By Ivan Pentchoukov, Joseph Lord, Samantha Flom, Savannah Hulsey Pointer and Dan Berger
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis paid a price on the opening night of his campaign for gambling on a new launch format, with the Twitter chatroom crashing after some 600,000 listeners attempted to tune in.
But after tech issues were resolved, the conversation on Twitter Spaces—with billionaire Elon Musk and investor David Sacks—quickly turned to policy, both foreign and domestic.
During the Spaces chat, a subsequent interview on Fox News, and a call with reporters from The Epoch Times and other media, the governor and now GOP presidential candidate introduced his approach to China, how he would handle the FBI, and addressed a wide range of issues, including his approach to abortion laws and his ongoing conflict with Disney.
Launch Rocked by Tech Issues
The bold choice to launch his campaign on Twitter backfired briefly but spectacularly on May 24, when Twitter CEO Elon Musk tried and failed repeatedly to launch the Space chatroom from his account. Issues with audio and other bugs persisted with some 600,000 Twitter users flooding into the chatroom.
“It seems we broke the internet with so much excitement,” the Team DeSantis Twitter page posted, encouraging voters to donate “while you’re waiting.” The campaign raised more than $1 million on its first night.
Twenty minutes later, Sacks launched the space from his account and the hour-long conversation kicked off. Musk and Sacks joked that they “broke” the internet, with Musk explaining that the size of his following had caused “scaling issues.”
The second space paired down significantly, with around 300,000 listeners without further issues.
The brief tech fiasco drew mockery from both the right and left, with former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden firing off messages ridiculing DeSantis.
“The DeSanctus TWITTER launch is a DISASTER! His whole campaign will be a disaster,” Trump wrote on his social media platform, Truth Social.
Biden, in turn, posted a video featuring what sounded like the distorted audio from the false start on Twitter.
Near the end of the conversation, Sacks said that while they “started with some technical issues because of the sheer scale of and unprecedented nature of what we’re doing,” it was “not how you start, it’s how you finish, and I think this finished really strong.”
According to Twitter, a total of 1.4 million listeners tuned into the conversation. After the event, Sacks wrote on Twitter that it “was by far the biggest room ever held on social media.”
“Twitter performed great after some initial scaling challenges. Thanks Twitter Team for adapting so quickly to make history!”
Despite the ridicule, DeSantis’s camp latched on to the positive fact that the technical problems appeared to be caused by the number of listeners attempting to tune in to DeSantis’ announcement.
“Just got off the phone with @elonmusk + @DavidSacks – heard behind the scenes details from Twitter as they handled the nearly 1 million people trying to get into the Spaces room,” DeSantis campaign manager Generra Peck wrote on Twitter following the interview.
“They had more than 700k in the room to start with hundreds of thousands trying to get in … had to relocate the room.”
Bryan Griffin, DeSantis’ press secretary, echoed that optimism, noting: “There was so much enthusiasm for Governor DeSantis’ vision for our Great American Comeback that he literally busted up the internet. Washington is next. $1 million raised online in one hour … and counting!”
Wray in Firing Lane
Asked how he would handle the perception among Republicans that the FBI is being weaponized and whether he would keep the current FBI director, DeSantis said that if elected as president, he would remove FBI Director Christopher Wray on his first day in office.
“No, I would not keep Chris Wray as director of the FBI,” DeSantis said.. “There’ll be a new one on day one.”
“The DOJ and FBI have lost their way,” the governor said and agreed that the agency had been “weaponized against Americans who think like me and you. And I think they’ve become very partisan.”
Part of the reason for the increased politicization, DeSantis said, is that presidents have long listened to the “canard” that the FBI and DOJ are “independent” entities.
Rather, DeSantis said, they are executive branch bodies directed by the president.
“So as president, you have a responsibility to be involved in holding those agencies accountable, clearing out people who are not doing their job and making sure that they’re doing the people’s business and they’re not abusing their authority.”
As an example, DeSantis appeared to allude to the collusion between Twitter and the FBI during the pandemic era. The revelations about the bureau’s close work with Twitter was part of the “Twitter Files” exposé based on internal emails and messages that Musk handed over to independent journalists.
DeSantis said that if something similar occurred on his watch, “everybody involved with that would be fired immediately.
“Right now I think those agencies have been able to go without any real accountability,” he said. “And so guess what, when there’s no accountability, the bad behavior is going to continue.”
Much of the ire about the FBI among conservatives has been fueled by the bureau’s treatment of Trump, both during and after his presidency. The trickle of revelations about the spectacular failures of the FBI in conducting its investigation of the Trump campaign has continued unabated for years. The most recent updates, part of the report by special counsel John Durham, showed that the FBI barreled on with the investigation despite hundreds of exculpatory statements from witnesses and targets.
Settle Russia-Ukraine War
DeSantis said that he wants to settle the Russia-Ukraine war and avoid a larger conflict that could draw in American troops.
“I want to see a settlement of this,” DeSantis said. “I do not want to see a wider war.”
While he admitted that it’s “unknowable” what the situation could look like come January 2025, DeSantis said, “I do not want to see the U.S. with our troops get meshed in a war in Ukraine.”
The governor’s comments on Ukraine follow his flip-flop on the topic, which drew national attention in March. In an interview with then-Fox News opinion host Tucker Carlson, DeSantis had called the war in Ukraine a territorial dispute that should not be of U.S. national interest. DeSantis criticized Biden for funding the war with no clear objective or accountability.
The Florida governor later walked back the comments, condemning Putin as “a war criminal.”
The governor’s position on the war is similar to Trump’s. The former president has said he could, if re-elected, end the war in 24 hours.
Republicans in Congress are divided on support for funding the war in Ukraine.
In the House, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) have been skeptical of increasing U.S. involvement in the conflict, raising concerns that it could lead to U.S. troops on the ground, nuclear proliferation, or the next world war. Greene has called for an audit of all funds sent to Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Republicans in the upper chamber like Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have pushed for increased U.S. involvement, aid, and financial assistance in the conflict.
China is ‘Foremost Geopolitical Threat’
In an interview with Fox News not long after announcing his presidential candidacy on Twitter, DeSantis emphasized the need to recognize China as a threat to the United States and highlighted the growing interdependence between the two economies.
Calling China the “foremost geopolitical threat,” DeSantis expressed concerns about the current level of reliance on critical supplies from China, as highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic. To address this, he emphasized the importance of restoring critical manufacturing capabilities within the United States.
The Republican presidential candidate proposed strengthening relationships with key allies, such as Japan, Korea, India, and Australia. He believes that by working closely with these nations, the United States can effectively counter Chinese expansionism in the Pacific.
DeSantis stressed the significance of recognizing China’s increasing presence in the Western Hemisphere and the potential threats it poses to national security.
“I think we need a 21st-century version of the Monroe Doctrine, where we’re making sure that our own backyard is a freedom zone,” DeSantis said, referring to a U.S. foreign policy position in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that viewed foreign intervention in the Americas as potentially a hostile act.
The Florida governor voiced concern about leftist governments in Latin America inviting Chinese influence into the region. He called for a proactive approach to counter such actions and ensure the protection of American interests in the Western Hemisphere.
DeSantis criticized Biden for not taking a firm enough stance against the Chinese communist regime. Top Biden officials usually opt to describe the Chinese regime as a competitor rather than an adversary.
Earlier this month, DeSantis decried “the folly of prior American policies” that has allowed China to rise economically at the United States’ expense.
In Florida, the governor has taken a series of measures combatting Chinese Communist Party influence, including signing a bill earlier this month that blocks the regime from buying farmland anywhere in the state or making land purchases within 10 miles of sensitive locations such as military bases, ports, or power plants.
Path to White House
In an interview with select media outlets, including The Epoch Times, DeSantis made the case for how he can defeat Trump in the primary and Biden in the general election.
The governor argued that he is broadly acceptable to Republicans to notch Trump and has a proven record of winning the independent voters he’ll need to trounce Biden.
“We are acceptable to the broad swath. It’s not like I’m taking policy positions that are alienating massive segments of Republicans. And so people are going to see somebody who’s got a proven record of success, who’s representing the values that the vast, vast majority of our party professes to hold,” DeSantis said.
“I think that there’s millions of people that want to move on from Biden. I think they’re ripe for us to be able to get,” DeSantis said. “But I think you have got to have a vehicle that they’re comfortable with. And I think we’ve shown in Florida that we’re able to win voters who don’t always vote Republican.”
DeSantis acknowledged Trump’s dominant lead in the polls. In an average of polls maintained by RealClearPolitics, the Florida governor trailed the former president by 34 points.
“I would be shocked if the former president wasn’t leading. He had a hundred percent name ID, one of the most famous people in the world, and had been president of the United States,” DeSantis said.
But, he added, most Republicans haven’t yet focused on the race. He noted that the polls could be wrong, such as those that failed to predict his recent reelection victory by nearly 20 percentage points.
DeSantis paraded his roughly 200 pre-launch endorsements from Iowa, New Hampshire, and Florida. Trump secured the endorsement of the majority of Florida representatives in the U.S. House and holds a broad lead in major endorsements.
DeSantis contrasted his positions with those of Trump, by pointing to bills which Trump signed and he voted against when in Congress.
The Florida governor said he voted against a Trump-backed bill to declare amnesty for 2 million illegal immigrants in return for “a pittance” in gains against illegal immigration.
“I oppose amnesty. That was supposed to be ‘America First’ policy to oppose amnesty, and yet he endorsed and tried to ram through an amnesty,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis said he voted against an omnibus spending bill that Trump signed. “Absolutely, I think he should not have signed those spending bills. He added almost 8 trillion dollars to the debt in a four-year period. I’m happy to be on the conservative side of that debate because I think our debts have gone up way too much.”
On one of Trump’s signature issues, building a border wall, DeSantis told The Epoch Times that he’d “make it a day one priority. I will use all the levers available to me to push that through.”
He reiterated how after Hurricane Ian, he had the state takeover repair of two damaged island bridges predicted to take six months to fix. “We got one done in three days and the other done in two (more) weeks.”
“I can tell you that it was not anything anybody expected. And so it’s cutting through red tape. It’s telling people not to make excuses and just getting the job done. You just have to be disciplined.”
Nanette Holt and Cathy He contributed to this report.