DeSantis Announces Too-Online Campaign in Most Online Way Imaginable
Plus: A.I. helps a paralyzed man walk again, how Wall Street is preparing for a possible U.S. debt default, and more...
After months of speculation—and some brief technical difficulties—Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis made it official: He's running for president.
DeSantis filed the necessary paperwork with the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday afternoon and launched his campaign by joining Elon Musk for a Twitter Spaces interview a few hours later. The rollout was a bit rocky: DeSantis' speech was delayed for about 20 minutes as Twitter navigated issues apparently caused by too many users jamming into the virtual room. "The servers are straining somewhat," Musk said at one point. For much of that time, users (those who weren't dropped from the Space) heard a combination of silence, hold music, and intermittent crosstalk.
Once he got going, however, DeSantis rattled through a shortened version of the stump speech that he's been workshopping at conservative confabs around the country for the past several months—stressing his military background, his gubernatorial record of attacking anything deemed "woke," and his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. "I am running for president of the United States to lead our great American comeback," he promised.
After first half hour of disaster, it was an awkward speech/podcast hybrid. But DeSantis was able to give long substantive answers on issues he wants to highlight: COVID, education, immigration, big tech. We'll see how they play in formats/news cycles that aren't this.
— Benjy Sarlin (@BenjySarlin) May 24, 2023
There will be plenty of time to dissect DeSantis' record and policy aims. What's most interesting, right now, is the decision to hold the long-awaited launch of his presidential campaign in such an unorthodox setting. Asked by Musk, after the technical glitches abated, why he would want to "take the chance" of holding the announcement via Twitter, DeSantis pivoted awkwardly to talk about COVID-19 again: "Do you go with the crowd," he said, or "cut against the grain?"
Upending the tired norms of campaigning is a fine goal, but there seems to be more than that happening here. Announcing a bid for the White House on Twitter, alongside Musk—who has become a cult hero to a certain type of conservative who spends too much time worrying about trolling the political left—is a deliberate choice, and one that tells you something about how DeSantis is framing his candidacy.
Because it's not as if there weren't other options available to him—options that might have provided a sunnier, more optimistic setting for an "American comeback" message than what effectively amounted to a conference call on a social media platform that most Americans don't use.
If I were the Republicans governor of Florida and I were running for President I'd announce at one of the many massive football stadiums in my state because I am tethered to the people of my state and they care about fun, faith and football, and I am a normal joy filled person
— Jane Coaston (@janecoaston) May 23, 2023
But it's conservatives on Twitter who DeSantis views as his national base, as he sets to the task of expanding his brand beyond Florida. As governor, DeSantis has cultivated support among what we might call the "Too Online" faction of conservative politics by engaging in a number of high-profile stunts seemingly designed to appeal to exactly that crowd. Whether feuding with Disney, banning critical race theory in schools, or cruelly shipping undocumented migrants to Martha's Vineyard, DeSantis has mastered the use of state power to raise his profile within the subset of Americans who get their jollies by liking and retweeting content that "owns the libs."
That doesn't mean it won't work, of course. Former President Donald Trump wielded Twitter as a powerful tool during his rise to stardom (and the presidency) within Republican politics. DeSantis probably isn't wrong to sense that cultivating support on Twitter matters—not least because the platform provides a conduit to speak directly to the fans, without having to use the traditional media. Other prominent conservatives have too:
went around giving a talk. They said that they held precisely one press conference at the launch of their campaign. Virtually of the questions were about Trump, nothing about VA, nothing about policy, nothing about contrasting him with his opponent. As a result…
— Kenneth Monahan (@Foudroyant) May 23, 2023
The downside, as anyone who has used Twitter can tell you, is that it's not a particularly serious place. If DeSantis' pitch is that he can be a more competent version of Trump, then Wednesday's rollout was a failure and not just because of the technical issues. Playing to the Twitter crowd is not a way to demonstrate leadership. If anything, it shows the opposite: that DeSantis is willing to let the online culture wars and political trolling guide his campaign, as it has guided his time as governor.
Throw Trump into the mix, and that's a recipe for a Republican presidential primary that seems unlikely to move the country closer to solving the big issues. A fight over who is more well-liked among the Too Online Republicans is going to be ugly and dumb:
Don't expect a campaign that appeals to suburban moderates.
Very conservative Republicans are the most up-for-grabs between Trump and DeSantis, currently solidly in Trump's camp but DeSantis previously tied post-midterms.
They are the key battleground in this primary. pic.twitter.com/Hlt6Qg8e0u
— Patrick Ruffini (@PatrickRuffini) May 24, 2023
And what to make of those technical glitches that derailed the start of DeSantis' Twitter town hall? Did we just witness another moment like Howard Dean's infamous "scream" or Michael Dukakis' tank—a campaign event so cringeworthy that it doesn't just sink a promising candidate, but becomes a permanent part of the political lexicon? Unlikely. Despite the overblown reactions from some in the media, this whole incident will be mostly forgotten by the end of the week and probably rates as little more than a humorous anecdote in the books that will be written about the 2024 campaign.
Here's the thing: The Republican primary contest is going to feature such a cacophony of terrible ideas—war with China, more immigration restrictions, banning gender transition treatments for adults, war with Mexico, more government control over the internet, etc.—that we'll probably end up fondly remembering Wednesday's mess, which denied freedom to no one except those of us professionally obligated to sit through it.
A man paralyzed below the hips in a 2011 motorcycle accident has control over his lower body for the first time in 12 years, thanks to an "artificial intelligence thought decoder" that translates signals from his brain into electrical signals that move muscles, The New York Times reports. If it's true that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, then what neuroscientists have accomplished with Gert-Jan Oskam should be regarded as miraculous:
In a study published on Wednesday in the journal Nature, researchers in Switzerland described implants that provided a "digital bridge" between Mr. Oskam's brain and his spinal cord, bypassing injured sections. The discovery allowed Mr. Oskam, 40, to stand, walk and ascend a steep ramp with only the assistance of a walker. More than a year after the implant was inserted, he has retained these abilities and has actually showed signs of neurological recovery, walking with crutches even when the implant was switched off.…
Andrew Jackson, a neuroscientist at Newcastle University who was not involved in the study, said: "It raises interesting questions about autonomy, and the source of commands. You're continuing to blur the philosophical boundary between what's the brain and what's the technology."
Dr. Jackson added that scientists in the field had been theorizing about connecting the brain to spinal cord stimulators for decades, but that this represented the first time they had achieved such success in a human patient.
This is exactly the sort of thing that's at stake in the debate over how to handle the future development of artificial intelligence.
Amazing! ???? And each time you read another article about another little #AI or robotic-assisted miracle like this -- and it IS a miracle -- ask yourself how an "AI pause" might stop the next one from happening. https://t.co/IgueGXNW80
— Adam Thierer (@AdamThierer) May 25, 2023
If the U.S. defaults on its debt payments next month, the stability of the country's financial markets could hinge on…"a series of conference calls." The Wall Street Journal takes a look at how investors are preparing for the possibility of an unprecedented event:
Under Wall Street's plan, though, investors would be able to keep trading all U.S. Treasurys, even those with past-due interest or principal payments. Chaos and confusion would be kept at bay through a series of conference calls, each with an agenda already organized by the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association trade group….
The main purpose of both calls would be to answer a key question: whether the Treasury Department had decided to delay, by a single day, a principal payment due the following morning. Were that to happen, trading of affected U.S. Treasurys could take place essentially as normal.
• Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R–Calif.) says "some progress" has been made toward reaching a deal with the White House to avoid a debt default early next month.
• On the day he announced his run for the presidency, DeSantis also signed a bill changing Florida's law that required office holders to resign before running for another office.
• Inflation has slowed. Is it time to worry about deflation instead?
• Why people like sad songs.