Ron DeSantis to launch presidential campaign on Twitter with Elon Musk

<span>Photograph: Giorgio Viera/AFP/Getty Images</span>

Photograph: Giorgio Viera/AFP/Getty Images

The rightwing governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, will launch his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination on Wednesday evening in a live appearance with Elon Musk, the billionaire owner of Twitter.

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NBC News first reported the plan, saying the Twitter Spaces talk at 6pm ET would be moderated by David Sacks, a tech entrepreneur, Musk confidante and DeSantis supporter. Multiple outlets later confirmed the scheme and Musk himself retweeted one report.

The billionaire also trailed the interview in remarks to a conference hosted by the Wall Street Journal, adding that though he would “not at this time … endorse any particular candidate” he was “interested in Twitter being somewhat of a public town square where more and more organizations … make announcements”.

Having convened a widely reported gathering of donors in Miami, DeSantis was also expected to release an announcement video on Wednesday.

Fox News said the governor would be interviewed by its host Trey Gowdy, a former Republican congressman, at 8pm ET.

Plans for a kick-off rally in DeSantis’s home town, Dunedin, have been reported. NBC said the governor would visit early voting states next week, after the Memorial Day holiday. DeSantis has repeatedly visited such states already, in an extended run-up to his formal campaign launch including the release of a campaign-oriented book.

In Republican primary polling, DeSantis has maintained a consistent if increasingly distant second place to Donald Trump.

The former president faces unprecedented legal jeopardy, including a criminal trial set to begin in New York in late March next year and potential indictment for his election subversion and incitement of the January 6 insurrection. He has however parlayed such challenges into success with Republican voters responsive to his claim to be a victim of political persecution.

Trump used Twitter to great effect in his rise to power but was suspended from the platform after January 6. Musk lifted the ban but Trump has continued to use Truth Social, the platform he set up in his exile.

Reporting DeSantis’s announcement plans, the New York Times said Musk would “add a surprising element and give Mr DeSantis access to a large audience online”.

But the paper also said Musk would “inject a level of risk into a rollout that is expected to be carefully scripted and ensure that Mr DeSantis’s first impression as a presidential candidate will be aligning himself with … an eccentric businessman who has ranked at times as the world’s richest man”.

Musk’s ownership of Twitter has seen continual upheaval at the company and a succession of controversies over his own use of the platform.

On Tuesday Maxwell Frost, a Democratic congressman from Florida, greeted news of DeSantis’s plans with derision, tweeting: “On a Twitter space? [Laugh my ass off] this is so lame.”

Rick Wilson, a Republican operative turned co-founder of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, said the conversation between Musk and DeSantis would be, “to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, the unspeakable in pursuit of the unelectable”.

Nonetheless, DeSantis will enter the race brandishing a successful hard-right record as governor, a position the Yale and Harvard graduate won in 2018 after serving in the US navy, including a spell at Guantánamo Bay, and spending three terms in the US House.

He won re-election in a landslide last year. The Florida legislature has not yet finalised a bill allowing him to run for the presidency without resigning as governor but his ambitions have not been affected.

With an eye firmly on the White House, DeSantis has accelerated his implementation of culture-war-inspired policies on gender, LGBTQ+ rights, the teaching of history (particularly regarding race), abortion, gun control and voter suppression.

Democrats and some political observers say the effects of such policies, including a high-profile legal fight with Disney over a so-called “don’t say gay” public education law, will render DeSantis unappealing to voters in a general election.

In figures released this week, the thinktank Data For Progress reported majority disapproval of DeSantis among women likely to vote.

Among issues polled, 54% of respondents were against the six-week abortion ban DeSantis signed in April; 57% opposed book bans in public school libraries fueled by parental objections; and 75% were against allowing concealed carry of firearms without a permit or training, which DeSantis also signed into law last month.

Musk himself appeared to nod to such concerns on Tuesday, telling the Wall Street Journal conference his “preference and the preference for most Americans is really to have someone fairly normal in office. I think we’d all be quite happy with that actually. Someone who is representative of the moderate views that most of the country holds in reality.

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“The way that it’s set up is we have … people who push people to the edge … that causes a swing to the left or right during the primaries. And a shift toward the center for the general election. A fairly normal and sensible to be the president, that would be great.”

Despite such unease about DeSantis’s policies – and widespread criticism of his lack of interpersonal skills and campaign-trail charisma stoking reports of donor unease – head-to-head polling between DeSantis and President Joe Biden generally puts the two men level.

Other candidates for the Republican nomination include Nikki Haley, a former governor of South Carolina and ambassador to the United Nations; Tim Scott, a sitting US senator from South Carolina; Asa Hutchinson, a former Arkansas governor; and Vivek Ramaswamy, a biotech entrepreneur.

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