- By Holly Honderich
- BBC News, Washington DC
Ron DeSantis’s long-awaited entry into the 2024 race for the White House was hit by technical glitches after a Twitter livestream malfunctioned.
It meant the Florida governor’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination got under way 20 minutes late.
He went on to use the event to champion his conservative credentials, his anti-lockdown stance and education reforms.
“I am running for president of the United States to lead our great American comeback,” he said.
The Florida governor is viewed as former President Donald Trump’s chief rival to be their party’s candidate in the 2024 general election.
He joins a growing list of contenders seeking to unseat Mr Trump, who leads the Republican field by more than 30 points in national opinion polls.
By the time Wednesday evening’s Twitter talk had begun in earnest, hundreds of thousands of Twitter users had left the platform.
Since Mr Musk took the reins at Twitter in October, he has laid off thousands of employees, including engineers responsible for the site’s operations and technical troubleshooting.
Mr DeSantis’s team worked quickly to spin the technical stumbles, writing on Twitter that the announcement had broken “the internet with so much excitement”, and posting a link to the campaign website.
His press secretary Bryan Griffin claimed the online event had raised $1m (£808,000) in an hour.
At one point, the Twitter event drew more than 600,000 listeners, according to Reuters news agency figures, but by its conclusion, there were fewer than 300,000. The BBC’s interview with Elon Musk last month drew more than three million listeners on Twitter Spaces.
Once under way, Mr DeSantis turned the conversation to his conservative credentials, touting his handling of the Covid-19 crisis in his state – an anti-lockdown approach applauded by many Republicans.
He defended his reforms of Florida’s education system, saying his state “chose facts over fear, education over indoctrination, law and order over rioting and disorder”.
Later, speaking on Fox News, Mr DeSantis outlined more specific pledges including declaring an emergency at the country’s southern border on day one in the White House. He also pledged to fire FBI Director Christopher Wray, a Trump appointee, and slash President Joe Biden’s “anti-American energy policies”.
Earlier on Wednesday, Mr DeSantis confirmed he would seek the Republican presidential nomination, registering with the Federal Election Commission before releasing a stylised announcement video.
“Our border is a disaster, crime infests our cities… and the president flounders,” he says in the video. “But decline is a choice, success is attainable, and freedom is worth fighting for.”
Mr Trump and his campaign greeted Mr DeSantis’s much anticipated arrival into the 2024 field with a barrage of emails and posts to Truth Social, the former president’s social media platform.
Soon after the governor told Mr Musk he would study the US Constitution to “see what buttons can I push” to invoke executive authority, Mr Trump released a statement addressing Mr DeSantis directly.
“‘Rob,’ My Red Button is bigger, better, stronger, and is working (TRUTH!), yours does not! (per my conversation with Kim Jung Un, of North Korea, soon to become my friend!),” Mr Trump wrote.
The latest survey from Morning Consult – published last week, before Mr DeSantis’s announcement – has him a distant second behind Mr Trump, with a 38-point margin.
Through a lengthy primary process beginning early next year, Republican voters will decide which candidate will face President Joe Biden, a Democrat, in the November 2024 general election.
Mr DeSantis is a relative newcomer in US politics, having first been elected to the House of Representatives in 2012. Just six years later in 2018 – after a failed bid to become a senator – he was elected governor of Florida.
He has overseen the enactment of high-profile laws that make it easier to own a gun, restrict sex and gender identity education in schools, and curtail abortion access. He has claimed that this “Florida Blueprint” can act as a guide for federal policies, one that would move the US in a sharply conservative direction.
And Florida’s last legislative session cleared a potential “resign-to-run” hurdle for Mr DeSantis’s candidacy after it passed a bill that ensures he does not have to leave the governor’s mansion to run for the presidency.
Mr DeSantis will also have the benefit of a formidable war chest. At the end of last month, he had $88m (£71m) in a fund left over from his Florida re-election campaign that can be transferred to his White house bid.
He also reportedly has about $30m controlled by an independent committee that his allies can use to support his campaign.
Mr Trump, by contrast, reported a combined $18.8m in fundraising over the first three months of 2023.
Mr DeSantis is expected to tap Generra Peck to serve as his campaign manager. Ms Peck, Mr DeSantis’s top political adviser, led the daily operations of the governor’s 2022 re-election campaign, guiding him to a nearly 20-point victory.
And hiring is already under way for DeSantis campaign bases in at least 18 states, according to reporting from the Associated Press and the New York Times.