Other than being large-state governors who see a future president in the bathroom mirror each day, California Democrat Gavin Newsom and Florida Republican Ron DeSantis don’t have a lot in common. Newsom has led a state government totally controlled by his party to create something of a progressive laboratory on issues ranging from climate change to abortion rights to protections for undocumented immigrants. DeSantis, of course, has made his alleged conversion of Florida into a cultural and regulatory paradise for reactionaries — where “woke goes to die” — the signature of his once-formidable, now flailing presidential bid.
Both these highly ambitious politicians seem perpetually starved for attention. Newsom really wants to run for president but has been blocked from that ambition by incumbent president Joe Biden and incumbent vice-president (and fellow Californian) Kamala Harris. DeSantis seems to be wilting in the shadow of Donald Trump’s endless headline-grabbing legal problems and antics on the campaign trail and social media.
So the two governors are scratching each other’s back, as Politico reports, with each tentatively agreeing to debating the other on Fox News: “Newsom’s office had sent a formal request offer to Fox News last week with proposed debate dates of Nov. 8 or Nov. 10. That request called for [Sean] Hannity to serve as the sole moderator for a 90-minute forum on Fox News that would not include an in-studio audience and would air live.”
Newsom has been plotting this encounter for months, and DeSantis finally agreed to it, probably because at this point he needs someone to debate and he may not get the opportunity to appear on a stage with Trump.
The two men have been treating each other as devil figures, and their respective states as hellscapes, for a good while now; their very different relationships with the Disney Corporation and other entertainment-industry institutions have been just a few of the excuses they’ve seized on to scream and point east and west, as the case may be. The most recent and visceral clash stemmed from DeSantis’s toxic little game of sending migrants who arrive in Florida to blue states, as NBC News reported in June:
California Gov. Gavin Newsom plans to launch an investigation into flights of migrants flown to Sacramento — which were orchestrated by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — saying he believes it’s clear a crime was committed …
Florida confirmed Tuesday that DeSantis’ administration was responsible for the two private planes’ flying groups of migrants to Sacramento, the state capital, without coordination with California. Roughly three dozen migrants arrived on the two flights, which landed Friday and Monday.
Newsom tweeted at DeSantis on Monday, calling him a “small, pathetic man” and suggesting he could face kidnapping charges.
You get the idea; the Fox debate will be a grudge match.
Newsom will more than likely cast himself as a surrogate for Biden; the dignity of his office prevents the president from tearing DeSantis a new one, as he deserves. And by taking on the Floridian on the enemy turf of Fox News, Newsom can impress Democrats with his fearlessness. For his part, DeSantis will have the chance to remind Republicans that he is around to take on the present and future leadership of the radical left, as he will describe it. Best of all, for both of the debaters, the odds are low that much of the audience will be composed of persuadable voters. DeSantis and Newsom will be perfectly free to gyre and gimble and cut partisan capers for the exclusive benefit of the faithful members of the GOP and Democratic bases. And if 2024 doesn’t vault either governor to Washington, perhaps they can make it a series. Polarization isn’t going away anytime soon.