Newsom and DeSantis face off in the name of recognition and desperation

Their ‘debate’ on Fox News is an exercise in vanity that will do nothing to advance either of their ideas. But it will give them plenty of media attention

Eric Garcia
Thursday 30 November 2023 19:39 GMT
Newsom-DeSantis debate tonight

Neither Gavin Newsom nor Ron DeSantis will be president come 20 January 2025.

But they won’t be president for different reasons. Mr Newsom, the slick-haired, chiclet-smile-wielding governor of California opted not to seek the White House in 2024. While he won re-election overwhelmingly given the lack of a legitimate GOP presence in California, he also underperformed, which likely meant downballot Democrats suffered, killing his chances at a presidential run. As a result, he has elected to become President Joe Biden’s junkyard dog, willing to bark and howl on Fox News and take on Republicans.

By contrast, Mr DeSantis, the aggressive hardline conservative Florida governor whose penchant for “owning the libs” turned him into a right-wing media hero, has seen his presidential campaign sputter. Now, Mr DeSantis is falling behind not just former president Donald Trump, but now other competitors like businessman Vivek Ramaswamy and now former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, who this week received support from the influential Koch network.

The two men are known for their sense of flair and their respective states have become emblems for the very things members of their respective parties love and their opponents hate. When he was mayor of San Francisco, Mr Newsom performed weddings for same-sex couples when many at the Democratic Party winced at marriage for gay people.

Mr DeSantis picked a fight with Mickey Mouse, who splits his time between Disney World in Florida and Disneyland in California, because of the company’s opposition to his “Don’t Say Gay” legislation and for flying migrants to Martha’s Vineyard.

But their parties have elected not to choose these more energetic faces as Mr Newsom’s party will likely nominate an octagenarian while Mr DeSantis’s party will pick a septugenarian as its nominee. So, instead of doing the trivial work of governing (both men were elected to their second term last year), they will instead engage in a debate on Fox News on Thursday evening.

Ostensibly, the debate is about whether red states or blue states have a better vision for the country, and there is plenty of reason for both men to want to have that debate. In recent years, California has seen an exodus in its population given the high cost of living and housing. Republicans point to crime in Mr Newsom’s hometown of San Francisco and restrictions put in place to mitigate the Covid-19 pandemic.

Many California refugees (as well as New Yorkers) have migrated to red states, such as Texas, Tennessee and Florida, which Mr DeSantis quickly reopened after a short spell during the beginning of the pandemic. Incidentally, Mr DeSantis has said he doesn’t want to recruit businesses to Florida and have Democrats migrate to turn the state into a “dumpster fire.”

But Democrats respond that these states are not as free as they say, given many of these states without income tax squeeze money from other resources and more saliently, ever since the Dobbs v Jackson decision, have restricted abortion, which makes them less attractive to people who might want to leave.

Nobody will remember these substantive talking points though. And given the fact that Sean Hannity, one of the most vocal conservative pundits in the country, will serve as a moderator, few people will likely change their minds since Fox News regulars are predisposed to not trust a Democrat and most Democrats could think of plenty of other programming to watch.

In turn, this debate can already be dubbed a failure since it will not garner the one prize it seeks to obtain: attention. Sure, some clips may go viral. Some earnest students who attend CPAC will compile videos of how “DeSantis DESTROYS Newsom” and some accounts with Blue Wave emojis or the hashtag #Resist will fawn over clips of Mr Newsom gazing directly into the camera while he articulates why book bans are a threat to freedom.

But without either man likely to earn the presidency, there will be little to no point to this debate and few people will even care. All it will do is reduce the stock of Mr DeSantis for taking time away from Iowa or South Carolina while it will make Mr Newsom seem too presumptuous in taking on his role as a self-ordained party leader.

The whole affair reeks of desperation; two men who feel they should be the mantle-bearers of the party but are politically radioactive to undecided voters jousting for a limited audience save for those unfortunate souls who have to watch it for their job. While they would chafe art the comparison, their decision to appear together shows they share more in common than they would like to admit.

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