Florida Governor Ron DeSantis submitted the papers to officially launch his presidential campaign this afternoon, but chose to join Elon Musk on a Twitter Space to discuss his campaign on Wednesday night. DeSantis’ decision to forego traditional news venues in favor of a major media moment with Musk marks a new phase for the social network — and one that was impossible to foresee in 2016 or even 2020.
DeSantis met Musk on friendly terms. Despite feints to the contrary, Musk’s views are reliably conservative, with a focus on social and cultural issues that has only escalated since his decision to buy Twitter. Last year, Musk explicitly said he intended to support DeSantis’ possible bid for the presidency, called him a “sensible and centrist” choice. Musk previously encouraged his 140 million followers vote for Republicans in the 2022 midterm elections.
Musk has more and more joined the political right, including sometimes the more dangerous conspiracy-fuelled edges. This month only, Musk propagated the lie that the mass shooter who killed eight people this month at a mall in the Dallas area was accused of being a white supremacist. In fact, like researchers confirmedthe shooter wore at least two overt Nazi symbols as tattoos, including an SS sign and a swastika, and espoused white supremacist beliefs online.
Florida’s governor and Twitter’s new owner share a lot of ideological territory. Both Musk and DeSantis – Florida’s self-proclaimed “anti-woke” governor – obsessively target their ideological enemies (the waking mob or the “wake up mind virus” in Musk’s parlance). Musk has gone out of his way to relax enforcement and lift the guardrails that once protected vulnerable groups Black users and the LGBTQ community on Twitter, while DeSantis is systematically dismantle all protection that queer and transgender Floridians once enjoyed And blocking black history education. (It’s so rough in the Sunshine State that both the NAACP and Human Rights Campaign recently issued travel advisories.) Both DeSantis and Musk hold their own special anger for the transgender communitywhich they regularly express by exercising political power in their respective domains.
The Twitter Space featuring Florida’s new presidential candidate isn’t the only sign that Twitter is entering a new era. When turmoil at Fox News ousted longtime top host Tucker Carlson, he was quick to announce that his show would be reinvented for Musk’s new incarnation of Twitter. DeSantis’ Twitter moment also indicates that the social platform is now a home for the kind of conservative political moments that once played out on Fox News. It’s also a sign that Twitter may not be the social connection for Trump’s base that it once was, even after Musk gave the former president a warm welcome.
Twitter and Trump
The Florida governor’s decision to launch his campaign informally on Twitter is the latest sign that the social platform is evolving into something very different than before. For years, Twitter as a platform has been synonymous with Trump — who would become his main opponent in the race for the 2024 Republican nomination.
The former president, who first clinched the Republican nomination in 2016, sometimes tweeted more than 50 times a day. That hyperactive Twitter presence defined his presidency, as did his signature style of erratic capitalization and inscrutable typos (a coffee please, milk no sugar). After years of breaking the platform’s rules, Trump was finally permanently removed from Twitter in 2021 for his role in encouraging the attack on the US Capitol.
Since then, Trump has been largely relegated to the outskirts of mainstream social media. Meanwhile, Twitter itself has undergone a transformation that in some ways brings it more politically aligned than ever with the former president, even as Musk tries to take DeSantis to the next level.
Trump’s fate on Twitter changed when Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, decided to take the helm of the company and bought it last October for $44 billion. Musk, who for months controlled Twitter policy based on his own whims and political affiliations, lifted Trump’s ban shortly after the takeover. But Trump has kept quiet on the platform where he used to spend hours every day, probably because he’s still connected to Truth Social, the alternative app that bears his name. Trump, meanwhile, attacks his new opponent and instead fuels aging election plots.
Twitter has rapidly transformed under Musk’s chaotic tutelage. The acquisition gutted Twitter’s workforce, left the platform’s existing moderation and security practices in shambles, and displaced quite a few users and advertisers who had no interest in an even more toxic version of the notoriously toxic social network. Twitter alternatives have sprung up and flourished modestly in the months since Musk took over, bypassing former Twitter power users. It’s not clear if the company plans to revert to Musk-era decisions when Twitter’s new ad-savvy CEO, NBCUniversal’s Linda Yaccarino, takes the top job. It’s more likely that Musk’s Twitter will lean further new thing — and we see whatever that is coalescing in real time.