DeSantis launches presidential campaign to challenge Trump
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis launched his 2024 presidential campaign on Wednesday with firm words but a disastrous Twitter announcement that did little to counter criticism that the 44-year-old Republican may not be ready to take on former President Donald Trump.
While he tried to project confidence, DeSantis’ unusual decision to announce his campaign in an online conversation with Twitter CEO Elon Musk ultimately backfired. The audio stream crashed repeatedly, making it virtually impossible for most users to hear the new presidential candidate in real time.
“American decline is not inevitable, it is a choice. And we should choose a new direction — a path that will lead to American revitalization,” DeSantis said on the glitchy stream, racing through his conservative accomplishments. “I am running for president of the United States to lead our great American comeback.”
While his critics in both parties delighted in the rocky start, DeSantis’ announcement marks a new chapter in his extraordinary rise from little-known congressman to two-term governor to a leading figure in the nation’s bitter fights over race, gender, abortion and other divisive issues.
DeSantis’ path to the Republican presidential nomination will not be an easy one.
He enters the race looking up at Trump in early polls while facing serious questions about his far-right policies, his campaign-trail personality and his lack of relationships across the Republican ecosystem. He has generated significant interest among GOP primary voters by casting himself as a younger and more electable version of the 76-year-old former president.
He did not mention Trump even once in his discussion with Musk that ultimately spanned more than an hour. But he said he was ready to fight.
“Buckle up when I get in there, because the status quo is not acceptable,” DeSantis said.
The ultimate Republican nominee is expected to face Democratic President Joe Biden on the general election ballot in November 2024.
DeSantis joins a field that also includes former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. Former Vice President Mike Pence is also considered a likely presidential candidate but has not yet announced a bid.
In choosing Twitter on Wednesday evening, DeSantis tried to take a page out of the playbook that helped turn businessman-TV celebrity Trump into a political star.
It did not go as planned.
The online event started off with technical glitches that Musk said were due to “straining” servers because so many people were trying to listen to the audio-only event. More than 20 minutes passed beyond the scheduled start time with users getting kicked off, hearing microphone feedback, hold music and other technical problems.
“You can tell by the mistakes that it’s real,” said Musk.
DeSantis’ Republican opponents piled on.
The lead strategist for Haley’s super PAC, Mark Harris, was merciless: “Failed soft launch? Check. Failed announcement? Double check. We look forward to Ron DeSantis’ failed campaign.”
Trump went further: “Wow! The DeSanctus TWITTER launch is a DISASTER! His whole campaign will be a disaster. WATCH!” he wrote on his social media site. “Is the DeSantis launch FATAL? Yes!”
Still, DeSantis’ campaign said it raised US$1 million online in the first hour after the announcement.
“We had a huge audience,” DeSantis said in a subsequent interview on Fox News when asked about the technical difficulties. “It was the biggest they ever had. It did break the Twitter space. We’re really excited about the enthusiasm.”
DeSantis, who likely would not have become the Florida governor without Trump’s endorsement, has adopted the former president’s fiery personality, his populist policies and even some of his rhetoric and mannerisms.
Yet DeSantis has one thing his rival does not: a credible claim that he may be more electable than Trump, who faces multiple legal threats, including criminal charges in New York, and who presided over Republican losses in three consecutive national elections.
DeSantis, just six months ago, won his reelection in Florida by a stunning 19 percentage points — even as Republicans in many other states struggled. He also scored several major policy victories during the Republican-controlled Legislature’s spring session.
“We need to win again,” DeSantis said on Fox. “As Republicans, we’ve got to dispense with this culture of losing.”
Aware of DeSantis’ draw, Trump has been almost singularly focused on undermining his political appeal for months. Trump and his team believe that DeSantis may be Trump’s only legitimate threat for the nomination.
Hours before the announcement, Trump argued 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 desperately needs a personality transplant and, to the best of my knowledge, they are not medically available yet,” Trump added. “A disloyal person!”
The kitchen-sink attacks and nicknames won’t be DeSantis’ only hurdle.
He is a political heavyweight in Florida and a regular on Fox News, but allies acknowledge that most primary voters in other states don’t know him well.
Despite his lengthy resume, friends and foes alike note that DeSantis struggles to display the campaign-trail charisma and quick-on-your-feet thinking that often defines successful candidates at the national level. He has gone to great lengths to avoid unscripted public appearances and media scrutiny while governor, which is difficult, if not impossible, as a presidential contender.
The Florida governor spent most of Wednesday behind closed doors.
In an example of his level of media avoidance, his official Twitter account for governor posted a photo shortly after the FEC filing — a bill signing surrounded by dozens of bikers for legislation to help reduce motorcycle accidents in Florida. The media was not notified of the event ahead of time.
Late Wednesday, DeSantis’ office announced that he signed a broad election law bill that contains a provision allowing him to run for president without resigning his post as governor, exempting himself from a state rule known as “resign to run.”
Would-be supporters also worry that DeSantis has refused to invest in relationships with party leaders or fellow elected officials, raising questions about his ability to build the coalition he would ultimately need to beat Trump. By contrast, Trump has scooped up an army of endorsements in key states, including Florida.
Beyond the primary, DeSantis’ greatest longer-term challenge may rest with the far-right policies he enacted as governor as an unapologetic leader in what he calls his “war on woke.”
The Florida governor sent dozens of immigrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard off the Massachusetts coast to draw attention to the influx of Latin American immigrants trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. He signed and then expanded the Parental Rights in Education bill — known by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” law, which bans instruction or classroom discussion of LGBTQ2S+ 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.
DeSantis also signed a law this year allowing Florida residents to carry concealed firearms without a permit. He pushed new measures that critics warn would weaken press freedoms. He also took control of a liberal arts college that he believed was indoctrinating students with leftist ideology.
The governor’s highest-profile political fight has come against the Florida entertainment giant Disney, which publicly opposed his “Don’t Say Gay” law. In retaliation, DeSantis seized control of Disney World’s governing body and installed loyalists who are threatening to take over park planning.
“We will never surrender to the woke mob and we will leave woke ideology in the dustbin of history,” he said once the Twitter stream started working.
Peoples reported from New York. Izaguirre reported in Tallahassee, Florida. AP writers J.J. Cooper in Phoenix and Barbara Ortutay in San Francisco contributed.
Johnston hired crisis communications firm as he prepared report on foreign interference
David Johnston, Canada’s special rapporteur on foreign interference, has hired a firm known for its crisis communications to support him — and taxpayers are footing the bill, CBC News has learned.
Valérie Gervais, a spokesperson for Johnston, confirmed that the former governor general, appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to investigate foreign interference in Canadian politics, first retained Navigator at the start of his mandate as special rapporteur to provide “communications advice and support.”
Navigator calls itself a “high-stakes strategic advisory and communications firm” that offers a range of services. Its slogan is, “When you can’t afford to lose.”
Hockey Canada hired the firm to help it through the fallout from its handling of sexual abuse allegations and use of players’ registration fees to quietly pay out settlements. A Hockey Canada executive confirmed the organization paid Navigator more than $1.6 million to guide it through its public relations nightmare.
Before resigning his position, Ottawa’s police chief Peter Sloly hired Navigator to help with communications during the convoy protest in Ottawa that shut down the downtown core of the capital for more than three weeks.
Navigator’s work for Johnston has included drafting press releases, preparing him for interviews, analyzing news media reports and social media and providing logistical support for the release of his first report on foreign interference, Gervais said in a written statement sent to CBC News.
“Navigator has had no involvement in [Johnston’s] investigation or the development of his conclusions, and has not been privy to any classified materials,” she wrote.
Johnston is set to appear for three hours before a parliamentary committee on Tuesday to discuss his report on foreign interference by China’s government.
The House of Commons passed an NDP motion earlier this week, with Conservative and Bloc Québécois support, calling on Johnston to step down from his high-profile role.
CBC News asked for an estimate of how much taxpayers are paying for Navigator’s services to Johnston. His office said Johnston’s “work is ongoing and as such final costs are not available at this time.”
“In accordance with the Terms of Reference and Treasury Board policies, the Independent Special Rapporteur is authorized to incur necessary expenses to conduct an independent review,” Gervais wrote.
“These services were retained in accordance with Treasury Board policies, and are subject to any necessary disclosures.”
Along with Navigator, Johnston also hired the Ottawa-based communications company RKESTRA to provide “media relations support” related to the release of his first report.
RKESTRA’s website currently lists Gervais as the founder and CEO of the company.
Her LinkedIn profile says she has a “decade and a half of experience advising high-profile employers.” She worked as a spokesperson at Rideau Hall in 2019 when Julie Payette was governor general — before Payette resigned in 2021 in the wake of a report that found she presided over a toxic workplace.
Gervais was also press secretary to then-justice minister and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould in 2016.
Johnston also hired the international law firm Torys LLP to provide “legal, investigative and drafting support,” wrote Gervais.
In a media statement, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the “Liberals have missed the mark and consistently failed to reassure Canadians that their elections are free of interference.”
“Hiring a crisis communications firm suggests to Canadians the Liberals’ main concern is how this looks — not getting to the bottom of a very serious issue.”
Singh said that if the Liberals had launched a public inquiry, “taxpayers wouldn’t be on the hook for another crisis management service.”
Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner tweeted that she’s “scratching her head” at this move to hire Navigator and said the firm has “exposed itself to potential weeks” of “questioning by all opposition parties.”
A spokesperson for the Conservatives, Sebastian Skamski, said hiring Navigator has “given Canadians yet another reason to demand an open and independent inquiry.” He said Johnston is wasting Canadians’ “hard earned tax dollars”.
Filing an Order Paper Question immediately to see if taxpayers are paying for this. <a href=”https://t.co/VVGiSllX2Q”>https://t.co/VVGiSllX2Q</a>
CBC News asked Navigator for comment. The firm said “it is Navigator’s policy not to comment on our client engagements.”
Opposition critics have claimed Johnston’s appointment is tainted due to his connections to the Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation and the prime minister’s family. Johnston has said the family connection is overstated, while the Conservatives have called him a “ski buddy” and “personal friend” of Trudeau.
Trudeau said Friday he’s committed to keeping Johnston in his role and looks forward to public hearings Johnston is expected to hold in the coming months before releasing his final report this fall.
South America: A hard road to unity – Al Jazeera English
Unlike other parts of the world, Latin America is free of war. Yet it is a region plagued by inequality, crime, corruption, drug trafficking and social upheaval. Political stability and strong democratic institutions are more the exception than the rule.
South America, in particular, never seems to stop moving from one extreme to the other, shifting from the political left to the right and back again, without addressing the social and economic demands responsible for moving the pendulum.
Such instability has made it difficult for the continent to form an influential bloc, despite estimates that it collectively represents the fifth-largest global economy.
Earlier this week, all 12 South American countries, represented by 11 presidents and Peru’s prime minister, gathered in Brasilia to give another crack at the elusive goal of continental integration. Spearheading the effort was Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
“What he is trying to achieve is the unity of South America,” Lula’s chief adviser, former Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, told me.
“I think it’s always been important, but it’s now even more important in a world which is progressively divided in blocs. I think, in a world like that, even a country like Brazil — which is very populous and has a huge economy — is not big enough alone.”
But while Lula is still considered the region’s most influential leader, many at Tuesday’s summit were not willing to follow his advice.
Lula had hoped to revive UNASUR, the South American bloc that he had helped create 15 years earlier during his first two terms as president. But ideological disputes eventually convinced more than half of its member countries to abandon the organisation.
“It’s better not to start from zero,” Lula said at this week’s summit, as he pitched reconvening UNASUR.
But he was unable to convince all of his peers who, in the end, chose to assemble a group with members from each country to work on a plan for regional integration over the next 120 days.
Lula had appealed to South American leaders to put aside their ideological differences and concentrate on common interests, including economic growth, energy production and environmental protection.
But his decision to welcome Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro the day before the summit led to open criticism. In his remarks, Lula had dismissed the image of an “anti-democratic” Venezuela as a “narrative” promoted by Western countries and the media.
But Chilean President Gabriel Boric said that, as a left-wing president, he disagreed.
“It’s not a narrative construction. It is a reality. It is serious,” Boric said. He added that respect for human rights was “basic and important” for Chile, no matter the ideology of those who violate them.
Milestone for Maduro
For President Maduro, the meeting was an important milestone. For years, he had been isolated from his South American peers — Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Peru and Argentina, for example — after many chose not to recognise his re-election in 2018, opting instead to support an opposition government.
During hours of closed-door meetings at this week’s summit, Maduro faced direct criticism of his human rights record from at least two presidents, but he did not take up the glove.
“We have no problem sitting down to talk with any political force or president in a respectful, tolerant dialogue of unity in diversity. That is what we had here,” Maduro said when the meeting ended.
Colombia’s President Gustavo Petro, his Argentine counterpart Alberto Fernandez and Chile’s Boric — all left-wing figures — were among the majority who agreed that at no time in history has South America shown such economic potential.
It is home to the largest reserves of copper and the highly sought-after lithium used in rechargeable batteries. The region also has the potential to become the largest producer of green hydrogen and other sources of sustainable energy. And it has huge reserves of freshwater, rainforests and an increasingly — though not sufficiently — educated population.
But South America’s economic and political disparities have frustrated decades of attempts to create regional unions. UNASUR has not been the only bloc to flounder. MERCOSUR — a union between Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay — has also struggled amid internal disputes.
What is needed is more pragmatism, according to some experts. And the current immigration crisis in South America could help spur it.
More than seven million Venezuelans have left their homeland since 2015, according to the United Nations. If countries like Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia want to repatriate undocumented Venezuelans and institute an orderly system of legal migration, some observers believe they will need Maduro’s cooperation.
Boric referred to cooperation with Venezuela to resolve the crisis at the Chile-Peruvian border.
“Together, with the governments of Peru and Venezuela, through a dialogue with Venezuela’s foreign minister, we were able to resolve this crisis and allow a Venezuelan aeroplane to return citizens of that country to their homeland,” said Boric.
Following the EU model?
Amorim, Lula’s adviser, pointed to the European Union as a model for how South American nations can proceed to build a new bloc, even with a diversity of political opinions.
“You have several political positions In Europe. You have governments of the centre-right. You have governments which one might say are even more right than centre-right. And you have the centre-left governments,” Amorim said. “And still, on some subjects at least, they are able to speak — if not with one single voice — at least in a coherent way.”
Lula’s dream of a united South America, however, is still a long way from success. But politicians like Amorim see hope in Europe’s example. The 12 countries of South America, after all, are much more culturally and linguistically similar than the members of the European Union.
“Of course, there will be different views,” Amorim said of a possible South American bloc. “But we have common interests in many respects. We have to work for our interests in a unified way. Because like that, we have more strength.”
There is a lot to be gained and no time to lose, Lula explained at the summit, as he referenced South America’s long history of being under the shadow of powerful economic and political powers, stretching back to the earliest days of colonialism.
“We cannot wait another 500 years in the margins,” he warned.
David Johnston's report on foreign interference will keep the issue front and centre – The Globe and Mail
There is little chance of a public inquiry into foreign interference in Canadian politics and elections unless Prime Minister Justin Trudeau resigns or is forced into a general election.
Since neither is likely in the near future, our best hope for preserving the integrity of our electoral system lies in the report coming this fall from David Johnston.
Opposition politicians, editorial boards and the public, according to a recent poll, have all lost confidence in the special rapporteur’s ability to deliver an effective report. But like it or not, he’s the only game in town.
Parliament expressed its lack of confidence in the former governor-general, and in the Prime Minister who appointed him, on Wednesday, with a motion calling on Mr. Johnston to step down and for the government to establish a public inquiry into foreign interference. The motion passed with the support of the opposition parties. The Prime Minister ignored the motion, and Mr. Johnston quickly stated he intended to carry on.
“I deeply respect the right of the House of Commons to express its opinion about my work going forward, but my mandate comes from the government,” he said in a statement. “I have a duty to pursue that work until my mandate is completed.”
This earned a sharp rebuke from NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who called the response “tone-deaf.”
“I would have expected a more thoughtful approach and respect for the will of the House of Commons from a former Governor General.” he said in a statement on Thursday.
Mr. Singh could, of course, force the issue by withdrawing from the supply and confidence agreement that props up this Liberal government and then moving or supporting a motion of non-confidence if the government continues to refuse to launch a public inquiry. But he remains unwilling.
So barring an unlikely change of heart from Mr. Johnston, Mr. Trudeau or Mr. Singh, the government will carry on and Mr. Johnston’s investigation will continue.
Opinion: David Johnston’s duty without purpose
We need to step back and remind ourselves of what we should all be seeking: measures to preserve (restore?) public confidence in our political system by deterring foreign powers from influencing or covertly supporting candidates.
That could require new regulations and legislation. Creating a registry of foreign agents would be a good start. It could also require new ways to get relevant information to the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council Office, and for them to act on it. For that, we need to hear from authorities speaking in a non-partisan forum, such as the hearings Mr. Johnston plans to hold before submitting his report at the end of October.
We won’t get any of the juicy stuff – who ignored, suppressed or failed to receive what information and why. But we might get substantive recommendations for improving the effectiveness and responsibility of politicians, public servants and the intelligence agencies.
Mr. Trudeau may have been hoping that, by the time Mr. Johnston submits his final report, the caravan will have moved on and the report will be ignored. He can forget about that. Mr. Johnston’s hearings and report will, if nothing else, keep the issue front and centre.
This is why it is wrong for opposition politicians to denigrate and belittle Mr. Johnston. Rather than threatening to boycott the process, they should be pushing to have the report delayed to early next year, so that Mr. Johnston can have adequate time to conduct hearings and prepare his recommendations. They need a strong report from him. He’s all they’ve got.
There are good reasons why many set little store in whatever Mr. Johnston may say in the future. In the eyes of skeptics, his ties to the Trudeau family placed him in an apparent conflict of interest the day he agreed to take on the task of special rapporteur.
In his initial report, Mr. Johnston failed to realize that public confidence in the system had been shaken by reports in The Globe and Mail and elsewhere of Chinese meddling in the 2019 and 2021 elections, and that only a public inquiry before someone all sides could trust could restore it. He erred.
But he is determined to complete his mandate. We should all wish him well as he seeks to establish new rules and methods for protecting our political system. He’s all we’ve got, too.
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