Top takeaways, real winner of DeSantis, Newsom debate

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Against all expectations, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis absolutely destroyed California’s Gavin Newsom in Thursday night’s Red State-Blue State debate moderated by Sean Hannity on Fox News.

Yes, the governor of Florida had a stronger hand – his state has seen a massive inflow of residents attracted to the better quality of life offered by the Sunshine State, while people have been fleeing California. On issue after issue raised by Hannity, DeSantis could roll out statistics that prove the success of the conservative common-sense policies he has implemented in Florida. 

But the surprise was in his strong and persuasive presentation. DeSantis is generally perceived to be a wooden speaker and campaigner; maybe his run for president has made him more effective. Newsom, on the other hand, is reputed to be the Democrat’s smooth-talking, politically clever president-in-waiting, the likely successor to Joe Biden should the president drop out of the 2024 race. 

DESANTIS VS NEWSOM FACE OFF ON ABORTION, TRANSGENDERISM, WOKENESS AND MORE

The California governor was glib, to be sure, but he turned out to be all fluff — unable to answer questions that he surely saw coming, like why people are fleeing his state or why gasoline prices are $4.85 a gallon compared to $3.17 in Florida and $3.25 nationwide.   

Newsom embarrassed himself by disputing indisputable facts presented by debate moderator Hannity; he had no answers. The California governor could not explain why 750,000 people left his state in the past two years, while 454,000 people moved into Florida, why violent crime is almost twice as high in California as it is in Florida, why taxes are so much loftier, or why homelessness is over three times greater than in Florida. (He actually tried to suggest that the homeless issue had begun under Ronald Reagan’s governorship.)

Asked about these issues, Newsom mostly skirted the questions, denied the facts or pivoted to talking up President Joe Biden’s record. For instance, he resorted to White House talking points on the large number of jobs added nationally under the Biden administration rather than explain why unemployment is so much higher in California than it is in Florida. On our open border, Newsom blamed Republicans for not backing Biden’s plan for comprehensive immigration reform, rather than admit that the millions of people pouring into our country illegally pose a security threat.

Sometimes, Newsom made up completely non-credible statistics of his own. He claimed, for instance, that more people had moved from Florida to California in the past two years than the other way around. People watching immediately debunked that idea, posting on X, formerly known as Twitter, actual numbers that disproved the governor’s claim.

Of course, there was a subtext to the evening’s debate. Newsom was keen to disavow any suggestion that he was running a shadow campaign for president. However, his very presence on the debate stage, even knowing that any comparison between California and Florida would put him on the defensive, speaks volumes of his ongoing attempt to build a national profile.

The California governor was glib, to be sure, but he turned out to be all fluff — unable to answer questions that he surely saw coming, like why people are fleeing his state or why gasoline prices are $4.85 a gallon compared to $3.17 in Florida and $3.25 nationwide.   

Asked if the president’s cognitive decline meant he should not run again, Newsom dismissed the question out of hand and pledged not just his loyalty to the Biden-Harris ticket but also his enthusiasm for their reelection. Given that Newsom is indeed building a stealth campaign and that the vast majority of Democrats feel Biden is too old to run again, his commitment to the incumbent seemed insincere if not downright absurd. 

Newsom smirked and laughed throughout, while engaging in petty and personal attacks on DeSantis; perhaps he considers Florida’s governor a possible rival down the road.  Many of his jabs were simply not true.

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For instance, he claimed that DeSantis implemented a more heavy-handed approach to COVID restrictions than he had; DeSantis countered, claiming (accurately) that beaches and schools in California were kept closed much longer than in Florida. Newsom also said that Florida had suffered a much higher death toll from the pandemic. That claim was debunked by numbers presented by debate host Hannity; in fact, the two states’ records were remarkably similar.

Newsom tried to claim that California’s tax policy is less regressive than Florida’s and that the middle-class was better off as a result; that is tough to argue since the Sunshine State has zero income tax and California boasts the 49th highest rate in the U.S.  DeSantis countered that California’s higher cost of living hurts middle class residents, which is true. 

The debate was a good one for DeSantis, whose campaign has struggled over the past few months. As an early challenger to former president Donald Trump and one with a terrific CV, DeSantis was pummeled by the media and also by Trump. Thursday’s debate should help stabilize his campaign, not only because he came prepared and outperformed expectations, but also because the audience was reminded that he has governed Florida well. 

When discussing crime, the governor noted that he had removed from office two “Soros-backed DAs” that were not enforcing the law. On China, he reminded the audience that he has passed a law banning the sale of farmland to Chinese buyers and also ejected Confucius Institutes from Florida’s universities. When discussing the war in Gaza, he also told of having sent planes to rescue some 700 Americans trapped in Israel after the Hamas massacre on October 7.

He also spoke knowingly and powerfully about Newsom’s climate agenda, which is causing the price of electricity to soar in California and also leading to rolling brownouts. 

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One of DeSantis’ best moments came when he recalled: “I was talking to a fella who had made the move from California to Florida. He was telling me that Florida’s much better governed, safer, better budget, lower taxes. Then he paused and said ‘by the way, I’m Gavin Newsom’s father-in-law.’”

Early in the evening, Newsom declared, “Neither of us will be the nominee for president”; he may be right but for many watching, the only person on that stage who has the chops to do the job is Ron DeSantis.

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