...and how Gavin Newsom ended Ron DeSantis's whole career.
Happy Friday everyone, and happy December. I have some quick thoughts on Elon’s comments this week, and some even quicker ones on the debate last night. We are coming to the end of the year, which means a quieter Jackal over the next few weeks, but final piece for 2023 is coming.
We are helplessly watching Twitter circle the toilet bowl.
Earlier this week, Elon Musk made a few crazy statements about Twitter, many of which are compiled in this video:
A few weeks ago, advertisers started a (second, or maybe third, or maybe fourth) mass exodus from Twitter after Musk gave his seeming endorsement to an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. It was largely seen as the final nail in the coffin of a company that was pretty cozily lying down in a big fat coffin.
This week, Musk sat down for an interview with Andrew Ross Sorkin (not Jonathan) and there was a reasonable expectation that Musk would make some sort of apology to try and stop the bleeding. In Musk’s defense, he did apologize for endorsing an anti-Semitic tweet, but he then told advertisers to, “Go fuck themselves,” if they refused to come back to the platform.
I don’t think the advertisers in question - Musk explicitly called out Disney head Bob Iger - were particularly threatened by his statement, and if an opportunity that allows them to make money on Twitter presents itself, they will return. But the problem is that opportunity is never coming. Musk even seemed to concede as much, saying that Twitter was destined for failure and would probably get shut down. But he also said he would place the blame on the advertisers for shutting down Twitter, instead of, you know, looking inward. A real life illustration of what Musk is going through:
The interview was pretty hard for me to watch, partly because I think Musk clearly has some sort of social/behavioral disorder (he has reportedly been diagnosed with Asperger’s), and that should be afforded all the same sympathies and empathies we provide to other, less famous people.
But another reason it was hard for me to watch is that Musk has just clearly done something to his face with plastic surgery, to the point where he now looks like he was set on fire and put out with a chain.
Joking aside, it is kind of depressing to watch something that I liked and valued get thrown into the trash by a billionaire treating it like his personal plaything.
Twitter could have been good.
At its height, Twitter was a vital tool for journalists and anyone super interested in politics. If you learned how to navigate it correctly, you could find incredibly accurate and reliable news well before mainstream news organizations got their arms around a story. Obviously, some of the bad parts of Twitter were that it spread lots of misinformation too, but if you learned how to sift through everything it was extremely useful.
But all of that is gone now. True story: Twitter used to occupy a spot on the “home dock” on my iPhone, which may make you feel sad for me. But it’s true; next to the Phone app, the iMessage app, and Safari, was the tiny little blue tweety bird.
I deleted Twitter off my phone entirely a little more than a week ago, because there is absolutely nothing useful about the app. I have replaced it with Threads, which is still in its infancy but still miles and miles away from what Twitter was at its best. I used to log onto it and immediately begin seeing highly relevant news stories, and was able to get into beast mode to try and figure out what was going on. Now, I log into it and see hoards of random Twitter accounts - pushed into my feed because Elon granted “Blue Check” status to anyone willing to pay $8 a month - spouting nonsense. In the past, you could click on a smart Tweet from a credible journalist and see equally smart replies. Now, you just see replies from toilet salesmen and lots and lots of ads for penis pills. It is genuinely depressing.
I wrote about this almost two years ago, but in 2016, Twitter was in bad shape. It was filled with anonymous Neo-Nazi accounts that made casual threats to every person saying something mildly nice about Blacks, Jews, or Hispanics. Twitter worked hard to clean itself up, and things got better. Here is what I said:
It wasn’t until after Twitter put all these safety protections in place that it became profitable. This is because the people who make Twitter money - advertisers - are less likely to promote Dancing with the Stars on a platform that is rife with fat Neo-Nazis tweeting swastikas at the official @NBC account from underneath a bridge in Southeastern Ohio. If Elon thinks he can make that version of Twitter profitable, then perhaps he is a smarter billionaire than we all thought.
Spoiler: Elon is not a smarter billionaire than we all thought. Fast-forward to today and you will see headlines like these:
Advertisers crave stability and hate unpredictability, so the likelihood of them returning while Musk controls the company is slim-to-none. Without advertisers, Twitter’s days are numbered:
The billionaire had last year tried to back out of his $44 billion offer to buy what was then Twitter, but financed the deal by borrowing $13 billion from a consortium of banks. Those banks have since been trying to sell the debt — which looks increasingly worthless as Musk drives X into the ground. In the meantime, X and Musk must pay millions of dollars in interest to their financiers. […] X is now worth less than half the amount Musk paid for it, BI's Grace Kay and Kali Hays reported last month. Musk earlier said the company had negative cash flow due to the drop in ad revenue and its heavy debt load.
All that said, I do hope Twitter finds itself in the hands of someone smarter and more committed to its success. What its evolution from 2016 to 2022 showed is that it could really be the best social media platform, albeit an imperfect one. But it is hard for me to see it return to the best iteration of itself. Too many people have moved on to other platforms, like Blue Sky or Threads. That could very well be the future of political discussions on social media: Homogenized websites where lots of people who already agree just find ways to talk past each other.
Gavin vs. Meatball Ron.
There was a debate last night between California Governor Gavin Newsom and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, and hooooo man, it was not pretty. I watched almost all of it, but it was pretty clear that DeSantis was not ready and got smoked by Newsom. Some headlines:
The last one struck a nerve with me. While I was watching, I couldn’t help but ask why DeSantis was even there. Even if he had “won” the debate, it wouldn’t have helped him in Iowa (why would a voter there care about a meaningless debate against California’s governor?), and the worst thing it could do is hurt him. David Frum had an explanation:
Even if DeSantis had done well against Newsom, how would that help him with any of his urgent difficulties? And, of course, DeSantis did not do well. He is well informed and well prepared, but he’s just not as mentally nimble as Newsom, not as natural a television performer. He loses his composure easily. If he does not know those truths about himself, his advisers must. So again, why?
The best answer, it seems to me, comes from the ancient Spanish sport of bullfighting. The bull is goaded and wounded to a point where it is half-crazed. The matador unfurls a small red cape. If the bull could reason, it would understand that the cape is a lure into a trap. But the bull cannot reason. It can only feel: fear and pain and rage. It charges the cape, meeting only air, wasting its strength. It charges again and again, losing blood and speed at each pass, until finally the matador puts a sword between its shoulder blades.
DeSantis is that bull. He has been losing the 2024 Republican nomination contest at enormous expense. His mood, never sunny, seems frustrated and angry. His campaign strategy inhibits him from confronting Trump. Taking on Haley has proved counterproductive. Yet he feels a primal need to fight somebody, anybody, while he still can, if only to release some of the disappointment and resentment of his year-long political decline. And there’s Newsom, teasing and vexing him like a horse-mounted picador, in a prequel contest to the matador’s final coup de grâce. Of course, DeSantis shouldn’t lunge at him. But he must lunge at somebody.
I agree with this explanation, but only partly. For one, DeSantis agreed to the debate with Newsom before a lot of bad news about his Campaign started surfacing. In recent weeks, Nikki Haley caught up to him in Iowa’s polls; the Koch Network™ announced they’d be backing Haley over DeSantis; and two of his close associates left his Campaign’s Super PAC.
All bad, but those bad news cycles came after he agreed to debate Newsom. I do think DeSantis feels frozen in time and has to do something, but I don’t think he did it out of anger or frustration. I think he did it because the Republican Party as a whole has zero policy arguments and is pretty much an embodiment of Donald Trump’s id. What does Trump do? He fights! And what’s a better fight than a debate? I have said it repeatedly here for a long time: Only Trump has that mojo, and anyone who tries to copy him, fails.
That is why you are seeing donors shift to Haley as the alternative to Trump, and that’s why I would bet she does better than DeSantis in the primary.
And I say all of this as someone who is not a fan of Gavin Newsom. I hold a special grudge against him for going to the French Laundry while I locked myself at home with my family. And, in terms of physical appeal, he truly looks like what would happen if Patrick Bateman gave up being a serial killer and embarked on a political career.
Not a fan! But he made mincemeat of DeSantis last night, and you have to ask yourself why DeSantis even allowed it to happen. He could have been shaking the hands of more Iowans, and instead he was making faces like this last night.
This Tim Alberta piece is amazing. I will hopefully be writing on his book next week, if I can get through it in two days.
Charlie Sykes rounds up the reasons to be alarmed by Trump’s possible second term.
The Jackal typically does a year-end guide, and an end-of-the-year piece. I’ll try to hit both while giving you a review of Tim’s book before January, but we are on a loosey goosey schedule from here on out. Enjoy the weekend!