Ron DeSantis has a formidable record of election victories and legislative wins, but critics say he lacks social skills

Washington (AFP) - Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s hotly-anticipated entry into the 2024 presidential campaign descended into a fiasco on Wednesday as the live Twitter event intended to announce his candidacy was all but derailed by glitches.

The conversation repeatedly crashed as the platform’s servers were apparently overwhelmed, and many of the more than 400,000 users who were hoping to listen in missed the 44-year-old ultra-conservative throwing down the gauntlet to Republican primary frontrunner Donald Trump.

DeSantis finally began speaking after almost half an hour of confusion and chaos – although what should have been a triumphant launch had been overshadowed by the time he was able to make his case for the Republican nomination.

“I am running for president of the United States to lead our great American comeback,” he told the listeners, although tens of thousands had abandoned Twitter by that point.

As Twitter struggled to get the event back on track, the platform’s owner Elon Musk could be heard noting the “massive number of people online” who had caused the servers to begin “straining somewhat.”

While organizers sought to highlight the event’s popularity, the Biden campaign was quick to capitalize on the glitches, tweeting a link to a fundraising page and stating: “This link works.”

In the Republican camp, the primary frontrunner Donald Trump joked on his Truth Social platform that “My Red Button is bigger, better, stronger, and is working” – an oblique reference to a war of words he once had with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

Donald Trump Jr, Trump’s eldest son, simply tweeted a hashtag – “#DeSaster” – while a campaign spokesman said: “Glitchy. Tech issues. Uncomfortable silences. A complete failure to launch. And that’s just the candidate!”

The advertised conversation between Musk and DeSantis eventually went on for more than an hour, but technical gremlins persisted – a setback mocked as encapsulating the downward turn the governor’s image has taken of late.

“American decline is not inevitable. It is a choice, and we should choose a new direction – a path that will lead to American revitalization. We must restore sanity to our nation,” the 44-year-old right-winger said during the talk.

The DeSantis campaign tried to offer an optimistic spin on the meltdown, saying that he “literally busted up the internet. Washington is next.”

- Viable challenger? -

Long viewed as the most formidable challenger to twice-impeached Trump, DeSantis boasts deep midwestern roots, a large campaign fund, a record of ultra-conservative legislative wins and an unblemished record of election victories.

Ron DeSantis is to announce his bid for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination in a livestreamed chat with Elon Musk

While Trump has dominated headlines with his legal woes, DeSantis has presented himself as the tip of the spear in the struggle of ordinary Americans against progressive values he sees as divisive.

He has used his position as Florida’s chief executive to stack up a list of conservative accomplishments, signing off on some 80 state laws targeting “woke indoctrination” in schools and other public institutions.

They include a ban on discussing gender identity and sexual orientation in schools, a block on funding efforts to promote diversity at public universities and one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.

“I just know instinctively what, like, normal people think about a lot of this stuff,” DeSantis said, defending his focus on culture-war issues.

- Trump on the attack -

Refraining from explicitly criticizing Trump, the governor used the event to draw a distinction between his record of getting policy initiatives into the statute books and the former president’s reputation for legislative inertia and chaos in his personal and professional life.

But DeSantis lacks the frontrunner’s national profile and the launch comes with his ratings in decline, as a number of policy missteps have prompted disquiet about his readiness to take on Trump.

He now faces the daunting task of closing an enormous polling gap, with Trump posting leads of close to 40 percentage points, despite being indicted on felony financial charges and being found liable for sexual abuse in a New York civil trial.

Behind the scenes, the Trump and DeSantis camps have been jostling to secure endorsements from state lawmakers while, at the national level, Florida’s congressional delegation has broken heavily for Trump.

Former US President Donald Trump has been relentlessly attacking Florida Governor Ron DeSantis

But DeSantis is seen as lacking the natural charm needed to peel away some of the 14 million voters who backed Trump in the last competitive Republican primary, in 2016.

Trump has not posted on Twitter since his two-year ban over the 2021 US Capitol riot ended in November, but has been using his own social network to attack DeSantis almost daily.

In a Wednesday morning post, Trump said the governor “desperately needs a personality transplant and, to the best of my knowledge, they are not medically available yet.”