The much promoted Fox News debate between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and California Governor Gavin Newsom opened with both trading sharp insults, before launching into comparisons of the quality of life in their respective states.
After moderator Sean Hannity opened with a question about the net migration out of California and into Florida, DeSantis focused on Newsom’s own record in the Golden State.
“You would almost have to try to mess California up,” DeSantis said, before he took a swipe at Newsom for his visit to the French Laundry restaurant in the midst of the Covid pandemic.
“You and President Trump are trying to light democracy on fire,” said Newsom, as he positioned the debate as a chance to promote the Biden-Harris reelection bid. He accused DeSantis of being on a “banning binge” and a “cultural purge.”
Then, in a dig to DeSantis, seeking the presidency as an alternative to front runner Donald Trump, Newsom said, “One thing we have in common is that neither of us will be the nominee in 2024.” That was likely an early effort to show that he does not have his own ambitions for the presidency next year as an alternative to Biden or a candidate waiting in the wings.
Very quickly, DeSantis and Newsom talked over each other, to the point that Hannity tried to take a pause and, in his words, “let things breathe.”
The debate is taking place in Alpharetta, GA, sans a studio audience. Hannity organized the debate following Newsom’s appearance on his show in June and, after some negotiation between both governors’ teams, it was finally scheduled last month.
The novel idea to feature the governors of two of the largest states in the country may ultimately prove to be more interesting than the next GOP debate. That gathering next week and hosted by NewsNation will be the fourth Republican primary event, but it is also unlikely to feature front runner Donald Trump, who has shunned the debates so far. It also may help boost DeSantis’ prospects, giving him his own platform as he has been battling with Nikki Haley for the No. 2 slot.
And while Fox News’ extensive promotion for the Newsom-DeSantis event has focused on the Red State vs. Blue State divide, including what is a better state to live in, the debate may ultimately come down to personality vs. policy, as the two governors have traded extensive insults in recent months.
“There’s a hunger in the country to an alternative to Trump and Biden,” Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum said in the minutes before the debate start. Newsom, of course, is not in the race, and Jesse Watters noted, “He can’t be too good, or else there is going to be civil war.”
The event may prove to be a ratings getter for Fox News and Hannity, who nevertheless noted at the outset, “I will be moderating this debate, I will not be part of this debate.” But his initial questions focused on the positives of the Sunshine State: Net positive migration and a better unemployment rate than in the Golden State.