians have ever been as plugged in online. If he announces his run for president in a Twitter Spaces session with Elon Musk on Wednesday as planned, he is indicating his 2024 campaign will be waged as much there as in the town halls of Iowa or on cable TV.

Yet for a politician whose chief vulnerability has long been his perceived lack of interpersonal skills, it is also a major risk.

For one thing, Musk, the polarizing, outgoing CEO of Twitter, is such a controversial and outspoken figure that appearing with him in a high-stakes event leaves uncertain “what comes out of his mouth,” said Rob Stutzman, a Republican strategist. “The other thing is, Twitter isn’t America. Why doesn’t he do this where more people will see you?”

For DeSantis, who will focus his election message on battling the “woke” left, it may make all the sense in the world – continuing his online combat with the progressives he has turned into a foil.

“Who’s on Twitter? The far left and the far right,” said a Republican strategist who is supportive of one of DeSantis’ potential rivals, former Vice President Mike Pence, and who was granted anonymity to speak candidly about a likely opponent. “That may be part of their campaign plan.”

“It’s a clever move to be a little bit different,” the strategist said. “Is it too cute by half? We’ll see. What really matters is what he has to say, and his message. That’s a lot more important than the forum.”

A person in DeSantis’ orbit who was granted anonymity to speak candidly predicted the move would benefit the governor. “Cool open. Financial support. Why not?” the person said.

Florida’s 44-year-old governor’s entry into the race will immediately shake up a Republican primary that has been dominated by former President Donald Trump. DeSantis comes to the contest with more than $110 million ready to be spent by supportive PACs, endorsements in early voting states and consistent polling as the top — but distant — alternative to Trump.

As DeSantis announces his much-anticipated campaign, donors who support him are gathering at the Four Seasons in Miami.

Musk retweeted an alert about DeSantis’ Wednesday night appearance, and Casey DeSantis — the governor’s wife — tweeted, “Big if true.” A campaign official confirmed DeSantis’ plans to POLITICO.

Shortly after the Wednesday Twitter Spaces event, DeSantis will be interviewed by former congressman Trey Gowdy on Fox News at 8 p.m., according to the network.

The move is designed to afford DeSantis control over his announcement as he prepares to battle one of the most pugnacious figures in American politics. And Trump’s team immediately took note.

“This is one of the most out-of-touch campaign launches in modern history. The only thing less relatable than a niche campaign launch on Twitter, is DeSantis’ after party at the uber elite Four Seasons resort in Miami,” said Karoline Leavitt, a spokesperson for MAGA Inc., the pro-Trump super PAC.

The DeSantis campaign official did not respond to the remark.

Musk tweeted last November that he would support a DeSantis run for president in 2024. The Twitter owner has more openly embraced the Republican party in recent months – having backed Republicans ahead of the 2022 midterms, and reinstating the previously banned accounts of right-wing users President Donald Trump and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).

Twitter’s press team sent an automated reply with a poop emoji in response to a query on the event.

DeSantis has been visiting early-voting states on a book tour, and recently enjoyed a warm reception in Iowa, which holds the country’s first caucus of the primary.

But months leading up to his rollout have been defined by Trump’s attacks on his personality, record and strength as a candidate — and the ex-president’s team immediately pounced on news of his plans, which were first reported by NBC and confirmed by a DeSantis spokesperson. Twitter Spaces is the social media site’s audio gathering platform.

Two other GOP candidates — Trump and Tim Scott — announced their campaigns at in-person events.

“Launching a campaign for the dozens of people on Twitter Spaces is curious, even for the world’s most online candidate,” said Ammar Moussa, spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee.

News of DeSantis’ announcement follows intense speculation about whether he would announce his campaign to donors in Miami or in his hometown of Dunedin, Fla. next week.

There were signs of a hurried rollout . In an email sent out to reporters by DeSantis’ team shortly after the NBC story posted, “March 24” instead of “May 24” was advised for the Twitter spaces event.

On Tuesday afternoon, the website featured a black page with an illustration of an alligator waiting in the water.

Alex Isenstadt and Rebecca Kern contributed to this report.

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