By Jim Turner ©2023 The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis made his White House bid official Wednesday, announcing a 2024 presidential run in an online discussion with Elon Musk that ended months of speculation and set up a clash with former President Donald Trump.
As he entered a growing Republican primary field, DeSantis, 44, pledged to be an “energetic executive” who “will get the job done” as president to rein in government agencies that “are totally out of control.”
“These past few years have given me a new appreciation for the fragility of our freedoms,” DeSantis said during an appearance on Twitter Spaces with Musk, the billionaire owner of the social-media site.
DeSantis said one of his priorities as president would be an “overhaul” of agencies that oversaw the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. His criticism of lockdowns and vaccination mandates has helped build his national political reputation with conservatives.
DeSantis, whose team filed campaign paperwork earlier in the day with the Federal Election Commission, also used the online announcement to criticize the “legacy” media and “elites” whose “assumptions are never challenged.”
Shortly before the interview with Musk, DeSantis signed a wide-ranging elections bill (SB 7050) that included changing Florida’s resign-to-run law so that he could run for president without having to submit his resignation as governor.
But the online event was delayed about 20 minutes as demand strained the Twitter Spaces servers — leading DeSantis’ opponents to mock the campaign launch.
President Joe Biden tweeted a link to his campaign website with the line, “This link works.“
Trump’s campaign also took aim at DeSantis: “Glitchy. Tech issues. Uncomfortable silences. A complete failure to launch. And that’s just the candidate!” the Trump campaign said in a release.
Early polls have shown Trump leading DeSantis in the Republican primary fight, with other GOP candidates further behind. Trump, whose endorsement helped DeSantis get elected governor in 2018, contends DeSantis is being “disloyal” by mounting a challenge.
Trump has long viewed DeSantis as his top primary rival and has used his Truth Social online site to insult and criticize DeSantis, including taunting the governor as Ron DeSanctimonious, which is often shortened to DeSanctus.
DeSantis didn’t directly address Trump during Wednesday’s interview with Musk and mostly has maintained a hands-off approach amid the barrage of insults. But without invoking Trump’s name, DeSantis has criticized the former president and current Florida resident over an indictment on criminal charges related to paying a porn star to keep quiet about an alleged affair.
More recently, DeSantis went after Trump’s pandemic response, telling the Florida Family Policy Council on Saturday, “We can never allow Warp Speed to trump informed consent in this country ever again.” Trump’s push for a COVID-19 vaccine was dubbed “Operation Warp Speed.”
Karoline Leavitt, a spokeswoman for the Trump-supporting Make America Great Again PAC, called DeSantis’ use of Twitter Spaces for Wednesday’s announcement “one of the most out-of-touch campaign launches in modern history” and emblematic of DeSantis’ style.
“This way he doesn’t have to interact with people and the media can’t ask him any questions,” Leavitt said in a statement.
But the DeSantis-supporting Never Back Down PAC released a campaign-style video Wednesday that declared DeSantis “a president for the people.”
Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez, who would become Florida’s first female governor if DeSantis is elected president, said in a statement that DeSantis is “guided by his convictions and principles. He does not waiver in the face of adversity.”
Throughout the day Wednesday, Democrats and other opponents criticized DeSantis in advance of his chat with Musk.
Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Nikki Fried, who often clashed with DeSantis while she was state agriculture commissioner, said in a statement that Floridians have been “literally footing the bill for his national ambitions.”
“DeSantis has spent his entire career using Floridians’ lives as a stepping stool to cater to the MAGA base,” Fried said. “We’ve already seen how catastrophic it is for working families when DeSantis is in office, with Floridians facing unaffordable housing, health care and property insurance costs.”
David Jolly, a former Republican and former Florida congressman, called DeSantis’ decision to announce with Musk “a serious miscalculation.”
“1. He’s leaning into the ‘weird’. 2. He’s doubling down on being the candidate who needs a safe space. 3. He’s promoting his association with regressive ideology,” Jolly tweeted. “Dumb move.”
For months, DeSantis deflected speculation about a presidential run, but his national aspirations were apparent.
As he successfully ran for re-election as governor last year, he repeatedly drew contrasts with Biden on issues such as immigration, the economy and COVID-19. DeSantis this year traveled across the nation on a book tour. He also took an overseas trip to bulk up his international credentials late in Florida’s legislative session.
DeSantis is expected to run as an accomplished politician without the drama and rhetoric associated with Trump. DeSantis will brandish Republican credentials bolstered through Florida legislation about issues such as parental rights, gun rights and abortion restrictions.
Banned from Twitter after his supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, Trump has not returned to the platform after being reinstated by Musk in November.
Earlier this week, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., formally entered the primary contest, which already included Trump, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and radio host Larry Elder.
In an ad welcoming DeSantis to the contest, Haley’s campaign compared him to an “echo” of Trump.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu and former Vice President Mike Pence are also weighing entry.