In Unique Governors’ Debate, DeSantis and Newsom Bicker, Trade Criticism

The matchup — between DeSantis, the distant-second-place Republican primary candidate, and Newsom, who is not running for the presidency in 2024 — was a notable enough spectacle in American politics.

In this combination of photos, Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks on Sept. 16, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa, at left, and California Gov. Gavin Newsom, speaks on Sept. 12, 2023, in Sacramento, Calif.
In this combination of photos, Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks on Sept. 16, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa, at left, and California Gov. Gavin Newsom, speaks on Sept. 12, 2023, in Sacramento, Calif. (photo: AP)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday sparred at a unique political debate in Georgia, with the 2024 GOP primary candidate and the Democratic governor trading jabs and criticizing each other’s records over the course of 90 minutes.

The event, held in Alpharetta and billed as “The Great Red vs. Blue State Debate,” was broadcast on Fox News and moderated by network host Sean Hannity, who opened the discussion by saying it would focus on “things that impact [Americans] every single day.”

The matchup — between DeSantis, the distant-second-place Republican primary candidate, and Newsom, who is not running for the presidency in 2024 — was a notable enough spectacle in American politics that even Newsom remarked on it, asking rhetorically at the outset of the event: “What are we actually doing here?” 

The Democrat answered himself by saying he was on the stage to “tell the truth about the Biden-Harris record” and make a “point of contrast” between Democrats and Republicans, including DeSantis. 

The two politicians would spend much of the next hour and a half bickering with each other, accusing each other of lying and ruining their respective states.

Abortion, Education, Taxes

The debate took the form of topics proposed by Hannity, who struggled many times to keep the candidates from lapsing into shouting matches. 

On abortion, Hannity at one point asked Newsom if there should be “any restrictions on the issue of abortion,” including later in pregnancy. Newsom, who has been an outspoken proponent of abortion, skated around the question several times, eventually stating: “It should be up to the mother and her doctor and her conscience.” 

DeSantis, meanwhile, argued against abortion, saying: “I believe in a culture of life. I think we’re better off when everybody counts, when everybody has an opportunity to do well.” Both candidates are Catholic.

On education, Newsom criticized DeSantis for having signed Florida’s parental rights in education bill, a law that in part forbids teachers from discussing sexuality topics with very young children. 

Newsom alleged that DeSantis has been “using education as a sword for [his] cultural purge,” including what Newsom alleged was a “banning binge” by the Florida governor. 

“The role of the school is to educate kids, not to indoctrinate kids,” DeSantis argued. It’s inappropriate to instruct young children on gender ideology, he said. “It’s also important to respect parental rights to know what curriculum is being used in the classroom. And everything should be age-appropriate,” he said. 

The two governors further sparred over a host of topics related to their respective states, including crime rates, taxes, and other political matters. At one point the conversation delved into what Hannity alleged was President Joe Biden’s “significant cognitive decline.”

“He should not be running. He is not up to the job,” DeSantis said of the president. 

“I will take Joe Biden at 100 versus Ron DeSantis any day of the week at any age,” Newsom fired back.

In what was arguably the only moment of bipartisan unity of the evening, the Democrat and Republican both had sharp words of criticism for the terrorist group Hamas, which launched an attack on Israel on Oct. 7 that led to the present Israel-Hamas war. 

“This is a fight between good and evil. Hamas is a terrorist organization. They need to be eliminated,” Newsom said.

Hamas wants a “second Holocaust,” DeSantis said, arguing that the group wants to “destroy Israel and wipe every Jew off the map.”

DeSantis has throughout the early 2024 race remained the only GOP candidate to remotely approach former President Donald Trump in popularity in the primary polls, though even he has lagged very far behind Trump for most of the year, polling at an average of 12% to Trump’s 60% by the last week of November.

Newsom is not running for president in 2024, though commentators have viewed his continued national prominence as a sign of his likely candidacy in 2028 or beyond.

The Democrat has rebuffed suggestions that he has been positioning himself as an emergency candidate in 2024 in case Biden drops out. On Thursday night he confirmed again that he is not running when asked directly by Hannity.

Newsom easily won reelection in California in 2022, with DeSantis similarly coasting to victory in Florida the same year.

Cardinal-elect Víctor Manuel Fernández was appointed by Pope Francis on July 1, 2023, to become the next prefect for the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.

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