A hard-and-fast rule in staffing a speech is never, ever to allow a boss or client to take the podium where a teleprompter will be used without a hard copy of the remarks, as a backup in case the technology doesn’t work. (A rule once observed by your commentator in the breach, necessitating an embarrassed slink across the stage in front of a packed hall to deliver the errant text.)
The technology didn’t work for Ron DeSantis’ precedent-setting Twitter Spaces presidential campaign launch Wednesday night, and there didn’t appear to be a backup.
An occurrence nigh impossible to countenance, given the astronomical stakes for the Florida governor in the face of his epic nosedive in the polls vis-à-vis Donald Trump. In a now-trite phrase undoubtedly familiar to DeSantis’s MC, the CEO not just of Twitter but also a space-launch enterprise, failure was not an option.
Yeah, your correspondent gets it. Elon Musk association. Cutting-edge social media. But the too-cool-a-tool medium turned decidedly anti-social for the Sunshine State’s chief executive. And while the technology is garnering all the media attention in the initial news cycle, it wasn’t even the most important aspect that didn’t work.
The format was also off the mark, by a wide margin. It’s become strangely conventional for presidential announcements to be unconventional these days, whether via online videos, tweets, or in the manner of Republican rival Vivek Ramaswamy’s leap into the fray, a high-profile interview.
But campaign launch convention is conventional, if formulaic, for a reason: the formula is tested, tried and true.
Not just a speech, but a baseball-hot-dogs-Mom-and-apple pie celebration. With the visual of the candidate front and center, a commanding presence on a colorfully decked stage, and the campaign slogan emblazoned behind him (or her). A carefully crafted, lively and powerful address, with heaping, focus-group-tested helpings of rhetorical red meat eliciting wild cheers, chants and shows of signs from a fired-up crowd. That in turn give rise to a bandwagon effect ginning up enthusiasm in a, hopefully, nationwide audience.
And the most critical applause line: the candidate’s perfectly placed, flawlessly paced declaration that she or he is running for … president … of the United States of America.
In contrast, the Twitter Spaces platform left not just much, but practically everything to be desired. Instead of colorful visuals, the screen was dotted with distracting user icons.
The candidate, instead of a commanding presence, was a disembodied voice. Which is fine and dandy for an erudite, articulate Franklin Roosevelt calming the nation in a Fireside Chat. Or the lionhearted and lettered Winston Churchill growling inspiration in a wartime address. Or the Great Communicator, the practiced and professional, dulcet-toned Ronald Reagan, gliding through a folksy weekly radio address.
For this monotoned, reedy-timbred Ronald? Not so much.
And your analyst has in the past lamented the lost energy of a mis-staged, misconceived campaign oration without a crowd to play off – a lesson not lost on the 45th president when he leveraged, of late, a lusty, loving and loud crowd of MAGA-ites to rattle his CNN Town Hall host.
The biggest miss of the chosen setup, however, was the decision to pass up an obvious slam dunk visual also central to the traditional run-of-show: showcasing the candidate’s adoring family. In this case, the gorgeous, glam and elegant central-casting political spouse Casey DeSantis and three picture-perfect children.
Who’s in line to be fired for that unfathomable faux pax?
But even the failed format wasn’t the worst part of the event. By many orders of magnitude, the event’s biggest “DeSaster,” to evoke a deservedly trending Twitter hashtag, would be the candidate’s mailed-in delivery.
As with Ramaswamy’s stumble out of the gate on Tucker Carlson, DeSantis jumped into, rushed through and tripped all over his money line, the actual announcement (which was equally awkwardly teed up by Musk). Then, in contrast to his man-in-a-hurry younger rival, somnambulated through the remainder of his remarks with all the verve and enthusiasm of a security guard on the graveyard shift.
Which showed up the most near the end of the speech in a passage about the Founding Fathers and their efforts to establish a lasting Republic, punctuated by the epic, albeit possibly apocryphal, Ben Franklin admonition, “If you can keep it.”
Intended to provide the inspirational, high-flying prose that evokes patriotic fervor among listeners and sets up a big finish, DeSantis’s articulation instead fell flatter than Dylan Mulvaney in a Nike sports bra.
In a video snippet after the event, the governor made an attempt at a comeback almost as lame as his “Great American Comeback” slogan – claiming that the event “broke the Internet.” DeSantis’s real hope at this point needs to be that his Twitter misadventure’s three-point failure to launch didn’t break his campaign.
Bob Maistros is a messaging and communications strategist, crisis specialist, and former political speechwriter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.