Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will announce he is running for president during a discussion with Twitter CEO Elon Musk, three sources familiar with the plans told NBC News.
Musk and DeSantis will host an event on Twitter Spaces, the site’s platform for audio chats, on Wednesday at 6 p.m. ET. It will be moderated by David Sacks, a tech entrepreneur who is a Musk confidant and DeSantis supporter.
That same evening, the campaign will release a launch video, and DeSantis will begin visiting several early states after Memorial Day.
The relationship could be a significant boost for DeSantis by giving him an introduction to, and credibility with, Musk’s massive following — including his 140 million Twitter followers. But it could prove a burden should DeSantis become distracted by the tycoon’s many controversial comments.
The launch will closely tie together the billionaire tech mogul with one of the Republican Party’s rising stars. Musk has been an admirer of DeSantis, who also regularly chides corporate media. Last year, Musk said he would support the governor if he were to run for president.
The announcement will coincide with a retreat for high-end fundraisers pledged to support DeSantis in Miami. Bundlers will gather at the Four Seasons hotel from May 24-26, receiving briefings from campaign staff, combined with time to call around to raise money for the campaign.
The DeSantis team has been in talks with Musk for at least the last few weeks, according to a source familiar with the discussions. In those conversations, the source said, Musk has indicated he doesn’t think former President Donald Trump can win back the White House.
“He’s interested in the future, and he’s interested in winning again,” the person said.
During the Wall Street Journal’s 2023 CEO Summit Council on Tuesday, Musk confirmed his participation in DeSantis’ announcement but said he was not going to be formally endorsing DeSantis at that time.
“I think it’s quite groundbreaking that there be a major announcement of this type on social media,” he said, adding that he was “not going to endorse any particular candidate” for president quite yet.
A source said, however, that within DeSantis’ team, Musk’s participation is viewed as a clear sign of support for the governor.
Yet Musk is nothing if not unpredictable, and on Friday, he tweeted praise of an ad by Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., one of DeSantis’ rivals for the GOP nomination.
NBC News did not receive a response for comment from Musk, Sacks or the DeSantis campaign for this piece.
Even if Musk stops short of a full endorsement of DeSantis, aligning with his presidential announcement puts him and the company more squarely into a presidential election than any other tech company before it. Twitter, Facebook and others have launched election hubs and voter registration efforts, but have kept candidates at arm’s length.
And someone of Musk’s stature participating in DeSantis’ presidential launch dents the inevitability and power of Trump.
DeSantis’ relationship with Musk goes back to early 2021, when the two met at a dinner party in Austin, Texas, with roughly 15 people including tech investors, developers and health care industry officials, according to a GOP fundraiser who was at the meeting.
The two also have a relationship through Sacks, a major Republican donor who has been openly supportive of DeSantis and is considered to be part of Musk’s inner circle on decisions about Twitter.
Musk has carved out an intense following after he purchased Twitter with the promise to return “free speech” after years of complaints from the right that the site had tried to censor conservatives. Among his first steps was reinstating the accounts of previous far-right Twitter users who had been suspended for spreading disinformation. Former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who remains one of the most popular figures in conservative media even after being fired by Fox News, is launching a new show on Twitter.
That seems to be part of what makes partnering with Musk attractive to DeSantis. One of the sources familiar with the plans told NBC News that DeSantis’ aides have been watching Twitter become an increasingly friendly space for conservative firebrands under Musk’s leadership, allowing them to speak directly to their conservative audience and bypass traditional media — something that was once Trump’s superpower.
Trump was banned from Twitter after the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection by his supporters at the Capitol, and he has yet to return to the site even after Musk reinstated him last fall.
“I expect the campaign will be painting a positive vision for the country, and the entire rollout will highlight future vs. past, success vs. failure, winning vs. losing and action vs. talk. That is the frame of the race,” a source familiar with the plan said.
“Announcing on Twitter is perfect for Ron DeSantis,” a Trump adviser told NBC News in a text message. “This way he doesn’t have to interact with people and the media can’t ask him any questions.”
The plan is not without its risks. Musk’s international star power could serve to outshine DeSantis, who — while a heavyweight in Republican political circles — is not nearly as well known. And DeSantis may not want to have to answer for all of Musk’s positions — potentially down to individual tweets — such as his comments about progressive megadonor George Soros that have earned the ire of Jewish leaders.
A source familiar with the plans said the DeSantis team wasn’t worried about being upstaged, arguing that the governor is fine not having the spotlight solely on himself.
But an additional risk for DeSantis is that while Musk has tons of muscle available to put behind DeSantis — and has fans in the former president’s base — Trump has made a political career out of portraying himself as an underdog fighting powerful forces within his party, on the Democratic side of the aisle, and in government and industry. Musk — and by extension, DeSantis — could be framed as just the latest corporate titan to align against Trump’s movement.
In the coming weeks, Musk will be stepping down as Twitter’s CEO. He recently announced that he had hired Linda Yaccarino, the former head of ad sales for NBCUniversal, to take over as the next CEO of Twitter. Musk said he would still oversee product design and new technology, while Yaccarino would run the business side.