December 1, 2023

The Not-So-Great Debate: DeSantis Wallops Newsom

In a one-sided affair, the Florida governor pounded his California counterpart with one inconvenient truth after another.

Last night, Ron DeSantis saved his best for first.

When Fox News host Sean Hannity kicked off “The Great Red vs. Blue State Debate” in Alpharetta, Georgia, by noting the migration of folks from California Democrat Governor Gavin Newsom’s state to the Republican governor’s Florida, DeSantis told a story: “I was talking to a fellow who had made the move from California to Florida. And he was telling me that Florida was much better governed, safer, better budget, lower taxes, all this stuff, and then he paused, and he said, ‘By the way, I’m Gavin Newsom’s father-in-law.’”

True story.

It was a riveting start for DeSantis, and his campaign needed it. Nationally, he trails Donald Trump in the RealClearPolitics average by a whopping 48 points, 62 to 14. His numbers are better in Iowa, where he trails 47 to 17, but they’re worse in New Hampshire, where he finds himself in fourth place behind former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and Trump-hating former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

In addition to a campaign boost, there was also the possibility that a good debate performance would put additional pressure on Trump to enter the fray and engage in direct debate with his fellow Republicans. To this point, the voters haven’t punished Trump politically for his decision to steer clear of the debates, and that decision has been self-reinforcing.

As for the California Democrat, “Newsom has to be good, but he can’t be too good,” said Fox News’s Jesse Waters. What he meant was that a good performance by Newsom would show that he’s ready to be the Democrats’ standard-bearer in 2028, but a too-good performance would result in a “Draft Gavin” movement and would create a nasty rift within the party. The longer we go, the more it seems Democrats are stuck with Biden unless he bows out.

But what could be a stronger repudiation of Newsom’s policies and leadership than the historic flow of citizens out of the state he governs? While DeSantis’s Florida has gained 454,000 new residents in the past two years, Newsom’s California has lost 750,000. Folks are voting with their feet, and they’re voting against progressivism and in favor of conservatism.

After noting his serendipitous encounter with Newsom’s in-law, DeSantis recalled his time at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado and how he was struck by the state’s beauty. “You almost have to try to mess California up,” he said. “And that’s what Gavin Newsom has done since he’s been governor. He’s the first governor to ever lose population. They actually at one point ran out of U-Hauls in the state of California because so many people were leaving.”

Newsom dodged the question about out-migration. Then he dodged it again. Moving on.

“Let’s talk a little bit about Bidenomics because I’m happy to take that on right now,” Newsom said. And then he engaged in what would be an oft-repeated pattern for the night: lie after lie after lie. “Fourteen million jobs, 10 times more than the last three Republican presidents combined,” he said.

Here, Newsom is dialing into the Democrat base, which is chock-full of low-information voters. And low-information voters are likely to accept Newsom’s lie damned lie statistic without considering that the only reason our nation has experienced job growth during the Biden administration is due to the historic job loss created by COVID-19 shutdowns.

DeSantis noted that Florida’s unemployment rate is 2.8%, while California’s is second-worst in the nation at 4.8%, a full 60% higher than Florida’s rate. “What California represents,” said DeSantis, “is the Biden-Harris agenda on steroids. … [Biden and Harris] would love nothing more than to get four more years so they can take the California model nationally. That’ll be disastrous for working people.”

On the topic of immigration, Newsom had the worst of hands. After all, how can anyone defend Biden’s record on the border? The best Newsom could do, in the face of the Biden administration’s repeated assertions that the border is closed, was to claim that the administration “put out a plan on day one, and the Republicans haven’t touched it.”

Hannity pointed out that thousands of illegals from across the Middle East and South Asia were found at our southern border in fiscal years 2021 and 2022, including 6,386 from Afghanistan, 3,153 from Egypt, and 659 from Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. He then asked whether this posed “a clear and present danger” to our national security. Newsom dodged the question, while DeSantis grimly noted, “There will be, unfortunately, a terrorist attack at some point, that we’ll be able to trace back to our southern border.”

The violent crime rate is nearly twice as high in California as it is in Florida, with the former well above the national average and the latter well below the national average. “People are leaving California in droves,” said DeSantis, “largely because public safety has collapsed.” He noted that Newsom’s state “has basically legalized retail theft,” then he hit him with a devastating zinger: “Gavin Newsom was mayor of San Francisco. So he took the San Francisco model and turned that into a template for California’s collapse. Now the Left wants take the California model and use that as a template for America’s collapse.”

When the topic came to Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill, DeSantis pulled out a prop: a page from a book of cartoon pornography called Gender Queer. He noted that the book has been rightly yanked out of schools in Florida but not in California. In response, Newsom said DeSantis was engaged in “a cultural purge,” adding: “We don’t teach that. … This is a ginned-up, made-up issue to divide this country. … This is part of the culture war, the weaponization of grievance. … He’s criminalizing teachers and criminalizing librarians.”

Here, DeSantis became more animated than at any time during the evening: “Your minor child,” he said, “can go to California without your knowledge or without your consent, and get hormone therapy, puberty blockers, and a sex-change operation — all without you knowing or consenting. … When you’re bringing people from out of state to go around their parents backs and get life-altering surgeries, that is radical, that is extreme, that is an assault on parents’ rights.”

Powerful stuff.

Hannity asked Newsom if there should be any restrictions at all on abortion, and he refused to answer. Instead, he said DeSantis, who supports a six-week fetal heartbeat abortion ban in Florida, has the “the most extreme anti-abortion agenda” in the nation.

DeSantis reminded the audience that Newsom wouldn’t answer the question about whether he’d place any restrictions on abortion, that he wouldn’t offer any protections for an unborn baby who has a heartbeat, who can feel pain, who is viable outside the womb. And Newsom says DeSantis’s position is extreme?

Toward the end of the debate, DeSantis pulled out one more prop: a brown-pixelated map plotting the exact location of, get this, all the human feces that’s to be found on the streets of San Francisco — a plot map that he noted only gets cleaned up when the Communist Chinese come to town. Another haymaker for which Newsom had no answer. It’s worth a look.

Were it a prize fight, the ref would’ve stopped it on cuts.

Finally, in response to DeSantis’s claim that Biden is in no condition to run for reelection — and his repeated assertions that Newsom is running a shadow campaign for president — the California governor responded as if he’d been prepping for it: “There’s one thing, in closing, we have in common, and that is that neither of us will be the nominee of his party in 2024.”

We’ll see about that.

Former Trump press secretary and Fox News commentator Kayleigh McEnany called DeSantis the clear winner, noting that Newsom’s task was nearly impossible due to “the rotting pile of facts” before him. Jason Chaffetz concurred with McEnany on DeSantis’s strong performance, predicting that he’d see a rise in the polls as a result.

We’re not so sure. While we agree that DeSantis won the debate and won it handily, we think that was always the expectation. Newsom is slick and slippery, but McEnany was right about the monumental nature of the task at hand. He not only had to defend California, he had to defend Joe Biden. Talk about a tall order.

Ron DeSantis won last night’s debate because, as Fox News’s Will Cain put it, “he had reality on his side.” But, again, a significant share of low-information voters will be impressed by Gavin Newsom’s spit and polish, even if most of what he was ladling out was preposterous.

Ultimately, it might be that Newsom’s vanity caused him to fall into one of the most clever traps in debate history. Sean Hannity befriended him and encouraged him over a period of months to debate a Republican who not only has the facts on his side but who also does his homework.

Want more proof DeSantis won? The Washington Post home page didn’t say a word about the debate, even though it was the most important and most talked-about political event in weeks.

So Ron DeSantis notched a unanimous win, a resounding win. But will it cause voters in Iowa or anywhere else to give him another look versus Donald Trump? That’s a far heavier lift. And time is running out.

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