MIAMI — Undeterred by the glitch-filled launch that left some of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' supporters acknowledging it was a flop, the newly-minted campaign team spent Thursday briefing supporters and detailing their strategy to defeat former President Donald Trump in the Republican presidential primary.
The summit with donors in Miami was a chance for DeSantis strategists to lay out their vision for the next year and try to build enthusiasm that their tactic will boost the Florida governor past Trump, who they're banking on also being dragged down by his legal woes, according to interviews with several attendees.
DeSantis’ campaign on Thursday said it raised $8.2 million in the first 24 hours after the launch.
DeSantis launched his bid Wednesday night with Elon Musk on Twitter Spaces, a platform for audio chats that became overwhelmed as hundreds of thousands of people tuned in. As a result, the early stages of the event included hosts at times openly lamenting the tech failure.
“We have got so many people here that we are kind of melting the servers,” David Sacks, a tech entrepreneur who is a longtime friend of Musk and political supporter of DeSantis, said during the glitch-filled early stages of the event.
The stops-and-starts, including a struggle to get Musk and DeSantis into the virtual event, gave ammunition to his chief rival, former President Donald Trump, and a cringe moment for his supporters.
One Florida veteran Republican operative quipped: "It’s rare that something is so awful that in the middle of it you know you’re witnessing a moment in history that will be both punchline and cautionary tale for decades, but DeSantis achieved dubious distinction tonight."
Another called it a "colossal f--- up."
A third person close to the DeSantis political operation bemoaned that the operation had failed the Florida governor.
“I think Governor DeSantis deserves a campaign worthy of his candidacy. And I think failure is one thing, but completely predictable failure is another,” the third person said.
The source also said there was concern internally about the unconventional launch plan; not everyone on Team DeSantis was on board with the idea. Some thought it was too risky and the campaign should have opted for a more traditional, controlled rollout.
Some of that split appeared evident in the messaging aftermath. The Never Back Down, the super PAC supporting DeSantis is not mimicking the “breaking the internet” language and is instead pushing that they knocked the 30,000 doors in Iowa yesterday and started door-knocking efforts in New Hampshire.
It’s rare that something is so awful that in the middle of it you know you’re witnessing a moment in history that will be both punchline and cautionary tale for decades, but DeSantis achieved dubious distinction tonight.
A veteran Republican operative
DeSantis, meanwhile, tried to spin the event as a positive, noting the huge audience and for the event that grabbed international headlines, even if not for all the right reasons.
“It was probably the biggest story in the world yesterday,” DeSantis said Thursday on Erick Erickson’s radio show, the same day the world watched Washington try to negotiate a debt ceiling deal and musical legend Tina Turner died.
The launch came as key donors and supporters met Wednesday and Thursday at the Four Seasons hotel in Miami to begin raising money for the campaign and get their marching orders from top DeSantis advisers.
Among those attending the event — which was part networking cocktail party and part serious listening session — were former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who narrowly lost a bid for U.S. Senate in 2022, and Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez, according to three people who were there.
Several donors who talked to NBC News insisted that they didn’t see the Twitter glitch as a debacle. Instead, they saw the crash as a sign of interest in DeSantis and blamed the platform and Musk, not the campaign.
“There was no hand-wringing … it was like ‘he broke the internet. There were cheers, that sort of thing,” said one of the bundlers in the room.
The person did, however, admit that “after a few minutes, it was like, ‘what is this? Let’s fix this.’”
“I think initially it was like, 'oh it crashed.' I think it was received as there’s so much interest in the campaign, it broke the platform,” said another donor. “It felt like a ton of energy.”
DeSantis’ senior campaign staff delivered an afternoon presentation that about 100 donors attended. There they sketched out the path forward for DeSantis, which included promises that the governor would have the best infrastructure on the ground and would be the best-funded candidate. The briefing stressed that the campaign was focusing on the first four early states — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — and that DeSantis planned to winthe first two states by campaigning “in living rooms,” and other in-person events.
The advisers argued that will be a juxtaposition with mega-rallies that Trump typically holds. The presenters said that Iowa is “critical” to the campaign, and promised to have a strong effort to reach voters there, according to those who attended.
DeSantis’ team cast the contest as a two-person race against Trump and predicted that the primary would likely be decided after Super Tuesday on March 5.
In the briefing, the staff made clear there the campaign would seek to create a contrast with Trump, including that DeSantis would position himself as a “values” candidate, because of his past emphasis on parental rights education and culture war issues versus Trump, who would be bogged down by legal woes, including a criminal case and the jury decision finding him liable for sexual assault and defamation.
“There was a lot of excitement,” said one donor who was in the room. “This is not a patch-together superdelegate strategy. It’s a shock and awe in the first four states.”
Beyond the ground game push in the early states, DeSantis’ campaign is holding nearly two dozen fundraisers in Texas, Florida, California, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey over the next month, according to a schedule provided to NBC News.
DeSantis is meeting with donors over dinner Thursday where he will give a discuss the early stages of the campaign.
The formal launch kicks off DeSantis' clash with Trump, whose endorsement of DeSantis in Florida’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign helped him build a national political brand.
DeSantis’ campaign stumbling out of the gates was very much noticed by Trump, who trolled DeSantis in a rambling post on his own social media site Truth Social that mentioned North Korea’s dictator.
“‘Rob,’” Trump wrote, a name he has started using to refer to DeSantis. “My red button is bigger, better, stronger and is working (TRUTH!), yours does not! (Per my conversation with Kim Jong Un, of North Korea, soon to be my friend.