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This week, we take a closer look at Ron DeSantis’ 2024 campaign launch and how Donald Trump’s allies see it playing right into their hands.
For Team Trump, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ shambolic campaign launch on Wednesday night provided almost too much material to use against the freshly minted 2024 candidate.
Sure, Trumpworld—and the entire rest of the world—had a field day mocking the excruciating, amateur-hour technical difficulties that plagued the Twitter Spaces venue where DeSantis chose to launch his campaign. The former president’s advisers gleefully sent photos of glasses of wine as they toasted a much-hyped rival campaign that clearly wasn’t ready for prime time.
But the actual substance of DeSantis’ extended conversation with Twitter CEO Elon Musk, billionaire David Sacks, and an array of right-wing figures was, privately, more closely scrutinized by Trump’s team than the embarrassing optics of the launch.
Within Trump’s campaign, operatives were poring over a transcript of DeSantis’ remarks, which laid bare his fixation with the concerns of a terminally online segment of the GOP base. While the governor and his interlocutors went on about “DEI,” “ESG,” and “CRT,” only once did anyone utter the word “inflation”—an issue that Trump’s team believes to be key to 2024.
“Ron DeSantis is too online. He’s going to run a campaign on issues that will score him lots of love from people that spend 10 hours a day on Twitter,” a Trump campaign operative said. “Unfortunately for him, that’s not where Iowa caucus voters live.”
One adviser from Trump’s 2016 campaign called the discussion a “fucking disaster.”
“In over their heads,” this source said. “You can’t win primary states on Twitter… Didn’t hear one issue raised concerning everyday Americans.”
Donald Trump Jr. took it a step further on Thursday night, taking issue with DeSantis’ “afeminine” [sic] and “nasally” voice. “Go back and listen for yourselves,” he said.
In several interviews with conservative or right-leaning media after the launch, DeSantis sought to sharpen policy contrasts between himself and Trump, while never truly attacking the former president. Talking to RealClearPolitics, DeSantis argued that he opposed Trump’s budget-busting spending while in office and went further to the right on immigration.
"He wanted omnibus. I opposed omnibus. He wanted amnesty. I opposed amnesty,” DeSantis said. “These are contrasts that I'm happy to discuss.” (Omnibus is a term from congressional jargon that refers to a collection of annual appropriations bills that are linked together.)
While DeSantis was hitting on themes that actually do matter to GOP primary voters—if obtusely—he will be hard-pressed to make that case without more aggressively hitting Trump. So far, it’s not so much that the governor is bringing a knife to a gun fight with the ex-president. He’s not bringing a weapon at all.
Team Trump, meanwhile, might be bringing more than a gun to the duel. The campaign’s MAGA War Room social media account mocked DeSantis’ Twitter Spaces roll-out by commissioning a fake version of it—seemingly powered by AI technology—that featured cameos from fake versions of Dick Cheney, George Soros, and Satan.
That the real event was so easily overshadowed by mocking ripoffs underscored how the nature of the medium, glitches or not, put DeSantis’ team in a poor position to control the narrative and maximize their launch moment from a PR perspective.
“For all this talk about how DeSantis and his team are masters of digital, they actually have no clue what they’re doing,” said one Trump adviser. “We live in an age of short video clips and TV imagery. Twitter Spaces offers no visuals, only Ron’s squeaky voice. There was never going to be shareable content from this launch. It was doomed before it began.”
“Unless you’re Trump and can just gin things up and generate attention anytime, you better take advantage of those moments,” the same adviser continued. “But every bit of the conversation in the media, online, and at office water coolers is all about DeSantis falling right out of the gates. I bet it crippled their small dollar fundraising too.”
DeSantis’ team didn’t return The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
The optics of DeSantis’ continued rollout kept providing fodder for Trumpworld even into Thursday, as the Florida governor hosted an event with top donors and supporters at the Four Seasons Hotel in Miami.
“He’s doing a Twitter Spaces from the Four Seasons where he will be huddling with the establishment donors that want him to take out Trump,” said pro-Trump consultant Alex Breusewitz. “Ron will fail like everyone that has tried before him. DeSantis will regret running for president.”
On Capitol Hill, the ex-president’s backers seemed prouder than ever to don the MAGA cap—in one case, literally. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), a former ally of DeSantis’ who is firmly on the Trump 2024 train, showed up to House votes on Thursday morning conspicuously wearing a red MAGA hat.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” he told reporters, “about wearing my team’s colors today.”
The fact that two Florida men are the front-runners for the GOP presidential nomination is making things predictably tense among the state’s Republicans. Trump and DeSantis, each eager to display their superior hold on Sunshine State loyalties, have flexed their muscles in different ways this week.
In Florida, the Tampa Bay Times reported that 99 of the state’s 113 GOP lawmakers have endorsed DeSantis—and there’s Trump-fueled suspicion that the governor might pressure the remaining holdouts to endorse him with the threat of styming projects in their districts.
In Washington, however, Trump continued his stretch of locking up endorsements from Florida’s congressional delegation. This week, Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) became the 12th lawmaker from Florida to endorse the former president. The governor has managed just one: freshman Rep. Laurel Lee (R-FL), who served in his administration.
While DeSantis’ launch and the GOP primary slugfest sucked up all the political oxygen this week, some fresh polling underscored President Joe Biden’s tenuous position heading into 2024.
According to a new survey from Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee, Biden has just over 50 percent support from voters—for a Democratic primary. His two declared rivals for the nomination, anti-vaccine candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and wellness guru Marianne Williamson, registered at 12 percent and 7 percent, respectively. Roughly a quarter of Democratic voters were undecided.
There is no serious threat Biden will lose the nomination, but his relatively low share of active support among Democrats points to an emerging enthusiasm gap for the 80-year-old incumbent’s re-election. The poll’s findings on another question—whether Democrats would like Biden to run—shades in the enthusiasm problem even more starkly: 57 percent of voters polled said they did not want him to, while 43 percent wanted him to.
Marquette’s polling of head-to-head matches between Biden and his top two GOP rivals were not especially reassuring for Democrats, either: they found Trump leading Biden, 52 percent to 47 percent, and DeSantis leading him as well, 52 percent to 48 percent.
Please Clap? Trail Mix’s own Jake Lahut reported from a Nikki Haley campaign event in New Hampshire where her anti-trans culture war rhetoric didn’t go over well.
DeSee No Evil. Justin Rohrlich found a conspicuous example of DeSantis’ anti-voter fraud crusade missing a target.
Total Wine and Senate. Ursula Perano did a deep dive on the emerging Democratic battle royale for an open Maryland U.S. Senate seat, the first vacancy in more than a decade.
Scott Free. Politico’s Meredith McGraw looked at how Trumpworld is viewing the well-funded candidacy of Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) as a potential DeSantis-killer.
Close to the Vest. After several cycles of teasing and walking back a presidential bid, Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA) is talking to donors about a 2024 campaign, the New York Post reports.