In the early days of Web life, 1993 to be precise, The New Yorker ran a cartoon that would become one of its most shared. It featured a dog at a computer screen saying to a canine companion, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” It was spoofing the growing number of nobodies trolling and LOLing and sometimes being vile, even threatening, without using their real names or any identifying information. Dogs, in fact, would generally have been better behaved.
On Twitter, nobody knows you’re only five-foot-nine, or if you’re wearing boots with heels. They can’t see why mean people might call you “Meatball Ron” or “Tiny D.” No one knows you don’t seem to like people and have a hard time with the normal glad-handing of politics. You don’t have to take questions from the hated media. That’s why wildly uncharismatic Florida Governor Ron DeSantis decided to officially launch his 2024 presidential campaign in a Twitter Spaces conversation with Elon Musk. It seemed like a safe space.
It was not. For almost a half hour, the “space” announced “Preparing to launch…,” which could be another slogan for the already troubled DeSantis campaign. It gave Twitter users plenty of time to post GIFs about Musk’s last SpaceX rocket exploding in flames. President Joe Biden got a good laugh with this tweet:
This link works: https://t.co/9PzIJkseYI
—Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) May 24, 2023
Wags predicted that DeSantis might find his conversation with Musk edgy and unpredictable. Well, it was. But maybe the fiasco should have been quite predictable, because Musk decimated the workforce of the company he bought last year, and now nobody knows how to work the damn thing.
For almost a half hour, we got to hear moderator David Sacks, a Musk and DeSantis fluffer, insist that “it’s a massive number of people online so the servers are straining somewhat.” Why wasn’t Musk ready for “a massive number of people” to flock to hear the candidate he’s endorsed, on the platform he’s so proud of? At one point, the event ended abruptly. Luckily, I guess, enough listeners gave up, so the event began again—sort of.
When DeSantis finally got to speak, he rushed through a pro forma “announcement,” trashed Joe Biden for his “woke” politics, and claimed that Black leaders under other Florida administrations were there because of “identity politics.” He also hyped his lame response to the Covid pandemic, which is expected to be one of his major lines of attack on Trump (because the former president briefly endorsed a shutdown and urged Americans to get the vaccine). When Musk queried him about verified reports of book banning in Florida, the defensive governor flat-out lied. “There has not been a single book banned in Florida.” As Judd Legum quickly countered on Twitter: “There are hundreds of books banned in Florida schools and hundreds of thousands unavailable to students pending review.”
But DeSantis mostly got upstaged by listeners who wanted to fawn over Musk. Gun-toting libertarian Representative Thomas Massie chimed in: “I’ve never met Elon Musk, but I’m one of your biggest fans. I own a Tesla.”
The vindictive DeSantis might ban Teslas from Florida after this disaster. Two Twitter employees told The New York Times that there had been no planning for “site reliability issues” before the DeSantis event.
Meanwhile, FoxNews.com was mocking Musk: “PROGRAMMING ALERT: Want to actually see and hear Ron DeSantis? Tune into Fox News at 8 p.m. ET.” He was scheduled to sit down with irrelevant ex-representative Trey Gowdy in what used to be Tucker Carlson’s highly rated white power hour. His choice of Gowdy was obvious: The former South Carolina statesman might be the only person less telegenic than DeSantis, and he gave him free rein to stoke culture war issues and brazenly lie.
Gowdy soft-balled the Twitter disaster, letting DeSantis claim he was excited by the “enthusiasm” he claimed the site’s glitches represented. He robotically repeated, almost verbatim, the platitudes of his campaign announcement video. Gowdy did try to get DeSantis to admit what he almost certainly believes: that Congress can’t bring down spending without cutting Social Security and Medicare.
But the Florida governor wouldn’t go there. He quickly pivoted to his “war on woke,” promising to crack down on college accreditors who are promoting racial diversity and “cultural Marxism.” Both men slammed the NAACP’s recent travel advisory warning Black Americans about their safety in Florida. DeSantis claimed that “some” Black children in Baltimore and Florida are more likely to be shot than to graduate from high school, which is certainly false. Maybe most alarming, DeSantis insisted that the FBI and Department of Justice are not “independent,” and he promised to weed out officials and staffers biased against people “who think like us.” Gowdy nodded approvingly.
Overall, the night will be remembered as a DeSantis debacle. You don’t relaunch an already flailing campaign—Trump’s lead over DeSantis has doubled in the last few months—with a launch disaster. DeSantis remains dangerous, though, for his ideas—if not his political clout.