(Bloomberg) -- Florida Governor Ron DeSantis will announce his 2024 presidential campaign in a Twitter Spaces livestream with Elon Musk on Wednesday evening, according to people familiar with his plans.
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DeSantis will speak with Musk at 6 p.m. ET, and the campaign will release a launch video, ending months of anticipation and setting up a bitter confrontation with GOP frontrunner Donald Trump for the party’s nomination.
The decision to launch his campaign alongside Musk signals how DeSantis plans to orient himself around the culture war issues that have defined his tenure as governor. Musk has drawn criticism for his handling of Twitter since acquiring the social media giant, including reducing content moderation and reinstating accounts — including Trump’s — that had been previously banned.
DeSantis, 44, would begin his presidential campaign considerably weakened by eroding polling numbers, withering attacks from Trump and self-inflicted missteps. Trump holds a lead of about 36 percentage points, according to a Real Clear Politics average of primary polls.
Still, the Florida governor is seen as the strongest potential rival to Trump. By officially kicking off his campaign, DeSantis, who has largely ignored Trump’s punches, will need to confront and more clearly contrast himself with his one-time ally turned adversary.
“This is one of the most out-of-touch campaign launches in modern history,” Karoline Leavitt, spokeswoman for Trump super PAC Make America Great Again Inc., said in a statement. “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.”
Hours before his expected announcement, former South Carolina governor and GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley posted a two-minute video on social media criticizing DeSantis for following Trump. It includes clips from a 2018 DeSantis ad showing him reading Trump’s books to his kids and draws comparisons between the two men’s body language.
“America deserves a choice, not an echo,” a title card in the ad reads.
DeSantis has summoned donors to a gathering in Miami this week, where his backers expect to participate in fundraising calls for the nascent campaign.
Musk said at the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit Tuesday that DeSantis will have “quite an announcement to make” during the Twitter Spaces session. The chief executive officer of Tesla Inc. added that he doesn’t plan to endorse any particular candidate at this time.
Still, Musk has cultivated ties with Republicans, including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, and encouraged his millions of Twitter followers to vote for a GOP Congress ahead of the 2022 midterms. A self-described independent, Musk has indicated he does not plan to support President Joe Biden for another term, despite voting for the Democrat in 2020.
Musk told Bloomberg News last year he intends to spend a “non-trivial” amount of as much as $25 million in the 2024 presidential race through what he called a “super moderate super-PAC.”
It’s unclear whether Musk, worth $182 billion in the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, will support DeSantis financially. He hasn’t donated to a political campaign since November 2020, when he gave the then maximum $2,900 contribution to nine senators, four of whom were Democrats. The last presidential candidate he supported was Hillary Clinton.
Musk praised South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, who announced his own bid for the Republican nomination on Monday. Musk tweeted Scott’s first political ad of the campaign, calling it a “great statement.”
Musk has previously hailed DeSantis as the GOP’s best hope to defeat Biden in 2024 and has said Trump, 76, is “too old to be chief executive of anything” and should “sail into the sunset” rather than run again.
Trump, in turn, has been critical of Musk in speeches and on social media, calling him a “con artist” and saying Musk struck a bad deal when he bought Twitter.
Musk remains a polarizing figure. While 36% of Americans said they had a favorable opinion of the Tesla leader in a Quinnipiac poll released late last year, 33% said they had an unfavorable opinion. When Musk surveyed users of his own site in December on the question of if he should step down, 57.5% said yes.
Musk announced earlier this month that NBCUniversal executive Linda Yaccarino would take over as chief executive of the social network, though Musk will continue to lead product design and new technology.
As governor, DeSantis signed a bill last week that shields private space companies, like Musk’s SpaceX, from liability if workers die during spaceflight activities launched from the state.
On Tuesday, DeSantis signed an elections bill repealing Florida’s resign-to-run law, which would have forced him to leave the governor’s mansion when he declared his candidacy for president.
DeSantis intends to sell himself as a younger, drama-free and more conservative alternative to Trump. But while Trump retains a steadfast national base, DeSantis faces the challenging task of assembling his own coalition from the GOP’s disparate factions. He aims to appeal to voters who strayed from the former president and Republicans who never liked Trump in the first place — all while trying to avoid angering Trump’s longtime supporters.
He’ll also have to fend off other GOP contenders who threaten to chip away at his support, including Scott, Haley, former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, and potentially former Vice President Mike Pence, who is weighing a bid.
Trump identified DeSantis early on as his strongest challenger and has waged a relentless campaign for months to weaken and define the Florida governor. Trump and allies have already spent millions of dollars on television ads, delivering personal attacks and criticizing his record.
DeSantis is expected to have a formal public kickoff the week of June 1 in his hometown of Dunedin, Florida, at the baseball field where his team made it to the Little League World Series. He will then hit the road to visit Iowa and other early voting states.
--With assistance from Akayla Gardner, Richard Clough, Gregory Korte, Bill Allison and Ryan Teague Beckwith.
(Updates with ad from Nikki Haley starting in paragraph 7)
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