After Twitter Launch Glitches, DeSantis Plans Traditional Campaign Stops
Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida plunged into his first full day of presidential campaigning on Thursday after his sputtering Twitter rollout the night before, holding a series of interviews with friendly conservative commentators and announcing in-person events in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina next week.
For Mr. DeSantis, the immediate challenge appeared to be moving past the rough kickoff and appealing to a mainstream Republican audience, after a Twitter discussion with the billionaire Elon Musk that often strayed into online right-wing grievances and away from the issues voters say they care about most, like the economy.
Acknowledging that a “very small percentage” of Republican primary voters were on Twitter, Mr. DeSantis defended his decision to announce his campaign on the social media platform.
“We felt that there would be a lot of buzz about it,” he told the conservative radio host Erick Erickson on Thursday afternoon. “And I think that was probably the biggest story in the world yesterday. And so hopefully we’ll get some people interested in our campaign who may not have been otherwise.”
Mr. DeSantis also sought to turn attention back to his brewing clash with former President Donald J. Trump, whose devoted supporters are one of the biggest hurdles to the governor’s candidacy. As he began his media blitz, Mr. DeSantis took a series of jabs at Mr. Trump, noting how frequently the former president attacked him.
“I think a lot of what he’s doing is showing everybody that he understands that I’ve got a good chance to beat him, because he doesn’t criticize anybody else now,” Mr. DeSantis told a New Hampshire radio station. “It’s only me.”
Mr. Trump’s team “wouldn’t do that if they didn’t think that I had a chance,” added Mr. DeSantis, who argued that he had a better chance of winning independent voters. Later in the day, he kept the pressure up, saying that Mr. Trump was “running to the left” and that the former president “was a different guy today than when he was running in 2015 and 2016.”
At the same time, Mr. DeSantis suggested on “The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show” that, if elected, he might consider pardoning Mr. Trump if he faced federal charges — along with many other people, including defendants charged in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the Capitol.
“On Day 1, I will have folks that will get together and look at all these cases, who people are victims of weaponization or political targeting, and we will be aggressive in issuing pardons,” he said, responding to a question about Jan. 6 pardons but also citing other cases that he claimed represented “weaponization” of federal law enforcement.
“Some of these cases, some people may have a technical violation of the law, but if there are three other people who did the same thing but just in a context like B.L.M. and they don’t get prosecuted at all, that is uneven application of justice,” he added, referring to the Black Lives Matter movement. “And so we’re going to find ways where that did not happen and then we will use the pardon power.”
Asked directly whether his review might include Mr. Trump himself, Mr. DeSantis said, “I would say any example of disfavored treatment based on politics or weaponization would be included in that review, no matter how small or how big.”
The governor had avoided mentioning Mr. Trump during his rollout on Wednesday, a delayed livestream Twitter Spaces event with Mr. Musk, the platform’s owner, that was plagued by technical glitches, causing dead air and an intermittently hot mic.
One of the people listening to the Twitter announcement was Mr. Trump himself — at least for a while.
“I tried for the first half-hour,” Mr. Trump said as he moved toward the seventh tee on his golf course outside Washington. “After that, everybody just turned it off.”
Mr. Trump crowed about the rollout, calling it a “disaster” and saying, “I don’t know if it’s recoverable.”
“He’s very disloyal, but he’s got no personality,” Mr. Trump said of Mr. DeSantis. “And if you don’t have personality, politics is a very hard business.”
Asked whether he would participate in debates with Mr. DeSantis, Mr. Trump responded, “Unless he gets close, why would anybody debate?”
Next up for Mr. DeSantis is a return to more traditional campaigning, with planned stops in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, the first three nominating states, from May 30 to June 2. The campaign bills this four-day swing through 12 cities and towns as the first leg of his “Great American Comeback Tour.”
Mr. DeSantis will start with his first in-person event of the campaign in Des Moines on Tuesday. He will remain in Iowa on Wednesday before traveling to New Hampshire on Thursday and to South Carolina on Friday.
“Our campaign is committed to putting in the time to win these early nominating states,” Generra Peck, Mr. DeSantis’s campaign manager, said in a statement.
Campaigning in a presidential primary, especially early on, is usually a grip-and-grin affair.
How Mr. DeSantis interacts with people on the trip will be closely watched. He has had some awkward moments while meeting voters on the trail, leading to mockery from Mr. Trump and other detractors.
Mr. DeSantis is expected to need a victory in Iowa and at least a close second-place finish in New Hampshire to show that he can effectively challenge the former president, especially as other candidates, potentially sensing a political opening for a bid, jump into the race.
On Thursday night, Mr. DeSantis is scheduled to attend a reception with major donors at a hotel in Miami as his team ramps up its fund-raising efforts. Despite the Twitter mishap, his campaign said it had raised more than $1 million online during its first hour on Wednesday night.
Mr. DeSantis’s team had gathered the donors in a conference room at the Four Seasons Miami, in the city’s financial district, to listen to the Twitter Space.
It did not go well at first, according to two attendees. The hotel’s audiovisual system was just as glitchy as the livestream, leaving donors trying to listen on their phones while getting drinks at the bar and chatting among themselves. But the overall mood was one of excitement, the people said.
On Thursday, Mr. DeSantis’s top campaign staff members told donors — or “investors,” according to their name tags — that they thought the night had been a success, even if it did not proceed quite according to their original script. The campaign has signaled that it wants to move quickly, take risks and confound its doubters.
Still, the decision to make the announcement on Twitter, a platform Mr. DeSantis said on Thursday he did not use — and to talk more about things like diversity programs at public universities than, say, inflation — baffled many Republicans.
“He was appealing to .2 percent of likely Republican voters with that kind of announcement,” said Whit Ayres, a veteran Republican pollster. “His strategy is on a different dimension than anything I have understood in the past.”