Billionaires, media bashing and woke ‘bubbles’: Key takeaways from Ron DeSantis’ campaign rollout

Attacks on the media, threats to dismantle elements of US government and warnings about the ‘woke mind virus’ dominate glitch-filled launch

Andrew Feinberg
Friday 26 May 2023 06:24 EDT
Listen: Ron DeSantis's presidential launch suffers major technical issues

After a 30-minute delay caused by technological glitches with Twitter’s “Spaces” audio conversation system, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ much-hyped announcement of his 2024 presidential campaign kicked off with a billionaire praising another billionaire.

The first billionaire, venture capitalist and DeSantis booster David Sacks, opened the conversation with fulsome praise for Elon Musk, the Tesla and SpaceX impresario who bought Twitter last year with the aim of allowing unfettered conversations by all sorts of right-wing characters who’d been banned for violating the site’s rules under its prior management.

Mr Sacks then turned to introduce Mr DeSantis, who he said first drew his attention when the Florida governor began attacking public health measures recommended by medical professionals at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

And with that, Mr DeSantis began making his pitch to voters — or at least the voters who are on Twitter and cared enough to listen.

Here are some key takeaways.

Expect attacks on the press to be a central focus of Mr DeSantis’s campaign

Like most Republicans, Mr DeSantis has made bashing journalists part of his everyday stump speech.

As governor, his press team was notorious for attacking reporters who wrote stories that displeased the governor, with many such journalists receiving death threats as a result.

Mr DeSantis, who rarely takes questions from the press, made clear that tearing down journalistic institutions and undermining the idea that news outlets work in good faith to deliver the news will be a centrepiece of his campaign.

The governor framed his opposition to mainstream journalism as support for “truth telling,” citing “blowback” he’d received when opening his state during the pandemic “from the media”.

“There was a concerted effort to try to stifle dissent. There is an official narrative about lockdowns about closing schools about forced masking, and all these different things that we had to navigate during Covid, and it was an orthodoxy being enforced by the major tech platforms in conjunction with the federal government,” he said.

He later accused the “legacy media” of “colluding” with civil rights groups such as the NAACP to “manufacture a narrative” about policies he has instituted that led the group to say recently that Florida is not safe for Black Americans to visit.

“I would just say as an American citizen, if you are uncritically accepting narratives spun by legacy media and left wing groups, you're failing at your job of being a conscientious citizen,” he said.

He surrounded himself with sycophants

When it came time to take questions from the audience who’d virtually gathered to hear him announce his candidacy, Mr DeSantis’s choice of interlocutors was telling.

Instead of taking questions from ordinary people who had taken the time to listen to a man who wants to be the next President of the United States, the people chosen to question him were known right-wing activists and online personalities, some of whom have worked with him or currently work with him in Florida.

The first to ask a question was Dr Jay Bhattacharya, a Stanford Medical School professor who gained fame in right-wing circles during the Covid-19 pandemic for his advocacy of a “herd immunity” strategy that would have seen millions of Americans deliberately contract the virus long before any vaccine for it had been approved.

Next up was Kentucky Representative Thomas Massie, a libertarian-leaning Republican who, like other panelists, devoted a portion of their remarks to praising Mr Musk for buying Twitter before asking how Mr DeSantis would restrict the power of federal agencies which conservatives believe are biased against them.

He also took questions from Steve Deace, an Iowa radio host who has questioned the validity of the 2020 election, Christopher Rufo, a conservative activist who has helped Mr DeSantis take over Florida’s New College with the aim of turning it into a right-wing educational bastion, and Dana Loesch, a right-wing radio commentator who previously worked for the National Rifle Association’s defunct NRA TV streaming service.

His rhetoric largely mirrored concerns of the online Right

From his attacks on “the legacy media” to promises to ban Central Bank Digital Currency — something that does not exist in the United States — and prohibit banks from dropping customers because of their political viewpoints, the issues Mr DeSantis discussed largely tracked those that animate the right-wing commentators who dominate Twitter discourse under Mr Musk.

He attacked the Federal Reserve and the Department of Justice for allegedly pushing “debunking” of conservatives and claimed banks are “colluding” to prevent Americans from exercising their Second Amendment rights.

“I just signed the anti ESG legislation which said things like no ESG criteria and our pension fund we got $180bn state pension fund, no social credit scores for consumers when they're going to bank in other words, if you apply for a loan, a loan should be judged based on your credit worthiness not whether your genuflecting to the appropriate left wing causes,” he said.

Mr Musk also spoke of the threat to America from a “woke mind virus” — a phrase Mr Musk and other online conservatives use to describe progressive beliefs because they believe it is a form of social contagion.

He wants to dismantle much of what makes up the modern American system of government

Mr DeSantis also spent a portion of his remarks describing how he wants to defang federal agencies, including the FBI, if they cannot be brought in line with conservative ways of thinking.

Asked how he would bring recalcitrant agencies to heel, he replied: “I understand different leverage points that you would have under Article Two of the Constitution. I studied that a lot of becoming governor about Florida's constitution, saying the same thing for the federal constitution and you've got to know how to use your leverage to advance what you're trying to accomplish”.

He also threatened to have the Department of Education establish new criteria for accrediting colleges and universities based on whether they refuse to engage in practices meant to promote diversity or teach so-called “woke” curricula, and to reverse much of what President Joe Biden has done since taking office, including his immigration policies.

Additionally, Mr DeSantis voiced support for the REINS Act, a Republican-backed bill that would let Congress override any decision by a regulatory agency that a majority of members dislike, and suggested that the Supreme Court should overrule a decades-old decision that says courts should defer to experts at agencies when they interpret ambiguous legislation.

“I also think that we're going to have a good chance to see some of the Chevron deference really curtailed or maybe even eliminated based on the US Supreme Court's upcoming jurisprudence, and I think that's another reason why the bureaucracy has become so powerful because courts have basically been told they can pretty much do what they want, and courts are supposed to just defer,” he said. “I don't think that that's actually correct. I think the courts they have to make a judgment about what is the law actually say, you can't just defer to quote unquote, experts in the bureaucracy.”

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