Trail Mix: Trump Tries to Beat DeSantis at Influencer Game
Welcome to Trail Mix, a fun but nutritious snack for your election news diet. See something interesting on the trail? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week, we have a look at Donald Trump launching his own influencer charm offensive in what’s become an online arms race of mutually assured destruction with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his own army of far-right influencers.
Ron DeSantis’ Book Tour Looks Like ‘Amateur Hour’
Trump ‘Courts’ MAGA Influencers to Counter DeSantis
MAGA influencers have flocked to Trump’s Florida Mar-a-Lago estate in recent weeks as the former president puts on a charm offensive to match DeSantis’ squadron of online boosters.
Both Trump and DeSantis have dedicated significant attention in their political operations to how highly followed accounts shape the conversation among the GOP base, particularly on Twitter, Truth Social, and TikTok.
Jack Posobiec, who rose to prominence during the Pizzagate conspiracy theory fervor, was the elder statesman of the crop invited to the dinners. At 38, Posobiec has more than 2 million followers on Twitter and over 1 million on Truth Social, granting him a level of sway among young conservatives comparable to Rush Limbaugh or George Will’s standing among Baby Boomers.
Another high-profile attendee was Libs of TikTok curator Chaya Raichik. She’s also been courted by DeSantis, who offered to host her at the governor’s mansion following a Washington Post exposé about her Twitter account churning out anti-LGBTQ+ outrage to more than 2 million followers.
The Mar-a-Lago influencer schmooze campaign has featured a quintessentially Trumpian menu of cheeseburgers, BBQ ribs, jumbo shrimp, and copious servings of Diet Coke.
Covering all his bases among the super-online Republicans, the Trump team also invited Students for Trump co-founder Ryan Fournier, Newsmax producer Alex Lorusso, and Rogan O’Handley (better known as D.C. Draino, with 2.3 million followers on Instagram), who described the smorgasbord as “one of the best dinners I have ever been to” in an interview recounting the soiree to The Daily Beast.
“Twitter is important,” a Republican operative familiar with the 2024 campaign told The Daily Beast. “It's where narratives are formed. It'd be silly to not try and court the important influencers.”
As The Daily Beast reported back in early March, DeSantis and Trump-supporting personalities clashed at CPAC amid ongoing online name-calling that for the first time spilled into the real world. Now, the two early frontrunners for the 2024 nomination are going to whatever lengths necessary to keep the biggest accounts on the right in good stead.
“When Kennedy and Nixon battled it out, the new frontier was television, and Kennedy won that battle. The new frontier now is social media,” Pastors for Trump founder Jackson Lahmeyer told The Daily Beast.
So far, no influencers have been harmed in the making of this production.
DeSantis Tour Axes Advance Team
In the first shakeup for what’s widely seen as a “shadow” pre-presidential campaign, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ book tour lost a critical wheel—its contract with its top event coordinator, sources familiar with the move tell the Daily Beast.
On Wednesday, the spanking new DeSantis-aligned dark money group And to the Republic, which is running the multi-state promotional junket, parted ways with advance firm Liberty Event Specialists, according to two people with knowledge of the arrangement.
The sources told The Daily Beast that Liberty, not And to the Republic, abandoned the deal, in part out of concerns that the 501(c)(4) nonprofit would scapegoat them for tactical flubs on the tour.
One of the sources said that Liberty “canceled the contract before the DeSantis orbit could try to spin a narrative that was incorrect.”
It’s the latest in a series of follies for DeSantis, as his platoon of supporters and outside financial backers rolls out a “soft-launch” campaign in the shadow of the party’s frontrunner, former President Donald Trump. But Republican observers say that from what they’ve seen, the operation appears to be out over its skis.
A seasoned Republican presidential campaign strategist told The Daily Beast the DeSantis squad already “blew it.”
“People need to remember, when you peak too soon, that’s a problem. And DeSantis peaked too soon,” the strategist said.
House Intel Chair Coming to a House Party Near You
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) will be hitting the New Hampshire house party circuit as he explores a presidential bid. The chair of the House Intelligence Committee will be in the Granite State the first week of April, according to a source familiar with the travel plans.
Rogers has been a dark horse candidate of interest to GOP donors in New Hampshire, particularly since he comes from a swing state and has foreign policy expertise. A former FBI officer who was considered by the Trump administration for the bureau’s top job following the firing of James Comey, Rogers also has a domestic security background on top of 15 years in the Michigan State Senate representing a district around Saginaw.
A new Monmouth University poll has DeSantis ceding ground to Trump, with the former president making “gains among nearly every voting bloc since the start of the year,” according to the survey in the field from March 16 to March 20 among 521 Republican and GOP-leaning voters.
Although polling on evangelical voters can be tricky, Trump went from down by 7 points among the key GOP voting demographic in February to leading DeSantis by 9 points. The biggest swing of 25 points in Trump’s favor came among respondents who identified as “very conservative.”
The downward trend for DeSantis ought to alarm him just over a month into his book tour, with his first trip to New Hampshire set for April 14.
A new way of understanding Trump’s win in 2016?
It began to feel like a hackneyed debate by the end of 2017: Did Trump win because of racial resentment or economic anxieties? A group of academics has arrived at a different paradigm, finding that more moderate voters were far more influential for him in the Electoral College than those who more explicitly identified with white nationalist ideology, writes longtime New York Times contributor Thomas B. Edsall.
No more mister hallway?
A more-than-notable observation from Seung Min Kim of the AP: Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) is no longer taking hallway interviews, “which honestly is the clearest sign that he is running for president,” the expert on senators’ habits tweeted.
Battle of the Tok
The Daily Beast’s Ursula Perano reports on the sea of TikTok influencers descending on Capitol Hill this week to keep the platform alive in the states.
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