Should Ron DeSantis Actually Debate Gavin Newsom?

News & Politics

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-Calif.) first challenged Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) to a debate well over a year ago, after the idea was suggested by disgraced newsman Dan Rather.

“Here’s an idea for Chris Licht, the new head of @CNN. Set up a debate — one-on-one — between @GavinNewsom and @RonDeSantisFL,” Rather said on Twitter, now called X. “Two governors of big states, potential presidential candidates. Prime time. Ratings I bet would be huge. Who would have the courage to show up?”

Newsom was noticeably intrigued by the idea, and he publicly challenged DeSantis to a debate. “Hey @GovRonDeSantis, clearly you’re struggling, distracted, and busy playing politics with people’s lives. Since you have only one overriding need — attention –let’s take this up & debate. I’ll bring my hair gel. You bring your hairspray. Name the time before Election Day. @CNN”

Not much happened after that, but the prospect of a debate came up again during Sean Hannity’s interview with Newsom back in June, and DeSantis eagerly agreed to participate. On Monday, it was revealed that Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity will moderate a debate between the two governors on Nov. 30.

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Sean Hannity says he’s “looking forward to providing viewers with an informative debate about the everyday issues and governing philosophies that impact the lives of every American.”

Gov. DeSantis announced the debate on X. “I look forward to the opportunity to debate Gavin Newsom over our very different visions for the future of our country,” he said.

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When there was talk about a DeSantis/Newsom debate a year ago, I was excited about it. And frankly, I can see why DeSantis thinks it’s still a good idea. Given his inability to close the gap with Trump in the polls, he needs something to create a breakout moment. While I have no doubt that DeSantis would crush Newsom in a debate, I think Newsom has far more to gain from this event than DeSantis does.

For starters, DeSantis is already a presidential candidate, while Newsom is basically biding his time until 2028 — or whenever Biden decides to drop out or drop dead. In the meantime, the Californian has been building up a national network that will turn on a dime into a national presidential campaign. The debate gives Newsom the opportunity to introduce himself on the national stage while auditioning as a presidential candidate in a debate that, while certain to be entertaining, will kind of be a waste of time.

And while I’d bet good money on a definitive debate victory for DeSantis, it is inevitable that Donald Trump will trash his performance and praise Newsom. Think about it: Trump can’t go five minutes without attacking DeSantis, and he’s also gone out of his way to praise Gavin Newsom. So if DeSantis is looking at this debate as an opportunity to make headway with swayable Trump supporters, it won’t work no matter how much he crushes Newsom. Trump has most certainly already decided he will declare Newsom the victor of the debate in order to tamp down any political boost the event might give DeSantis, and his army of loyalists will echo him in order to put the nail in the coffin of DeSantis’s presidential campaign.

In the end, Newsom is the only one likely to gain anything by participating in this debate, no matter how badly he loses to DeSantis.

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