Move Over, Murdoch. Musk's Huge Fortune Makes Him Political Kingmaker

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(Bloomberg) -- Ron DeSantis’s plan to announce his 2024 presidential campaign in a Twitter conversation with Elon Musk shows how the world’s second-richest person is increasingly inserting himself into US politics, setting him up as a leading powerbroker for the 2024 race.

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The Florida governor, who filed paperwork Wednesday to officially enter the 2024 race, is viewed by many Republicans as the most likely to defeat former President Donald Trump. But DeSantis has struggled in recent months — trailing in the polls against Trump, failing to rack up endorsements and coming off second-best in his battle with Walt Disney Co.

Having Musk on his side helps change that trajectory, associating him with the billionaire owner of a social-media platform that Trump leveraged during his own political rise and holds sway over Republican voters.

Read More: DeSantis Twitter Campaign Debut Shows Musk’s Embrace of Politics

“It binds him to Elon Musk, who has a lot of support in the voter base of our party,” said Becki Donatelli, a GOP digital strategist and chief executive officer of Campaign Solutions. “It’s good for Musk because it’s creating all this discussion about Twitter. It’s a win-win.”

‘A Player’

It also offers Musk, 51, a chance to join the ranks of GOP powerbrokers if he so chooses, a group long dominated by media mogul Rupert Murdoch, 92, whose conservative news platforms, including Fox News, helped fuel Trump’s rise to the Oval Office.

Murdoch — who’s worth about $8 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index — has overseen coverage that has been interpreted as his empire shifting support away from Trump and toward DeSantis in 2024. That makes it particularly notable that DeSantis chose Musk’s platform to make his announcement.

Musk, for his part, has also praised South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, who is seeking the Republican nomination. Musk tweeted Scott’s first political ad of the campaign, calling it a “great statement.”

“The question is, is Musk looking to be a platform or is he looking to be a player?” said David Tamasi, a Republican fundraiser. He said it’s unclear whether Musk wants to use his wealth to influence elections. “I don’t think we know the answer to that.”

Musk isn’t yet a big political donor, especially considering the size of his fortune, estimated at $180 billion, according to Bloomberg’s wealth index. Musk hasn’t put much of his money into politics, donating just $529,000 since 2009, Federal Election Commission records show.

Musk’s appearance with DeSantis contrasts with other billionaire donors who have shown signs of hesitancy around his campaign. Steve Schwarzman, the co-founder of Blackstone Inc., is holding off on donating to the Florida governor for now after meeting with him recently, Bloomberg reported this month. Thomas Peterffy, the founder of Interactive Brokers, has said publicly he’s withholding support for DeSantis.

Spaces Audience

It’s unclear how many people will tune into the Twitter Spaces event — scheduled for 6 p.m. ET on Wednesday — to hear DeSantis and Musk. Only 23% of US adults say they use the social-media platform, according to Pew Research Center data from 2022, though an account isn’t required to access the audio stream.

Jason Calacanis, an angel investor who’s a friend of Musk’s, tweeted that Twitter would drive a “multiple” of the viewership that Fox News or CNN would garner.

In November, 2.7 million listeners tuned in to Musk’s hour-long question and answer session with Robin Wheeler, then head of Twitter’s ad sales. The following month, 2.2 million joined at some point for an event featuring Musk that ran for more than five hours.

Twitter didn’t specifically respond to an emailed request for comment.

A Twitter announcement has one notable advantage for DeSantis, who has repeatedly attacked the press: he can avoid reporters’ questions.

Additionally, the announcement is likely to attract more coverage because it’s unconventional and features someone other than just the candidate, said Eric Wilson, a Republican strategist at Bullpen Strategy Group.

“A central theme of politics nowadays — and we’ve certainly seen this with the Biden campaign too — is influencer marketing,” he said. “There’s no one more influential on Twitter than Elon Musk.”

--With assistance from Bill Allison.

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