Governor of Florida Ron DeSantis. (Photo: Getty)
Ron DeSantis will speak with Musk at 6pm US Eastern Time on Wednesday and a video formally launching the campaign will be released, ending months of anticipation and setting up a bitter confrontation with GOP frontrunner Donald Trump for the party’s nomination.
The decision to launch his campaign alongside Musk would seem to underscore how DeSantis plans to orient himself around the culture war issues that have defined his tenure as governor. Musk has drawn criticism for his handling of Twitter since acquiring the social media giant, including reducing content moderation and reinstating accounts that had been previously banned.
DeSantis (44) would begin his presidential campaign considerably weakened by eroding polling numbers, withering attacks from Trump and self-inflicted missteps.
Still, the Florida governor is seen as the toughest potential rival to Trump. But he’ll have a steep climb to capture the nomination, with polls showing Trump holding a lead of around 36 percentage points, according to a Real Clear Politics average of GOP primary polls. By officially kicking off his campaign, DeSantis, who has largely ignored Trump’s punches, will need to take on and more clearly contrast himself with his one-time ally turned adversary.
The Trump campaign emailed a statement linking to an opinion piece by conservative pundit Wayne Root, in which Root argued DeSantis “won’t beat Trump”.
“He has no chance. Zero. It’s a suicide run. By running against Trump now, he will have to go negative about Trump, and thereby turn off enough Trump supporters to never be the 2028 nominee,” Root said.
A Trump adviser, who requested anonymity to speak about the upcoming event, said announcing on Twitter is perfect for DeSantis because he can avoid having to interact with people or take media questions – amplifying criticism that the Florida governor is too stiff in public and weak at retail politics.
Musk said at the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit Tuesday that DeSantis will have “quite an announcement to make” during the Twitter Spaces session. The chief executive officer of Tesla added that he doesn’t plan to endorse any particular candidate at this time.
Still, Musk has cultivated ties with Republicans, including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, and encouraged his millions of Twitter followers to vote for a GOP Congress ahead of the 2022 midterms. A self-described independent, Musk has indicated he does not plan to support President Joe Biden for another term, despite voting for the Democrat in 2020.
Musk told Bloomberg News last year he intends to spend a “non-trivial” amount of as much as $25-million in the 2024 presidential race through what he called a “super moderate super-PAC”.
It’s unclear whether Musk, worth $182-billion in the Bloomberg Billionaires’ Index, will support DeSantis directly. He hasn’t donated to a political campaign since November 2020, when he gave the then maximum $2,900 contribution to nine senators, four of whom were Democrats. The last presidential candidate he supported was Hillary Clinton.
The DeSantis announcement comes just days after Musk praised South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, who announced his bid for the Republican nomination on Monday. Musk tweeted Scott’s first political ad of the campaign, calling it a “great statement”.
Musk remains a polarising figure. While 36% of Americans said they had a favourable opinion of the Tesla leader in a Quinnipiac poll released late last year, 33% said they had an unfavourable opinion. When Musk surveyed users of his own site in December on the question of if he should step down, 57.5% said yes.
Musk announced earlier this month that NBCUniversal executive Linda Yaccarino would take over as chief executive of the social network, though Musk will continue to lead product design and new technology.
As governor, DeSantis signed a bill last week that shields private space companies — like Musk’s SpaceX — from liability if workers die during spaceflight activities launched from the state.
DeSantis intends to sell himself as a younger, drama-free and more conservative alternative to Trump (76). But while Trump retains a steadfast national base, DeSantis faces the challenging task of assembling his own coalition from the GOP’s disparate factions. He aims to appeal to voters who strayed from the former president and Republicans who never liked Trump in the first place — all while trying to avoid angering Trump’s longtime supporters.
He’ll also have to fend off other GOP contenders who threaten to chip away at his support, including former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, Scott, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and potentially former vice-president Mike Pence, who is weighing up a bid.
Trump identified DeSantis early on as his strongest challenger and has waged a relentless campaign for months to weaken and define the Florida governor. Trump and allies have already spent millions of dollars on television ads, delivering personal attacks and criticising his record.
DeSantis has summoned donors to a gathering in Miami this week, where his backers expect to participate in fundraising calls for the nascent campaign.
He is expected to have a formal public kickoff the week of 1 June in his hometown of Dunedin, Florida, at the baseball field where his team made it to the Little League World Series. He will then hit the road to visit Iowa and other early voting states.
(With assistance from Akayla Gardner, Richard Clough and Gregory Korte.)