TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, an outspoken cultural conservative long seen as Donald Trump's leading rival for the Republican nomination, is set to launch his 2024 presidential campaign on Wednesday.
The 44-year-old Republican governor plans to announce his decision in an online conversation with Twitter CEO Elon Musk, according to two people with knowledge of the decision. They spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the announcement publicly.
The audio-only event will be streamed on Twitter Spaces beginning at 6 p.m. DeSantis will follow up with a round of prime-time appearances on conservative programs, including Fox News and Mark Levin's radio show.
NBC News: DeSantis to launch presidential bid with Elon Musk
DeSantis gave no hint as to his plans during a meeting of the state clemency board Wednesday in Tallahassee, where he granted several pardons to former prisoners charged mostly with drug-related crimes decades ago.
"You are what the country needs," one man said after getting his pardon.
A smiling DeSantis chuckled and thanked him.
By day's end, DeSantis planned to join the crowded Republican contest to decide whether the party will move on from Trump in 2024 as it works to take the White House from President Joe Biden.
Beyond Trump, those already in the GOP field include former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Former Vice President Mike Pence is expected to announce his candidacy in the coming weeks.
Trump continued his months-long verbal assault against DeSantis on Wednesday, arguing in a social media post that "Ron DeSanctus" cannot win the general election or the GOP primary because of his previous votes in Congress on Social Security and Medicare.
"He was, and is, a disciple of horrible RINO Paul Ryan, and others too many to mention," Trump wrote. "Also, he desperately needs a personality transplant and, to the best of my knowledge, they are not medically available yet. A disloyal person!"
DeSantis has embraced Trump's combative style and many of his policies but casts himself as a younger and more electable version of the former president.
In choosing Twitter to launch his candidacy, DeSantis is taking a page out of the playbook that helped turn businessman-TV celebrity Trump into a political star.
The timing of DeSantis' long-expected announcement has been shrouded, with various iterations of plans being leaked over the past few days. Some close to him suspected that he was providing conflicting information about the timing and location to root out leakers. Others believe he changed his initial preparations after news reports came out about them.
Musk, speaking at the Wall Street Journal's CEO Council Summit event in London on Tuesday, seemed to confirm the Wednesday event, saying DeSantis would be making "quite an announcement" on Twitter.
"The first time something like this is happening on social media," he said, with live questions and answers.
The news of DeSantis' impending announcement came as Trump was making a video appearance in a New York courtroom as part of his criminal case. A judge tentatively scheduled Trump's trial to begin March 25, which falls in the heart of the presidential primary season. Trump pleaded not guilty last month to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records at his family company, the Trump Organization.
DeSantis was expected to meet with donors Wednesday at the Four Seasons hotel in Miami after the evening Twitter conversation.
While it is common for campaigns to publicize their announcements in videos shared on social media, it is far more unusual — and perhaps unprecedented — to hold a campaign announcement in a live social media forum.
"Big if true ...," DeSantis' wife, Casey, posted Tuesday on Twitter, linking to a Fox News story on the announcement and adding a smiley face.
DeSantis has emerged as a national star in Republican politics as an unapologetic leader on controversial cultural issues.
The governor sent dozens of immigrants from Texas — by way of Florida — to a small island off the Massachusetts coast to draw attention to the influx of Latin American immigrants trying to cross the Southern border. He signed and then expanded a Parental Rights in Education bill — known by critics as the "Don't Say Gay" law — which bans instruction or classroom discussion of LGBTQ issues in Florida public schools for all grades.
More recently, he signed a law banning abortions at six weeks, which is before most women realize they're pregnant, and he removed an elected prosecutor who vowed not to charge people under Florida's new abortion restrictions or doctors who provide gender-affirming care.
Trump's allies mocked DeSantis' announcement plans.
"This is one of the most out-of-touch campaign launches in modern history. The only thing less relatable than a niche campaign launch on Twitter, is DeSantis' after party at the uber-elite Four Seasons resort in Miami," said Karoline Leavitt, a spokesperson for Trump's super PAC.
In choosing to announce with Musk, DeSantis is linking his presidential announcement to one of the world's richest men, who has emerged as a conservative cult hero of sorts.
Since buying Twitter last October, Musk has reinstated the accounts of prominent Republicans, including Trump and Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who had been removed. Popular conservative broadcasters have flocked to Twitter, with ousted Fox News host Tucker Carlson and the podcast hosts of The Daily Wire announcing they will start streaming on the platform.
Earlier this month, Musk's tweets likening billionaire philanthropist George Soros to a Jewish supervillain were met with criticism from the Anti-Defamation League, which said they would embolden antisemitic extremists. Musk said he would "be more thoughtful in the future."
Twitter was once Trump's most important megaphone — one he used to dominate his rivals in the 2016 primary and to command the news cycle for years. Trump was barred from the platform after a mob of his supporters invaded the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, with Twitter citing "the risk of further incitement of violence." Although his access was reinstated shortly after Musk took over, he has yet to tweet.
Democrats are somewhat more likely than Republicans to say they have Twitter accounts, according to a Fox News poll from December. Republicans are far more likely than Democrats to say Musk buying Twitter was a good thing and to have a favorable view of him.