Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' novel way to kick off his 2024 presidential campaign — via a live Twitter event featuring one of the world's most famous businessmen — was hamstrung on Wednesday night by the most ordinary of internet obstacles: spotty technology.
But the glitchy affair, which also forced Twitter owner Elon Musk to abandon the streaming link he had teased to his tens of millions of followers, eventually became a dense discussion on policy and culture war issues.
DeSantis had planned to begin his audio-only appearance with Musk at 6 p.m. ET on Wednesday, though repeated issues and crashes stalled the start of the Twitter Spaces event for almost 30 minutes, after alternating stretches of silence and crackling audio.
At one point, the Spaces was abruptly ended and then restarted — all as Musk and others could apparently be heard discussing the malfunctions behind the scenes.
Musk suggested during the broadcast that the problems were due to a strain on the platform's servers and "scaling issues" because his own account was involved and has a following of 140 million users.
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The second iteration of the event, which started moments after the first ended, ran relatively smoothly for more than an hour.
After being reintroduced by moderator David Sacks, a tech entrepreneur and Republican donor — who quipped that "I think we melted the internet" — DeSantis declared, "I am running for president of the United States to lead our great American comeback."
"We know our country's going in the wrong direction. We see it with our eyes and we feel it in our bones," he said, going on to criticize current Democratic policies regarding the southern border, crime and public safety and the cost of living for middle-class families.
He pledged to listeners that he would "restore sanity," fight "identity politics" and "build an economy where working Americans can achieve a good standard of living."
"Truth needs to be our foundation. Commonsense can no longer be an uncommon virtue," he said, adding, "In Florida, we proved it could be done."
Meanwhile President Joe Biden lacked the "vigor" to lead while in turn letting himself be led by the "woke mob," DeSantis said. He never mentioned his primary GOP rival, Donald Trump, but criticized what he called a culture of losing among Republicans.
In this photo illustration, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis joins Elon Musk on Twitter Spaces to formally announce his run for the Republican nomination for president to, May 24, 2023 in Chicago.Scott Olson/Getty Images
The Spaces had more than half a million users listening in the beginning and later on had about 300,000.
After DeSantis gave a brief stump speech about why he decided to run for president, the event segued into a moderated question-and-answer session where he addressed topics including COVID-19, his legal fight with Disney (ABC News' parent company), the news media, immigration and more.
A rising star in his party after pushing back on COVID-19 restrictions and saying he'd chart another path for his state, DeSantis cruised to reelection last year, as Florida increasingly leans conservative, a shift the governor credits in part to his own style.
He has built a national profile — both popular and polarizing — by fighting over LGTBQ issues and other Republican flashpoints, like the spread of what he calls a "woke" fixation among liberals.
Those same topics recurred during the Twitter event.
Among those who asked questions were conservative activist Christopher Rufo and former NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch.
DeSantis defended legislation he had signed about education and parental rights — critics dubbed one such bill "Don't Say Gay" — while forcefully pushing back against claims that those laws led to books being banned from schools.
"The whole book ban thing is a hoax," he maintained. "There has not been a single book banned in the state of Florida. You can go buy or use whatever book you want. What we have done is empowered parents with the ability to review the curriculum to know what books are being used in school."
The governor also responded to a recent NAACP travel advisory against Florida, accusing the group of "colluding with legacy media to try to manufacture a narrative" and saying its leaders were hypocritical.
The NAACP had warned the state was becoming "hostile toward African Americans" because of DeSantis' disdain for diversity and inclusion programs.
"The head of the NAACP lives in Florida, and a lot of their board members have put out on social media during my governorship Florida vacations where they seem to be having an awful good time," he said.
As the event wound down, Musk said that any other 2024 presidential candidates were welcome to the same live forum and he reiterated that he felt such an environment was important because it showed politicians how they were without coaching.
This combination of pictures shows Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC, March 9, 2020, and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis during an event in Hialeah, Florida, Nov. 7, 2022.Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images, FILE
Earlier Wednesday, DeSantis filed paperwork for his presidential campaign with the Federal Election Commission. Shortly before his Twitter event, he released a video announcing his White House bid.
"Decline is a choice. Success is attainable. And freedom is worth fighting for," he said in the clip.
He enters the race as former President Trump's biggest challenger for the Republican nomination, early polling shows.
Both Biden and Trump's team quickly seized on the issues with the Twitter Spaces, as did some of DeSantis' other foes in the 2024 primary.
"Glitchy. Tech issues. Uncomfortable silences. A complete failure to launch. And that's just the candidate!" a Trump campaign spokesperson said in a statement, while Trump posted a mocking video online.
A spokesperson for Republican Nikki Haley's campaign tweeted, in a veiled barb: "We're so proud of @TeamHaley and our incredible campaign launch."
Tweeting a link to a donation page, Biden's campaign wrote on Twitter: "This link works."
"In true Ron DeSantis fashion, his presidential launch was quite literally not ready for primetime. Welcome to the race for the MAGA base, Ron!" Democratic National Committee spokesperson Ammar Moussa said.
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Even some DeSantis supporters said they were dismayed.
One backer, a veteran GOP strategist who asked not to be quoted by name, said that "technical glitches are not good foreshadowing" and predicted it would be labeled a "#DeSaster," but said, "They'll spin it that the demand was too huge. He's too popular."
Later Wednesday night, DeSantis campaign spokesman Bryan Griffin issued a brief statement:
"There is so much enthusiasm for Governor DeSantis' vision for our Great American Comeback that he literally busted up the internet. Washington is next."