OPINION: Ron DeSantis' Presidential Run Offers Lessons on How Not to Run a Campaign

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has suspended his bid for the 2024 presidency, as we've all seen. He was not only able to leave his campaign hopefully with some cash on hand, but he spared himself the potential of an embarrassing loss in New Hampshire and South Carolina, both primaries that look to be another Trump sweep, with Haley trailing far behind. 

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DeSantis also chose to endorse Trump and eschew Haley, which makes him consistent. While he had some criticism of the former president's term in office, his fire was mainly aimed at Haley. In the debates, DeSantis scored points that exposed many of the former ambassador's flaws as a candidate. I can appreciate that DeSantis comported with his image as a straight shooter and further cemented the trust and confidence of the American people who have watched his leadership in Florida and supported his presidential run. While he took the L, he did it with grace.

I never thought DeSantis was up to running in 2024, and I was proven correct. From the lackluster start to the campaign to his initial lack of fight toward all his opponents, it reflected a man whose heart really wasn't in it. Monied donors and well-meaning friends pushed him in that direction, and with the Trump indictments looming it seemed a credible possibility, until it wasn't. That's not a dig; it's reality. In a presidential campaign, you cannot build to energy, it has to be both feet, all in, and energy in spades—especially since your main competitor is the picture of energy, drive, and charisma. From all accounts from my friends who live in Florida, DeSantis is a great governor. He will return to his remaining two years and be able to rack up more legislative wins and fine-tune the governance of the state. Should DeSantis choose to run in 2028, he has four more years to gain some fire in the belly and recalibrate the issues that took his campaign from inspired to dispirited. 

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Sadly, political consultants will be studying this campaign as an example of what not to do, especially for the moments that mattered.

The Twitter/X Campaign Launch.

The campaign launch on May 24, 2023, was a disaster. The person whose bright idea it was to launch on Twitter/X should never be hired by a campaign again. 

The launch of Ron DeSantis’s presidential campaign on Twitter was marred by technical glitches on Wednesday evening.

[...] 

The Florida governor chose to launch his presidential campaign in Twitter Spaces, a live audio streaming platform that that counts Musk among its fans. However, the DeSantis event appeared to buckle under the weight of demand. By 6.20pm ET it had nearly 600,000 listeners and according to Musk was gaining 50,000 a minute.

As the live stream began, the audio feed was affected by feedback, outages and garbled audio. Listeners reported their Twitter apps crashing or logging them out as they tried to join the event. After 20 minutes of audio chaos, the stream cut out before restarting. DeSantis was able to declare his bid 25 minutes after the event had been due to start.

DeSantis grabbed national attention but in the worst way. An online venue? Presidential races are meant to begin with a sense of rousing energy, mission, and pomp and circumstance. An online Twiter/X Space inspires no one and activates no one. Young and old, we are a visual culture and tragically, we have a generation addicted to TikTok. Optics matter, especially when you're starting out. Most of the people on Twitter/X are politicos, journalists, and influencers. The average Joe or Jane? Not so much. Had he made a big rally announcement like South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, in front or inside a venue of significance, you would have had images and newsfeed visuals for days, and the optics would have set the narrative, making the launch about DeSantis' momentum, not Twitter/X's meltdown. Most listen to Twitter/X Spaces while doing something else, and with the glitches, DeSantis lost a good portion of his launch audience, including critical journalists that could have done reporting that elevated the campaign. 

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Ghettoizing His Campaign to Conservative Outlets Only. 

Much like Donald Trump, DeSantis is at his best when sparring with the legacy media. He not only exposed their hypocrisy but better illuminated his policies and showed what he stood for. By embargoing legacy media and isolating himself only to conservative outlets, DeSantis neutered any opportunities for him to promote what his candidacy was about. He blunted what made him shine. DeSantis did not speak with or sit down with legacy media outlets until well into his campaign, but it was too late to right this serious error.

DeSantis admitted as much in an interview with Salem Radio's Hugh Hewitt, as my colleague Jeff Charles reported.

During a conversation with Salem radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt, DeSantis expressed regret about deciding only to make appearances on conservative news outlets, noting that it prevented him from reaching out to a wider swath of voters.

“I came in not really doing as much media. I should have just been blanketing,” he said, also noting that he “should have gone on all the corporate shows.”

Well, look. I mean, I think that you know presidential campaigns are a lot about media. I spent a lot of time on the ground in Iowa, and it’s good. And when you meet people, you convert them. But there’s just so many voters out there that you’ve got to do. And I came in not really doing as much media. I should have just been blanketing. I should have gone on all the corporate shows. I should have gone on everything.

The governor continued, saying that his campaign “had an opportunity…to come out of the gate and do that and reach a much broader folk.”

DeSantis said that now, he will “show up wherever” and highlighted his willingness to participate in debates.

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This interview was a week ago, and here we are. Had DeSantis had this revelation back in June 2023, we could be looking at a more competitive primary season. Instead, we are down to a two-person horse race, and honest brokers really know that only one of them matters to voters.

DeSantis' Physical Tics Should have been Worked Out Before he Went National.

The head bobbing. The hesitant and insincere smile. The stiffness. Yes, DeSantis got better as he went along, but let's be real: his campaign should have done some serious image preparation before he announced. There is enough footage of him from his TWO gubernatorial runs and a multitude of public appearances that could have been used to mute the tics where they weren't distracting and to get him prepped for the presidential stage. His campaign failed him in this regard. The one place where he looked natural and at home in his environment? His debate with California Governor Gavin Newsom. DeSantis looked confident, in charge, and cogent on his records and the facts. That's not hard to do against lying Hair Gel, but it was a moment where DeSantis shined, and we should have seen much more of that throughout the presidential campaign.

Do Better With Your Online Surrogates. 

Between the ad hominem attacks, the demented cheerleading, and the inability to articulate or defend DeSantis' policies, if I knew nothing about Ron DeSantis except how these supposed online influencers acted, I wouldn't have given him the time of day. The words crass, inarticulate, and tacky come to mind. Some of them were just downright mean. From what I observed of Ron and Casey DeSantis, this was a poor representation of who they are and their campaign. Everyday supporters are one thing, but if you're paying someone to promote you and increase your social media currency, then the campaign wasted its money. BIGLY.

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P.S. The Trump crew is no better.

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