When 2 Americas Face Off in Debate


Govs. Ron DeSantis and Gavin Newsom had a bizarre idea to hold a debate to defend the political visions of two states that have little in common: Florida and California.

Fox News took them at their word, and the result on Thursday night was representative of American politics less than a year before the presidential election.

On paper, this debate between two governors so far apart on the political spectrum, and representing states diametrically opposed in every way, would offer a collision of two different visions of the United States. The main difference between the two men? One is a candidate for the 2024 presidential nomination, and the other is not, at least in principle.

The former struggles to show that he can endure in a race for the White House that is practically fixed since his victory seems illusory, and the latter to quiet suspicions of a challenge to Joe Biden. Even though DeSantis is 45 and Newsom 56, both are much younger than the presumed Republican and Democratic candidates for 2024, who are 77 and 81, respectively.

On the right, DeSantis, the Trumpist red state governor, and on the left, the symbol the right loves to hate, Newsom, the quintessential blue state governor. Even on an American map, no two states are more different than Florida and California. The only thing the two have in common is that they are both bordered by an ocean.

States More Divided than Ever

In practical terms, this debate, moderated unsurprisingly by Fox News host Sean Hannity, a conservative who has never hidden his support for Donald Trump, a debate that some dreamed of as the actual 2024 presidential election debate, led to some interesting reflections on the state of American politics a little less than a year out from the race for the White House.

First, this political joust quickly veered into a shouting match in the true image of ultra-polarized American politics where each person delivers a message much like a recording with three or four points repeated over and over, whether verified, verifiable or neither.

Second, California and Florida are far from a true representation of typical U.S. states. If voters had to choose between blue California and red Florida, those in the Midwest, the South, or even in northern states probably found little to inspire them in this Fox News debate spectacle.

Crime rates, management of the migrant situation or the pandemic, the number of mass shooting victims, parental rights in education, abortion access—all of these were addressed. Both DeSantis and Newsom listed statistics to show that each of the was better at solving problems in their states. Viewers would not have learned much on these issues to change their political affiliations.

A Swan Song for DeSantis?

If there was one person who had everything to lose from this media event, it was certainly DeSantis. A serious opponent of Trump just a year ago, the Florida governor presented himself as a potential candidate capable of uniting the MAGA crowd to win the Republican Party nomination—a sort of Trump without the scandals and court cases who could easily beat Joe Biden or any other Democratic candidate.

After an easy and convincing second-term win as Florida’s strongman, DeSantis has proved rather weak since the chaotic launch of his campaign on X alongside Elon Musk. Very quickly overpowered by the blistering attacks of the man who supported him in 2018 in his run for governor, the Florida governor is still falling in the polls and appears incapable of asserting himself against the former president.

Rather clumsy at what in the U.S. is called “retail” politics, the capacity to communicate and show empathy with voters, DeSantis, in this somewhat surreal debate, again gave a performance that will not change much in the Republican race for the White House. Most of all, he will not dethrone Trump, the champion in every Republican category who does not even bother debating his opponents.

What Does Gavin Newsom Want?

The big question remains: What is Newsom after by taking part in such a spectacle? Does he want to prove that he would be much better than a faltering Biden, at times confused against a more vigorous DeSantis, who is not necessarily a good debater but sharper in his responses and invectives? Or does he want to show that he would be more pugnacious against a vengeful Trump who wants to take back the seat he lost in 2020?

Newsom’s participation in the Fox debate cannot ignore recent polls showing voters fear Biden is too old for the job and that they disapprove of Vice President Kamala Harris.

Few Democrats think Newsom will run in 2024. The primary calendar is already set everywhere to avoid surprises unless an unforeseen event were to force Biden to withdraw from the race.

Whatever the speculations surrounding Newsom’s ambitions, Democrats insist that his vigorous defense of the current president and the party’s values has made him an asset for the White House and reelection efforts. After all, the California governor is one of the official co-chairs of Biden’s reelection campaign committee.

Regardless, the flamboyant Californian has built a national profile for himself in large part by carrying his progressive message directly to red states like Florida. When questioned about his ambitions for 2024 by the Fox News host, Newsom only repeated what he has from the start: Biden will be reelected against Trump.

Was this then a politically meaningless debate between two candidates who will not be in the race for 2024? Only time will tell.

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About Reg Moss 118 Articles
Reg is a writer, teacher, and translator with an interest in social issues especially as pertains to education and matters of race, class, gender, immigration, etc.

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