DeSantis’s Campaign of Trolling

The Florida governor seems to understand that in today’s GOP primary, serious people need not apply.

Ron DeSantis
Andrew Lichtenstein / Corbis via Getty

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This evening, Ron DeSantis is announcing his presidential campaign by talking to Elon Musk on Twitter. The Florida governor’s attempt to fit into Donald Trump’s shoes is only going to get worse from here.

First, here are four new stories from The Atlantic:

Not Serious People

I am not going to open Twitter this evening to hear Ron DeSantis announce—finally, for real, no joke, this time he means it—his campaign to become the leader of the free world. Neither are you, in all likelihood; Twitter is composed of a tiny fraction of highly engaged social-media users, and most people in America aren’t on the platform. Even fewer use Twitter Spaces, the audio component of Twitter where users can tune in to a live conversation. (I’ve participated in some of them. They’re fun, but a bit cumbersome.)

More to the point, very few of the people Ron DeSantis wants to reach are on Twitter. Most of them won’t hear any of the conversation, unless somehow the Ron and Elon Show is blasted from loudspeakers in Florida’s retirement mecca, The Villages. Yesterday, after Fox News announced tonight’s event, Reuters published an explainer: “What is Twitter Spaces where DeSantis will announce his presidential run?” If you’re unfamiliar enough with Twitter that you need to read the explainer, you’re not likely to join the event.

Regardless of what plays out tonight, or how many people tune in (or don’t) to hear it, I have to wonder: Who came up with the galaxy-brained idea of matching up two of the most socially awkward people in American public life for a spontaneous discussion on Twitter? It’s not even laden with the pomp and suspense of a real announcement: As my colleague David Frum tweeted yesterday, “If you tell Fox News you plan to announce your candidacy on Twitter, isn’t that really … announcing on Fox News?”

In any case, the venue is, to say the least, something of a risk. The last time Musk tried to participate in a Twitter Spaces event, he got exasperated with journalists for asking him questions and quickly left the discussion. (Much like Donald Trump, Musk seemingly cannot internalize that everyone in the world does not actually work for him.) This time, Musk has brought in his friend David Sacks as the moderator. Musk reportedly once tossed Sacks out of a room with a wave of his hand by saying, “David, this meeting is too technical for you.” Sacks denies that this happened, but still, a close Musk adviser like Sacks is unlikely to ask anything too challenging.

DeSantis’s campaign likely saw two reasons for choosing this stunt. First, Trump has not come back to Twitter, despite Musk lifting the former’s president ban from the platform. (Trump vowed not to return, and amazingly, it’s one of the few public promises he’s ever kept.) The Florida governor will get a Trump-free environment, where he can show that he’s cool and hip and down with his fellow kids on the interwebs, unlike the elderly Trump. (Trump, of course, pioneered the abuse of social media for political reasons, but he’s now over on his own platform.)

The second reason is likely more important: DeSantis seems to think he can win the nomination by imitating Trump (sometimes physically), and part of that, apparently, is owning the libs on social media. In that sense, Musk’s weird and cloddish right-wing politics make him a perfect partner for DeSantis; both of them need a public-relations boost after months of missteps. Of course, Musk will still be a billionaire and the CEO of three major companies no matter who likes or hates him. DeSantis, meanwhile, needs money and Republican primary voters, and he has apparently decided that the way to gain Trump’s share of those voters is to troll, and troll hard, while generating free publicity by appearing with the guy who tried to wreck Twitter just to get even with the blue-check media elites.

DeSantis’s moves so far fit into that strategy. The war with Disney, the attack on public education, the phobic reaction to anything regarding race, sexuality, or gender—it’s all performative cruelty aimed at the most socially and politically retrograde voters, which is another way of saying “the GOP-base voters who will decide the primaries.” DeSantis could be a true believer in his own policies, but he’s clearly decided to lean into the idea of being a Trumplike outsider and culture warrior. (As Jill Lawrence pointed out today in The Bulwark, possible candidates such as Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin are also culture-war partisans, but they seem to understand the risks of scaring off less extreme voters.)

In my view,  the United States will be better off if Donald Trump does not become the presidential nominee of the Republican Party. His continued support of violent insurrectionists forever renders him unfit to participate in our elections; anyone would be better on the ticket than Trump, and that includes DeSantis. But DeSantis has learned from Trump that winning the GOP nomination is not about policy; it’s about playacting. He knows that the primary faithful want rallies and revenge, costumes and chaos.

The presidency is a job for a serious person, but in today’s Republican Party, serious people need not apply. DeSantis seems to understand this, and will appear with Elon Musk in the hope, perhaps, of winning over Twitter power users such as @catturd2 and the various pestilential extremists Musk welcomed back to the platform. Though it might be a good move for DeSantis—who needs to do something to reinflate his shrinking political bubble—his cozying up to Musk is just another moment when Succession’s Logan Roy might look at the 2024 GOP primary candidates as he did at his children, shake his head sadly, and say: “You are not serious people.”


Today’s News

  1. Vice President Kamala Harris called for Congress to enact more gun-safety legislation on the first anniversary of the mass shooting in Uvalde.
  2. Tina Turner, the rock-and-roll pioneer and pop icon, died at the age of 83 after a long illness.
  3. Montana banned people dressed in drag from reading books to children at public schools and libraries, becoming the first state to do so.


More From The Atlantic

Culture Break

Read. Chain-Gang All-Stars, a new novel by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah that’s set in a world where imprisoned people duel to the death as entertainment for others.

Watch. Anna Nicole Smith: You Don’t Know Me (streaming on Netflix), a perplexing new documentary that offers glimpses of the tabloid star but fails to reckon with the forces that ruined her.


Though some readers may know that I spent more than 25 years teaching at the Naval War College (and many years before that teaching at Dartmouth and Georgetown), they may not know that I also have taught for 18 years in Harvard’s continuing-education division, the Harvard Extension School. I have now retired from Extension, and last night I was honored to receive the school’s highest award, the Harvard Extension School Medal, for my teaching and service. Harvard’s program is (of course!) the oldest in America: Founded as the Lowell Institute in 1835 (Oliver Wendell Holmes, who named this very magazine, was a lecturer then), it became known as “Extension” in the early 20th century. I was proud to be part of the mission to deliver quality education to anyone who wanted it, including the nontraditional students who would come to class after a full day at work—just as I had.

My time at Extension, however, also taught me that Americans often overlook or underestimate the value of such programs. I am an advocate for residential, four-year college programs—that is, for the students likely to benefit from them. Not everyone can or should go to a full-time program; some students would rather work, others need to pick up a course on a topic only as part of their professional development, and others might be lifelong learners who are coming back to school merely out of interest in a particular subject. Continuing-education programs at America’s universities help provide this learning at a fraction of the cost of a full-time degree, and often with the same instructors and on the very same campuses.

— Tom

Katherine Hu contributed to this newsletter.