Thursday night’s biggest loser was Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who spent the better part of Fox’s “Great Red vs. Blue State” publicity stunt being thoroughly humiliated by California Governor Gavin Newsom in an all-out shitshow that did, at one point, reference poop.
The cage match between these two governors, which will perhaps be remembered as the apotheosis of “Debate Me, Bro!” culture, was a lopsided affair, pitting one man who is running for president (badly) against another who is not running for president and thus has far less at stake. The back-and-forth between the two men mainly consisted of Newsom taking big shots at DeSantis and his lackluster presidential platform, leaving DeSantis with scant material to lob back in the direction of his Golden State rival.
“We have one thing in common: Neither of us will be the nominee for our party in 2024,” Newsom quipped early on in the debate.
Over the span of 90 minutes, the California Democrat slammed the presidential hopeful for flip-flopping on policy stances, curtailing LGBTQ+ rights, and loosening gun laws in Florida following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas massacre, the deadliest mass shooting at a high school in U.S. history.
In one particularly embarrassing exchange, Newsom dogged DeSantis over his decision to employ a radical book ban in the Sunshine State, during which the conservative’s anxious head-shaking and drooping expression made it abundantly clear that he was just as unprepared to debate a liberal politician as he has thus far proven to be when debating his fellow conservatives.
“What you’re doing is using education as a sword for your cultural purge,” Newsom said. “I don’t like the way you demean people, I don’t like the way you demean the LGBTQ community,” Newsom added.
Even at moments when DeSantis seemed to believe he had the upper hand, he did not. During one heated exchange over Florida’s response to the pandemic, Newsom reminded DeSantis that the state had employed quarantines and checkpoints to curtail the spread of the virus.
“You followed science, you followed Fauci,” Newsom said, referring to the former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci.
“That’s not true,” DeSantis insisted.
It probably wasn’t supposed to go like this. The GOP hopeful had been handed all the ingredients to make Thursday night a home run for his campaign. Yet despite boosts from host Sean Hannity on the largest conservative network in the country, who at one point tried and failed to peg Newsom for including what DeSantis claimed was “pornography” in the California school curriculum, DeSantis only managed to make himself a hair feistier than his background appearances during GOP debates illustrated.
In a debate that was supposed to pose comparisons between the policy choices made by red states and blue states, DeSantis spent a considerable amount of energy on the intramural politics of the Democratic Party, accusing Newsom of running a “shadow campaign” behind President Joe Biden’s back. When he took the opportunity to pivot back to policy, DeSantis’s big swing involved a bit of prop comedy in the form of an illustrated map of San Francisco that purported to detail precisely where human feces had been spotted around the city—a charge that made even Newsom laugh.
If the Florida governor thought the prime-time special, which served as a meager sideshow to the presidential race that he’s actually a part of, could help his tanking popularity among American voters, then these calculations may have been off. Newsom used the stage to take repeated shots at DeSantis’s diminished presidential prospects.
“You are trolling folks and trying to play political games so you can out-Trump Trump,” Newsom said. “How is that going for you, Ron? You are down 41 points in your own home state.”
DeSantis has lagged far behind in the GOP primaries he was anticipated to be a heavy contender in, trailing more than 47 percentage points in national averages behind Donald Trump, whose strategy of outright avoiding public debates has proved exceedingly effective among Republican voters.
Hours after the debate, Trump took to Truth Social to blast his hamstrung rival, sharing a parody of the event that he dubbed the “battle of loserville.” The former president’s campaign also took note of the embarrassing spectacle, issuing a statement that compared the governor to a crackhead on a “12 inch step stool.”
“Ron DeSanctimonious is acting more like a thirsty, third-rate OnlyFans wannabe model than an actual presidential candidate,” Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung said. “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.”