DeSantis Proves Unready for His Closeup in Boon to Trump and Biden

If someone announces for president and nobody can hear him, does he still make a sound?

Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Governor DeSantis' Twitter profile page on May 24, 2023. Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Governor DeSantis is now a candidate for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, making his case for unseating President Biden in a glitchy, audio-only announcement alongside Elon Musk via the mogul’s Twitter Spaces platform.

The more than 600,000 who logged on to hear Mr. DeSantis after a 26-minute delay were greeted by beeps, static, and lots of awkward silence. If someone announces for president and nobody can hear him, does he still make a sound, much less one loud enough to compete with President Trump’s megaphone? 

The year is 2023 and Mr. DeSantis — who, at 43, would have provided a stark visual contrast to Messrs. Biden and Trump, 80 and 76 respectively — seems not to have heard that “video killed the radio star” as sure as the talkies killed silent films, in which at least we could see Louise Brooks. 

By limiting his pitch to technology that hasn’t been new since President Benjamin Harrison tested a phonograph in 1889, Mr. DeSantis left the impression that far from being ready for his closeup, he’s hiding from the camera. 

Mr. Trump — who commands eyeballs with an ease Mr. DeSantis must match — pounced before the event ended, posting a video lampooning the endless buffering, spoon-feeding content for TV packages that depend on the kind of visuals the governor chose not to provide. 

Mr. DeSantis promised history and delivered an amateurish, wonky podcast interview with neither the gravitas of talk radio nor the polish of TV. As a former cable news producer, I’ll be watching the images producers choose to pair with the snippets they cull.

A picture is worth a thousand words, and Mr. DeSantis gave newsroom foes the power to pick the worst ones ever taken of him. Look for images of him agape, sneering, confused, eyes half closed. In the words of “The Outer Limits” TV show, producers “will control all that you see and hear.”

Mr. Musk cast the glitches as positive, saying, “You can tell by the mistakes that it’s real,” but campaigns aren’t about stark reality. They’re about putting your best face forward, and there was no spinning that the microphone Mr. Musk turned over to Mr. DeSantis offered only a third of the original audience.   

The bungles put Mr. DeSantis on the defensive, invoking the fate of California’s Republican governor, Peter Wilson, who quit the 1996 presidential race because he kept losing the ability to speak and, therefore, to make his case. 

Mr. DeSantis might be expected to lean on audio if he were a great speaker with a commanding voice, but he’s not. Plus, with audio, it’s difficult to discern who is speaking at any given time for those hearing him for the first time.

For a candidate that touts bucking the establishment, Mr. DeSantis hewed to the conventional wisdom that unless something happens on social media, it doesn’t count, but he’s running for the Republican nomination, and Twitter skews about 3-to-1 Democratic according to a Pew Research Center survey.

By limiting his debut to Twitter, Mr. DeSantis missed the chance to connect with as many voters as possible, including the very ones he’ll need in the primaries, and without an audience, there were no cheers after a build up to throwing his hat in the ring. 

Instead, Mr. Musk tossed to Mr. DeSantis who said, “I am running for president of the United States,” sounding matter of fact, not to mention giving listeners no reason to stick around as they might have had he kept his plans close to the vest and announced at the end. 

All these observations fixed the focus on the medium not the messenger, and Mr. DeSantis had a message he wanted to get across on such topics as the border, bucking the previous administrations on Covid-19 policy, and keeping sexualized content away from children. 

By the time the Spaces ended, the audience was only half the original 600,000, but Mr. DeSantis is in the arena now, and while he may be embarrassed, sooner or later he’ll have to show his face and do better, or he can start planning a Spaces event to endorse Mr. Trump next summer.

The New York Sun

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