Newsom humiliates DeSantis on Fox News

California Gov. Gavin Newsom not only stood up for his state but made a great case for Joe Biden on Fox News 

By Heather Digby Parton


Published December 1, 2023 9:57AM (EST)

Ron DeSantis and Gavin Newsom (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Ron DeSantis and Gavin Newsom (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

When Florida Gov. Ron Desantis agreed to debate California Gov. Gavin Newsom, it's unlikely he knew his presidential campaign would be flailing to the extent it currently is. But he still should have thought twice. Whatever he thought his political skills might be, he is terrible on the debate stage. He's managed to barely hold his own in the sad Trumpless GOP primary debates that have been dominated by his rival, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, but he did himself no favors on Thursday night when he finally met with Newsom on Sean Hannity's Fox News show. 

Any Trump fans, which would include virtually all Fox News viewers, were primed to watch Newsom be humiliated. Trump spokesman Steve Cheung, either taking dictation from the boss or channeling him perfectly, put out this humdinger of a statement in advance of the event:

“Ron DeSanctimonious is acting more like a thirsty, third-rate OnlyFans wannabe model than an actual presidential candidate. Instead of actually campaigning and trying to turn around his dismal poll numbers, DeSanctus is now so desperate for attention that he’s debating a Grade A loser like Gavin Newsom. 

At the debate, Ron will flail his arms and bobble his head wildly, looking more like a San Francisco crackhead than the governor of Florida. This isn’t a prediction. It’s a spoiler.

“Hopefully for Ron, it’s a seated debate so he won’t have to mash his foot into his high-heels to look taller. But if not, he’ll definitely be on a 12 inch step stool so he can peek right above the podium.”

Ouch. That's harsh, even by Trump standards. Trump didn't personally weigh in — but he did post this on his social media site Trump Social:

Hannity was much kinder to DeSantis than that but it didn't help much and DeSantis certainly didn't help himself. 

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The questions were all loaded with statistics in favor of DeSantis designed to put Newsom on the defensive. I don't think there was even one data point he presented that put Florida in a more negative light. So it was up to Newsom to provide context and correct the record which he did quite effectively. 

Newsom probably made a few new fans among the Democrats who tuned in to watch the cage match.

For instance, DeSantis was programmed to insist that Californians are moving to Florida "in droves" which he did approximately a dozen times, and maybe those Fox viewers were convinced. But it's just not true. (As Newsom pointed out repeatedly, per capita more Floridians have actually moved to California than the other way around.) 

Hannity threw one question after another right over the plate to DeSantis, but he was the one who ended up on the defensive as Newsom not only stood up for his state but made a great case for Joe Biden on Fox News (which was the whole point of the exercise).

They sparred about their COVID response, with DeSantis making repeated fatuous comments about Newsom going to the French Laundry restaurant during the lockdowns. But Newsom got the better of the argument by pointing out that DeSantis wants to have it both ways by portraying himself as a defiant contrarian on the mitigation measures when in fact he called for all of them early and then decided that it would be in his best interest to prematurely repeal all of them resulting in many unnecessary deaths. DeSantis claimed it wasn't true but it certainly is. 

According to an LA Times analysis of the Johns Hopkins University data on COVID deaths:

-California: 2,560 COVID deaths for every 1 million residents
-Florida: 4,044 COVID deaths for every 1 million residents

“In other words, Florida’s raw death tally — 86,850 in early March — came close to California’s total, 101,159, despite California having roughly 18 million more residents,” 

It is true that Florida has a large senior population but that should have argued for DeSantis to be more cautious not less. His legacy on COVID is shameful and the fact that he actually brags about it is mind-boggling. 

They also argued about crime statistics with DeSantis accusing Newsom of presiding over a crime wave while Newsom pointed out that it had actually declined precipitously over the past couple of decades. One set of statistics (which Hannity showed, naturally) has California having more violent crimes than Florida but Newsom responded, correctly, that Florida actually has a higher murder rate than California. 

I wondered when (or if) Hannity would discuss abortion, seeing as it is a serious problem for DeSantis due to the draconian laws he signed, first for a 15 week ban and then a 6 week ban a few months later. Hannity tried to nail Newsom with the right's tiresome question about whether he would outlaw all abortions after a certain period of time, but he didn't get very far. Newsom said that these instances are exceedingly rare and are almost always because of a tragic fetal anomaly, which is correct. (If I were a politician, I would always use the example of a real person in that situation and then ask whether or not politicians and judges are competent to make such complicated medical decisions. Most people would agree that they are not.) 

DeSantis pretty much just stood there like a potted plant obviously wanting to get past the subject as soon as possible. Just yesterday, a poll was released showing that 62% of Floridians want to vote the right to abortion up to 24 weeks into the state constitution and that includes 52% of Republicans. He made a huge mistake in judgement on that one. 

One of the most jarring aspects of the debate was that throughout, DeSantis kept bizarrely talking about feces. That's right, feces. This is actually an old right wing obsession going back to the civil rights marches, the Vietnam war protests and most recently Occupy Wall Street. There are always tales of rampant public defecation and they can't stop talking about it. DeSantis seems to have a particular fetish about this feces problem as illustrated in this bizarre moment:

Politifact, which fact checked much of the debate if you're interested, explains what that's all about if you really want to know. 

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Apparently, DeSantis' hapless campaign thought it would be a good idea to showcase him on the friendly network because it would give him a chance to talk about how great Florida is. The problem is that there isn't a Republican primary voter on the planet who hasn't heard him drone on endlessly about what a fantastic job he's done in Florida and frankly, they're sick of it. But that's what they got last night along with a laundry list of culture war talking points that merely show DeSantis watches the same shows they do. It's possible that a few people came away thinking they should give him a second look but I doubt it was more than a handful. He's just so ... odd:

Newsom probably made a few new fans among the Democrats who tuned in to watch the cage match. He was loose and confident and why wouldn't he be? He's not running for anything, a point he made clear when he archly declared that the one thing everyone can agree on is that neither of the two of them were going to be president in 2025. 

The debate was best summed up by former Republican strategist Stuart Stevens who quipped:

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

MORE FROM Heather Digby Parton

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California Commentary Donald Trump Elections 2024 Florida Fox News Joe Biden Ron Desantis Sean Hannity