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Elon Musk gets what he craves the most with Ron DeSantis launch

NEW YORK – When Ron DeSantis launches his presidential campaign on Twitter, it will mark the biggest threat so far to Donald Trump’s chances in the 2024 election.

But it will also represent a startling moment for Elon Musk that shows how influential he has become in American politics.

Musk as kingmaker for the Republican presidential candidate would have seemed far-fetched before he bought Twitter, but he has turned the platform into a far more welcoming space for the right and the far-right.

Combine that with being the second richest man in the world and the head of Tesla and SpaceX, and Musk is now a figure whose endorsement matters.

Politics website Axios went so far as to hail Musk as “the new Murdoch” and the “king of conservative media” for usurping Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News.

In agreement seems to be DeSantis, the former Florida governor who will announce his candidacy with Musk on Twitter Spaces, the site’s audio platform, on Wednesday evening.

Political commentators in the US have been divided over the strategy, with some seeing it as too cute.

Trump’s campaign mocked DeSantis, who is known for being wooden in person, with an adviser telling Politico that the announcement on Twitter meant “he doesn’t have to interact with people”.

Yet while Twitter isn’t real life, some of the biggest issues of the day in America have played out on social media, including those that animate Musk and DeSantis.

Both men have targeted trans people with Musk ridiculing them online and DeSantis passing laws that ban trans-themed books and stopped healthcare for trans people.

Musk has railed against what he calls the “woke mind virus” which strongly echoes DeSantis’ call to make Florida “the place where woke goes to die”.

On immigration, Musk has chafed against “open borders” while DeSantis infamously flew a planeload of migrants to Massachusetts in a stunt that prompted outrage.

Musk voted for Joe Biden in 2020 but has moved to the right in recent years and last July he told Trump to “hang up his hat and sail into the sunset” because he is too old.

While Trump hasn’t gone into full attack mode against Musk, he hasn’t gone back on Twitter despite Musk reinstating him and his 86 million followers.

In contrast to DeSantis, Trump’s campaign launch was as conventional as you can get: a prime time speech followed by a town hall on CNN. It’s also hard to imagine Trump making the trek to the Tesla HQ in Austin, Texas, to seek Musk’s blessing for the 2024 election.

Neither will Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, and Trump’s former Vice President Mike Pence.

But the fact that DeSantis, a man who stands a good shot at being President, is siding with Musk shows that the sphere of influence on the right is moving even further online.

It’s a win-win for Musk who gets the thing that he craves the most – people talking about Twitter and, more importantly, about him.

The risk for DeSantis of tying himself to Musk is illustrated by a new poll which found that Tesla’s reputation has slumped from the 11th most liked company in the US to 62nd place this year.

Musk’s antics on Twitter are largely to blame as Tesla owners and the wider public looked on at what critics claim was the vandalism of a vital social media network which has become a mouthpiece for an egocentric billionaire.

The other risk is that DeSantis will outlive his usefulness to Musk, especially if his polls start to crater.

As we’ve seen with Trump, when thin-skinned billionaires fall out with allies they tend to do so publicly and brutally.

DeSantis should enjoy basking in the glow of Musk’s Twitter for now – in future he could feel its heat.

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