Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis made a last-ditch, doomed-to-failure bid for relevance when he debated California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Fox News on Thursday night. Doing it at all was an admission by DeSantis that he’s losing the Republican presidential primary: As Newsom noted, “one thing … that we have in common is neither of us will be the nominee for our party in 2024.” The difference between them, of course, is that Newsom isn’t running. Yet there was DeSantis, debating a noncandidate.
DeSantis had a friendly environment thanks to moderator Sean Hannity’s predictably right-wing framing of questions. According to Newsom’s camp, Hannity even bent the rules for DeSantis. As a Newsom adviser said, “The debate was rigged, and Newsom still won.” And although Newsom was clearly there to burnish his own national political standing, he framed his answers again and again to the benefit of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, touting their policies and positions.
Whether any Democrat’s appearance on Fox News is worthwhile has long been a topic of debate. After all, a Democrat will never get a fair hearing there, and even the best answers are unlikely to land with the network’s audience. But there’s no serious way to argue that DeSantis won this debate, even with the friendly moderator and his array of props.
Despite Hannity’s efforts to frame abortion in the most right-wing way possible, Newsom took it to DeSantis on one of the worst issues for Republicans:
As Newsom called DeSantis out for the book-banning spree in Florida under his leadership, DeSantis repeatedly insisted, of specific books, “It’s not banned.” But while they aren’t banned statewide, those books most certainly are banned in some Florida districts thanks to laws DeSantis championed. And DeSantis’ alien-in-a-human-suit forced grin did not help sell his claims:
Newsom also pivoted from the books question to the underlying bigotry, saying, “I don’t like the way you demean people. I don’t like the way you demean the LGBTQ community. I don’t like the way you demean and humiliate people you disagree with, Ron. I really find this fundamentally offensive, and this is a core value that distinguishes the values of my state and, frankly, the vast majority of Americans against the weaponization of education.”
DeSantis’ rictus of a forced grin reappeared when Newsom pointed out key differences between them on immigration:
One of these men is having fun:
The problem, of course, is that because this debate was on Fox News, it got a lot of coverage on Fox News—where, surprise surprise, the hosts and analysts insisted that DeSantis won, and where much of the audience wasn’t equipped to hear most of what Newsom was saying. But all you have to do is look at DeSantis’ face in many of these clips to see how it was going.
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