Column: How did California’s Gov. Newsom fare against his Florida rival, Gov. DeSantis?

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and California Gov. Gavin Newsom appear on screen
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and California Gov. Gavin Newsom appear on a screen at a watch party during the Thursday night debate held by Fox News.
(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

What the hell was that?

Ostensibly, Thursday’s debate between California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is not running for president, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is, was supposed to be an exploration of the ideological differences between the two chief executives.

For the record:

4:51 p.m. Dec. 5, 2023This column has been corrected to clarify statistics relating to Floridians moving to California and vice versa.

Opinion Columnist

Robin Abcarian

After all, one is the embodiment of progressive, blue-state policies and a high-profile surrogate for President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. The other represents the younger, less orange face of Planet MAGA, and, as it became clear, can’t pronounce “Kamala” correctly.

Twenty minutes in, however, I had a headache. There was so much cross-talk and interrupting — by both governors — that it was impossible to hear what they were saying.

If a third debater had been onstage, they almost certainly would have piped up, “See folks, this is why those two should not be on this debate stage.”


It was actually pretty funny that Sean Hannity, an unabashed supporter of former President Trump who engineered this overhyped meeting of ideological opposites, positioned himself as the grownup in the room, the guy who wanted to take the temperature down a few notches in order to get his loaded questions answered.

From their pandemic policies to their relationships with Disney, Ron DeSantis and Gavin Newsom have opposite political ideologies. The debate could help them both.

Nov. 30, 2023

“Let each other breathe,” pleaded Hannity. “I don’t want to be the hall monitor.” Don’t worry, Sean, you weren’t. He prefaced one of his loaded questions thus: “Joe Biden has experienced significant cognitive decline.”

DeSantis performed better than I expected against the voluble Newsom, who has two decades of political experience to DeSantis’ one. In three previous Republican debates, DeSantis failed to distinguish himself, appearing almost wimpy next to the verbally muscular former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who has overtaken him in polls. (Which probably explains why he agreed to debate Newsom after refusing to for most of the past year.) He landed well-deserved blows about California’s infamous, and well-acknowledged, problems — homelessness, in particular.

The problem with this spectacle was that too many incompatible things were simultaneously going on: The flailing DeSantis was trying to reestablish himself as a viable GOP alternative in the event that Trump’s felony indictments make him, finally, unpalatable to Republican voters.

Newsom was trying to raise his national political profile, defend the Biden-Harris record and argue that California is a better place to live than Florida. (Which, of course, it is.)

Gavin Newsom and Ron DeSantis argued the culture wars on live TV, but neither has a shot at the Oval Office. Why are we ignoring the two women who will decide the race?

Nov. 30, 2023

Did Newsom have anything to lose? Not really.

Yes, we all know that California is expensive, and that for the first time in forever, more people are leaving than coming in. Yes, we had lockdowns during the pandemic. This was the gist of DeSantis’ argument that he’s the better governor.


And yet, on a per capita basis, more Floridians have recently moved to California than vice versa, though the exchange is almost equal.

“There is one thing that we have in common,” said Newsom. “Neither of us will be the nominee for our party in 2024.”

Oh snap.