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Columnists

The DeSantis Newsom Debate is More of a Disappointing Clown Show

As a presidential historian, I cringe whenever one of my Democrat or Republican Facebook friends posts that Joe Biden (or Donald Trump, or Barack Obama, or George W. Bush) is the “worst president ever!” Ever hear of Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, or Andrew Johnson? In fact, some of our last four presidents are far better than merely fourth from the bottom, but I’ll entertain a cogent argument at least as to why any of them is worse than the three from the 1800s I just mentioned.

In their ‘red v. blue state’ debate on November 30, Ron DeSantis and Gavin Newsom, governors of red Florida and blue California, respectively, didn’t go quite that far, but when moderator Sean Hannity asked them to give Biden a grade for his presidency to this point, both governors insulted the audience’s intelligence by their extreme answers: childishly, Newsom gave Biden an A and DeSantis gave him an F. Here’s the reality: the border is porous, wokeness abounds, and grocery and gas prices remain astronomically high. Therefore, an A grade is ridiculous. On the other hand, the stock market is high, unemployment is low, and we are not at war. So the F is ridiculous too.

Cartoonish answers like those caused a potentially wonderful groundbreaking event to be more of a disappointing clown show. The debate was loaded with promise: Florida and California embody Red and Blue America. Each state’s governor proudly flaunts his brand of politics. Newsome unabashedly supports higher taxes, believing that government does more good than harm. DeSantis touts stark differences in personal liberties between his state and Newsom’s, recounting stories about Californians fleeing the Golden State to move to Florida, describing it as an out-of-body experience, not only for not being forced to mask or socially distance (as was the case in California long after Florida ended restrictions), but also for being able to pick up toothpaste directly off the shelf and bring it to the cashier, instead of it being locked away to prevent rampant shoplifting, as is the case in California.

The other factor that made this debate tragicomic is that Hannity was the moderator. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve followed Hannity on TV and radio for decades, and I’ve appeared as a guest on his radio show a few times. But objective, he’s not. He even began the evening explaining that even though he’s a conservative, his role in the debate would be to moderate, not to debate. That was an obvious and well-deserved shot at left-leaning journalists, who often take it upon themselves to join Democrats in ganging up on Republican debaters, especially ones named Trump. Where Hannity went wrong, though, was in his selection of topics. Graph after graph he presented showed Florida beating California in numerous quality of life issues. Essentially, Hannity all but said: “I’ll treat the candidates evenly, but the debate’s entire theme will be that Florida is great and California’s horrible.”

Nonetheless, the debaters were far from equal. I haven’t seen a politician so shamelessly disingenuous as Newsom since Mitt Romney. Both have that ‘groom atop the wedding cake’ look; they’re plastic both in appearance and character. But even Romney’s not as bad as Newsom. Besides blatantly lying – not just haphazardly but repeatedly, adding lie upon lie to further obfuscate reality – Newsom also thinks people are so stupid that they can’t see through his façade. For instance, he speaks about the dramatic drop in unemployment since 2021, as if Americans don’t realize it is inextricably linked to the ending of pandemic lockdowns. It would be like saying “under my administration, we ended snowstorms! It’s August now and there haven’t been any in four months!”

DeSantis, who’s been reeling since he entered the presidential race, struggling to be embraced by the voters, finally found a way to boost his likability: stand next to Newsom.

To be fair, Newsom deserves credit for entering the lion’s den. A debate on Fox with Hannity moderating isn’t exactly neutral territory. Oh, Republicans go into Democratic lions’ dens all the time, but Newsom hails from the ‘everyone gets a trophy’ party, and so they’re not used to debate questions that aren’t softballs.

Speaking of Fox, this seemed to be their way of salvaging DeSantis’ campaign. For those who think Fox is all in for Trump, sounds like you’re living in 2017. Fox is no more for Trump than Chris Christie is. The network put all its eggs into the DeSantis basket and doesn’t want to give up just yet. By showcasing DeSantis when he’s at his best – attacking leftist politicians, not fellow Republican primary rivals – Fox is counting that DeSantis’ numbers will rise just in time for him to pull an upset in the Iowa caucus. Someone needs to tell them that’s not going to happen.

Meanwhile, Newsom continues his shadow presidential campaign, and it’s clear that if Biden bows out, Newsom – not VP Kamala Harris – will be next in line.

It’s a shame that a debate between two of America’s leading red and blue advocates couldn’t have been more fulfilling. But that would have depended on Hannity picking better-rounded questions and Newsom telling the truth at least once every three turns.

Our Constitution was founded on principled ideological debate. Mainly between federalists such as John Adams and Alexander Hamilton, and anti-federalists like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. And the arguments weren’t much different than they are today. It mainly boils down to whether it’s worth to trade some personal liberties for government services. It can still be accomplished, but only if the debaters resist the temptation to give an A to their favorite presidents and an F to their most detested ones.

 

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