Willie R. Tubbs, FISM News
As debates with low stakes go, the Thursday-night showdown between California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom and Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis was quite the spectacle.
The event, which was broadcast on Fox News personality Sean Hannity’s program, made up for what it lacked in immediate importance with novelty and volume.
To be certain, the debate will have had little effect on the 2024 presidential race – if anything, it might have been a preview of 2028 – and no new ground was trodden in terms of left- or right-leaning policy.
DeSantis and Newsom paid off their long-standing online and campaign trail rivalry with a face-to-face meeting that further underscored the everpresent divide in American politics and each man’s desire to eventually rise in rank.
But the debate also proved novel in the sense that a current presidential hopeful, who hasn’t yet been named his party’s nominee (and faces an uphill battle to earn that distinction) clashed with what amounted to a surrogate for the other party’s presumptive nominee.
Although DeSantis and Newsom made plenty of time for insulting one another’s governorship, President Joe Biden, or at least his administration, proved the central point of contention in the debate as DeSantis sought to paint Biden as a failure while Newsom defended him relentlessly.
“I’ll give Gavin credit. He did at least admit in his first answer, he’s joined at the hip with Biden and Harris,” DeSantis said of his opponent. “He thinks Biden and Harris have done a great job. He thinks the economy is working because of their policies. What California represents is the Biden-Harris agenda on steroids. They would love nothing more than to get four more years to be able to take the California model nationally. That would be disastrous for working people.”
Newsom accused DeSantis of being against the working class.
“He has one of the most regressive tax rates in the United States, the number three most-regressive state in America,” Newsom said. “And what that means is simply this: Who does he tax? He taxes low-income workers more than we tax millionaires and billionaires in the state of California.”
DeSantis seemed prepared for the attack and responded by pointing to the swaths of Californians who are leaving for red states.
“How many people leave Florida to go to California because they pay less taxes? I’m not seeing that,” DeSantis said. “Are people going from Florida to New York because they pay less taxes? Of course not. They come to Florida because they pay lower taxes. We don’t even have an income tax. And yet California has a higher sales tax than we do.”
The night progressed similarly from there as Newsom and DeSantis found little common ground save a general agreement that something must be done about the U.S. border – although, they disagreed about the solution and where blame should rest for the crisis.
DeSantis and Newsom also shared a particular skill for insulting each other. In a particularly surreal moment, the two took turns calling one other a bully.
You’re a bully. I can handle it. pic.twitter.com/946FZdSTfQ
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) December 1, 2023
At another point in the debate, Newsom told DeSantis “Shame on you” when the Florida governor mispronounced the name of Vice President Kamala Harris and chided DeSantis that neither of them would be their party’s nominee in 2024.
DeSantis got in his shots, too, most notably when he lambasted Newsom for “groveling” before Chinese President Xi Jinping.
While making a larger point about the need for the U.S. to decouple its economy from China, DeSantis said, “I can tell you this, I would not go to China and grovel in front of Xi like Gavin Newsom did. He says China’s a ‘partner’ on climate change? China’s adding two new coal plants every year. China’s laughing at us.”
I can tell you this, I would not go to China and grovel in front of Xi like Gavin Newsom did.
He says China’s a ‘partner’ on climate change? China’s adding two new coal plants every year. China’s laughing at us. pic.twitter.com/0kzA61loKz
— Ron DeSantis (@RonDeSantis) December 1, 2023
The two also sparred over COVID.
“You were not following science. You were a lock-down governor,” DeSantis said. “You did a lot of damage to your people. You had more kids locked out of school for a longer period of time in California than anywhere else in the country. It was the working-class kids. It was the middle-income kids — his kids were in private school, they were in class. He is owned by the teachers union.”
Newsom, whose COVID policies were among the strictest in the nation, criticized DeSantis for having initially locked down Florida but also for relaxing the same policy.
“You passed an emergency declaration before the state of California did,” Newsom said. “You closed down your beaches, your bars, your restaurants. It’s a fact. You had quarantines, checkpoints all over the state of Florida. You were promoting vaccines. You even wore a mask. He did all of that until he decided to fall prey to the fringe of his party. And as a consequence of that, tens of thousands of people lost their lives, the equivalent of ten 9/11s.”
It remains unclear who won the debate, and there is a contingent of people who argue that it doesn’t really matter.
Kari Lake, the outspoken MAGA candidate currently seeking a Senate seat in Arizona, questioned the necessity of the debate.
During an appearance on “Fearless” with Jason Whitlock, a program in the Blaze TV family, Lake referred to the debate as “pretend” and accused DeSantis and Newsom of portraying themselves as their respective party’s nominee when DeSantis trails former President Donald Trump by a wide margin and Newsom isn’t running for office.
“This seems silly,” Lake said. “America is on fire and they’re doing some sort of debate where they’re pretending to be the nominee. To me, it just seems really ridiculous at the time that we are living in that this is going on.”
Lake also stated that both men should “get back to their states and start being governor,” before adding that she felt DeSantis had done a good job in Florida and that all Republican governors were “10 times better” than their Democratic counterparts.