US presidential candidate Ron DeSantis clashed with California’s Democrat Governor Gavin Newsom in an acrimonious debate on Thursday night, making a last-ditch pitch to Republican voters that he is their best option to take on President Joe Biden in next year’s election.
DeSantis is trailing far behind former US President Donald Trump in polling for the Republican Party’s nomination for 2024.
“There’s one thing … that we have in common,” Newsom told DeSantis. “Neither of us will be the nominee for our party in 2024.”
The host, Fox News Channel, billed the event hosted by Sean Hannity as “The Great Red vs. Blue State Debate”.
Here are five takeaways from Thursday’s event:
Newsom emerged as a leading defender of Biden
Newsom, California’s 56-year-old term-limited Democrat governor, has positioned himself to seek the presidency someday, but he has declined to challenge Biden for the Democratic nomination in 2024. Instead, he’s emerged as a leading defender of Biden and a formal campaign adviser.
“I’m here to tell the truth about the Biden-Harris record and also compare and contrast Ron DeSantis’ record and the Republican Party’s record as a point of contrast, that’s as different as daylight and darkness,” Newsom said.
“I’m proud of the work Biden and Harris have done,” he also said.
Newsom defended 81-year-old Biden’s record and mental fitness, insisting he was not positioning himself to succeed. DeSantis insisted his rival was mounting a “shadow campaign”.
Throughout the event, the Biden campaign was sending out video clips of Newsom’s performance. And afterwards, Newsom issued a fundraising appeal on Biden’s behalf.
I know why I’m here.
I’m here to tell the truth about the Biden-Harris record — to contrast it with the Republican and DeSantis’ approach that is as different as daylight and darkness.
Why are you here, Ron? pic.twitter.com/vpExpbjPp2
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) December 1, 2023
Sean Hannity, a conservative moderator
Hannity, the longtime conservative Fox host, opened the debate with a commitment to have a neutral role.
“It’s widely known that I’m a conservative. However, tonight I’ll be moderating this debate and will not be participating in it,” Hannity said.
However many of his questions and arguments touched on rightwing arguments.
“Joe Biden is experiencing what I believe is significant cognitive decline … Is it a danger to the country?” Hannity said at one point in the debate.
As a response, the Florida governor said Biden is “in decline” and represents “a danger to the country”.
“I will take Joe Biden at 100 rather than Ron DeSantis any day of the week at any age,” Newsom responded, ticking through unemployment statistics.
Hannity also struggled to control the action. Over and over, he encouraged the men to give each other “breathing room”.
“I don’t want to be the hall monitor, please don’t turn me into that,” Hannity added.
Sean Hannity spreads the lie that Biden is in cognitive decline. Newsom turns it around to tout Biden’s record.”Results matter. Inflation down to 3.2%. Wages are up to 4.4%. The economy is booming. 5.2%. GDP growth in the last quarter. Those are facts you don’t hear on Fox News. pic.twitter.com/xHHQdO1pXF
— Sarah Reese Jones (@PoliticusSarah) December 1, 2023
Crosstalk and accusations
The debate was filled with tense exchanges.
DeSantis frequently called Newsom a liar in charge of a failing state, while Newsom ridiculed his Florida counterpart as a bully badly trailing Republican presidential rival Donald Trump in presidential polls.
“When are you going to drop out and at least give Nikki Haley a shot to take down Donald Trump,” said Newsom referring to the former South Carolina governor who has been surpassing DeSantis in some polls as the top Trump alternative.
DeSantis, 45, gazed at Newsom in silence for a few seconds, before repeating several times: “You wish.”
In an attack DeSantis said he didn’t mind Newson lying to him “but I do mind him lying to you [the viewers]”.
“This is a slick, slippery politician whose state is failing,” DeSantis said.
Abortion, another flashpoint between the two governors
Abortion was another flashpoint between the two governors. Newsom called DeSantis’s six-week abortion ban in Florida “extreme”, amid polls that show the issue of abortion restrictions has become a political problem for Republicans.
“Well, I believe in a culture of life. I think we’re better off when everybody counts, when everybody has an opportunity to do well. And that bill attaches when there’s a detectable heartbeat for the child,” DeSantis said.
During the debate, DeSantis didn’t answer Newsom’s question on whether he would sign a national abortion ban into law.
Public safety and guns
When the debate focused on violence and safety, Hannity showed FBI numbers looking at the combined rate of homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault in 2022.
The combined rate showed Florida lower than the national average in California.
Newsom emphasised that California has its lowest crime rate in 50 years. He also pointed out that, in contrast, Florida has a higher murder rate compared to California, highlighting that specific statistics for the murder rate were not provided.
The governor also highlighted the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, where 17 kids were killed. He argued that DeSantis later made it easier for some people to purchase weapons, referring to the legislation signed earlier this year by the Florida governor, which allows Floridians the ability to carry concealed guns without a permit.
“This is a slick politician,” DeSantis said. “People are leaving California in droves, largely because public safety has collapsed,” DeSantis added.
Absolutely correct @GavinNewsom. My daughter was murdered in Parkland. When @GovRonDeSantis had his chance to address gun policy, he made the state more dangerous. Thank you Governor Newsom for mentioning my daughter Jaime and for calling out Governor DeSantis. https://t.co/PW6Slk7tVj
— Fred Guttenberg (@fred_guttenberg) December 1, 2023