I like all these debates. The more the merrier. The debate Nov. 30 between Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, held on Fox News and moderated by Sean Hannity, was a stellar performance no matter which side you took.
No matter what happens this year, both these politicians will be on the national stage, possibly for two decades in the case of Mr. Newsom, age 56, and three decades for Mr. DeSantis, age 45.
That’s exactly what happened. Mr. DeSantis was not talking to national voters, but only to Republicans in Iowa before their Jan. 15 caucus and the New Hampshire Primary Jan. 23. He needs more than anything to pull away from former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and, possibly, challenge former President Donald Trump for the top spot.
Mr. Newsom, by contrast, needed to impress the members of the Democratic National Committee, who would pick a replacement should President Biden pull out of the race after the primaries.
DeSantis Showed LeadershipMr. DeSantis contrasted his leadership of a thriving Florida with failing California. He emphasized the similarity of Mr. Newsom’s policies to those of Mr. Biden, something sure to resonate on the steppes of Iowa and in the hamlets of New Hampshire.
Mr. DeSantis said, “What Biden would do, the people around him, they would look to California for the model to go forward in the next four years. That would accelerate the decline of this country. The failures need to be left in the dustbin of history.”
Left unsaid: That’s also what Mr. Newsom obviously would do should he succeed Mr. Biden.
The whole world knows about California’s problems of crime and homelessness. San Francisco was mocked for cleaning up its streets for last month’s visit to the city by Chinese Communist President Xi Jinping for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. A friend of mine just was there on a business trip and said the streets have returned to their pre-APEC trashiness.
Mr. DeSantis held up a sheet of paper and said, “This is a map of San Francisco. There’s a lot of plots on that. And you may be asking, ‘What is that plotting?’ This is an app where they plot the human feces that are found on the streets of San Francisco. And you see how almost the whole thing is covered. Because that is what has happened in one of the previous greatest cities this country has ever had. Human feces is now a fact of life. Except when a communist dictator comes to town. Then they cleaned up the streets. They lined the streets with [communist] Chinese flags. They didn’t put American flags there. They cleaned everything up. So they’re willing to do it for a communist dictator, but they’re not willing to do it for their own people.”
Below is Mr. DeSantis holding up the map, with Mr. Newsom’s split-screen reaction.
Newsom Scored Ideological PointsMr. Newsom throughout the debate demonstrated his loyalty to Mr. Biden. And he quipped neither candidate was going to become president, implying Mr. Trump would best Mr. DeSantis. Even though, as I wrote in my Nov. 22 piece, Mr. Newsom is a “shadow candidate waiting to see if Democratic President Joe Biden drops out.”
Did Mr. DeSantis read that? Or someone on his staff? Most Republicans I know love this newspaper, so it’s possible. Because Mr. DeSantis jabbed Mr. Newsom for running a “shadow campaign” for president. Let’s see if the “shadow” phrasing sticks. And Mr. DeSantis quipped, “You will not admit it. Admit that you’re running.”
But Mr. Newsom effectively responded, “Boy, I will take Joe Biden at 100 vs. Ron DeSantis any day of the week, at any age.” Which actually didn’t answer the question of whether Mr. Biden is capable today. But it sounded good to the DNC.
When California’s high crime rate came up, as I predicted Mr. Newsom effectively parried that by pointing out Florida’s higher murder rate. “Maybe spend a little more time back in your home state and address the murder and gun violence in your own backyard,” he said.
But party honchos in the DNC still back Mr. Biden’s open-borders policy. Which is what Mr. Newsom spoke to when he attacked the Florida governor’s immigration policies, such as busing illegals to California.
Mr. Newsom said, “I support border security. I think the asylum system is broken. I believe that we—I’m the only one here that’s a border-state governor. You’re trolling folks and trying to find migrants to play political games to try to get some news attention to out-Trump Trump. And by the way, how’s that going for you, Ron? You’re down by 41 points in your own home state” in polling vs. Mr. Trump for the Florida primary.
Conclusion: A Win-WinEach candidate did what he needed to do. Mr. DeSantis scored many points off Mr. Newsom that will resonate in Iowa and New Hampshire. He also has become a much more confident debater as these conflicts have progressed from the first debate on Aug. 23. He is hitting his stride now and, if he continues through the Dec. 6 debate with other Republicans from the University of Alabama, he’ll at least finish a healthy second to Mr. Trump in Iowa and New Hampshire, and push out Ms. Haley. That will leave him mano-a-mano with the formidable former president.
Mr. Newsom showed himself the slick political operator he long has been. I’ve written in these pages how he has been a master at presenting his budgets, normally boring numbers affairs—albeit he goes on way too long.
The DNC members he needs to impress don’t care about San Francisco’s streets, or the hundreds of thousands of Californians fleeing to Republican states. They saw a confident, data-quoting politician who would make the best replacement candidate should Mr. Biden next spring announce he has decided to quit running for reelection.
Finally, the debate showed 2024 is going to be a year of fireworks going off all the time. Isn’t that what democracy is supposed to be like?