If you are a newly announced presidential candidate, there are probably two things you're looking to do when launching your campaign. First, by the end of your announcement you want to have at least made enough of an impression on your audience that they can now tell the difference between you and a hole in the ground. And second, if we're reaching for the moon, it would be preferable if political pundits and other cranks did not immediately start debating whether or not the performance you turned in could be counted among the worst campaign rollouts in modern history.
In his own campaign rollout, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis went 0 for 2 last night.
For those of us who still had questions as to why DeSantis would turn to Elon Musk's rapidly decaying Twitter to formally announce his run for the presidency, given that normally you would want to hold such an event in literally any other place, those questions are now answered. Take a look at the first DeSantis campaign video released afterward. It is bizarre.
Holy macaroni, that was weird and a half. Yikes.
Now, the first thing you'll notice there, once you've been released from the hospital after jabbing two pairs of barbecue tongs in your ears rather than listening to another word of that, is that the video features a whole hell of a lot of Musk. There may be more video of Musk than there is of DeSantis; if you stumbled on this video out of the blue, with no other context, you would almost certainly think that Musk was running for president and DeSantis was his dull-eyed running mate.
Look, it's Elon! Look, it's Elon at Tesla! Here's Elon with a flamethrower! Here's a big rocket, Elon did that! Oh, and also here's our candidate, I guess—but look! Elon getting out of a truck!
There's a perfectly good explanation for this, and the explanation is that Ron DeSantis has the charisma of a melted plastic spoon. You cannot find 30 seconds of him expressing any other emotion other than dull-eyed consternation. You cannot make an uplifting campaign video from clips of DeSantis berating schoolchildren. If you were listening to the audio on that video, it is plain that Ron DeSantis is about as inspirational as a carton of spoiled milk.
You've heard of stolen valor? Ron's campaign staff attempted a bit of stolen charisma on this one. You've got audio of DeSantis droning on like he's reading the world's worst audiobook, coupled with video of Musk shooting off flamethrowers and expressing human emotions.
Our candidate does too have charisma, you can hear the campaign staff arguing. He was once in the same video feed as someone with charisma, and that's practically the same thing!
DeSantis' announcement speech was so boring it would be illegal to subject lab rats to it; DeSantis had no hope of injecting spectacle into a campaign launch event that normally would be expected to have more punch than his "man reading the entire Arby's menu before placing his order" delivery could muster. Scrambling, the DeSantis campaign sought a venue for the candidate where he wouldn't actually have to talk.
And, if you stuck around for even the smallest part of the Elon-Ron show, you saw that that's what quickly happened. After finally getting to read off his announcement speech, DeSantis drifted into the video woodwork and the rest of the video mostly consisted of Musk and his fans talking among themselves.
If Ron DeSantis wasn't plainly a fascist-minded sociopath bent on propelling his own rise to power off of frothing grievance politics targeting conservatism's declared enemies for isolation, retribution, and destruction, it might almost make you feel sorry for him. Or, you know, not.
Faced with having to develop a personality that does not immediately have his audiences looking up uncanny valley on their smartphones, he's looked around the far-right movement for someone with far-right charisma he could copy, and settled on ... Musk? Well, it's a choice.
As for the second part of our question, whether the resulting clusterpoop might count as among the worst campaign rollouts in history, it remains to be seen. Even if the DeSantis campaign didn't gamble the success of the event on the technological prowess of a company being held together with stolen paper clips, and even if the results were not stories putting "DeSantis" and "glitched" in the same headlines, you can see what the campaign was going for from that bare-bones video ad they stitched together.
From the beginning, it appears the plan was to borrow some of that creepy Musk charisma and slap it into the campaign announcement to cover up their inability to find video of their actual candidate being charismatic.
A 2019 New York Magazine piece provides a quick list of some of the other "worst rollout in history" disasters. Scott Walker was the last candidate to be this highly touted—that is self-touted—before swiftly becoming a nonentity on the campaign trail. Rick Perry's 2012 campaign cemented his national persona as dull, incurious, and questionably competent. The Jeb! campaign got the "worst ever" crown back then, not for any particular campaign deficiency but for Jeb Bush's plodding inability to, yes, distinguish himself from a hole in the ground. But then again:
We can only say the DeSantis launch isn't the worst in history because "launch" is generally evaluated as being the first months, rather than the first days of a campaign. But he's certainly started out at the bottom of the bottom.
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