Typically when someone writes a headline in the form of a question, the answer ends up being “no.”

Nothing would be easier, after all, than dismissing Musk’s quasi-endorsement of DeSantis as fluffy irrelevant celebrity nonsense. “Why should I care what he thinks just because he’s the richest man in the world?” Etc.

But … I kind of do think it matters. Especially if Musk reiterates his support sporadically.

Some liberals didn’t take the news well:

Musk resides in an unusual sweet spot of influence over the American right in that he’s close enough for them to care what he thinks yet distant enough that they can’t do much to hurt him if he thinks the wrong thing. Many righties have come to admire him as a culture warrior who’s broadly aligned with their interests. In the name of reducing censorship on social media, he’s willing to literally own the libs by trying to buy Twitter and remaking its moderation policies. He’s complained publicly about the “woke mind virus.” He’s pledged to vote Republican this year and is predicting a massive red wave at the polls, correctly.

Righties love when a celebrity breaks from the pack and sides with them against the liberals. And Musk is no ordinary celebrity — tech mogul, reigning Time “Man of the Year,” and yes, wealthiest person on Earth. He’s a big “get.”

But he’s also a newcomer to the right, a recent convert and therefore someone who can’t be punished too harshly for his remaining heresies. If he worked in righty media, say, or if he had been affiliated with the GOP for years, his tweet last night signaling that he prefers DeSantis to Trump in 2024 would have been deemed treason by Trumpers. Musk can’t commit partisan “treason,” though, because his loyalties to the GOP aren’t firm yet. Many Trumpers will cut him a break, not wanting to alienate a powerful new ally without very good reason. Even if they found him guilty of treason to MAGA and were inclined to punish him, how could they? How many of them were buying Teslas before but might refuse to do so going forward?

Musk has influence over the right but the right has little influence over him. That’s an interesting dynamic that leave him more or less free to promote DeSantis over Trump with no repercussions. And because righties respect his intellect, his success, and above all his contempt for woke-ism, I think Musk’s endorsement could carry unusual weight. If the guy who wants to purge Twitter of lefty censorship prefers DeSantis to Trump, that’s the kind of thing that might give some undecided populist Republicans a sense of “permission” that they can prefer DeSantis too without feeling they’ve betrayed the right.

If and when (probably “when”) DeSantis announces his candidacy next year, my guess is that some of his first phone calls will be to Rupert Murdoch and Elon Musk, asking for their support. Musk would be especially useful to him as a surrogate, not just because of his cultural influence but because of his newcomer status to the GOP. DeSantis’s campaign will be based on the idea that he, unlike Trump, can expand the Republican tent and win over voters who shied away from the party during the Trump years. Exhibit A: An endorsement from the richest man in the world, formerly a longtime Democratic voter.

Maybe Musk will drive a hard bargain with him, demanding a special autonomous Disney-esque district of his very own in Florida in return. DeSantis will give it to him if he does. As we’ve seen, he has no qualms about using state power to punish political enemies. Why wouldn’t he use it to reward friends?

I continue to think that the more crowded the 2024 primary field is, the better Trump’s chances of winning are as the “Anyone But Trump” vote splinters among the rest of the candidates. A Trump vs. DeSantis death match would be optimal, but we’re not likely to get that. For instance, Tom Cotton is reportedly getting closer to jumping in:

Dan McLaughlin is right that Cotton’s best chance to win a Republican primary would be if a “Kerry 2004” situation developed on the right, a cycle in which foreign policy was uppermost in voters’ minds due to some catastrophe abroad and the field was populated by weak, less electable alternatives. That is … not what the 2024 cycle will be like. I don’t know which voter would prefer Cotton to Trump and DeSantis; the only scenario I can imagine is if isolationism continues to gain ground in the MAGA wing, forcing Trump, DeSantis, and the other populists to go wobbly on Ukraine and Taiwan, and Cotton runs as an unapologetic save-the-world hawk to consolidate the rest of the party.

There’s practically no chance that it happens. Maybe DeSantis/Cotton as a ticket, though?

Here he is yesterday dodging questions about his presidential ambitions. By the way, one other unlikely endorsement DeSantis is enjoying tonight is an attack by the White House, which is promising executive action to blunt the effect of LGBT laws passed at the state level like Florida’s “don’t say gay” bill. The more news coverage is devoted to “Biden vs. DeSantis” drama instead of stale “Biden vs. Trump” drama, the easier it’ll be for Republican voters to envision DeSantis as their champion in the next election. Biden’s doing the governor a favor by “elevating” him that way.

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