Newsom vs. DeSantis Debate Prep: The Smart Move for Gavin Newsom Is to Bow Out

AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu

California’s Governor Gavin Newsom recently issued a debate challenge to the man he sees as his rival in the Most Awesome Governor Sweepstakes, Florida Governor and GOP presidential candidate Ron DeSantis. Gov. DeSantis has accepted, but Gov. Newsom won’t go through with it. He can’t. At some level, even he knows he can’t. But it would be roundly entertaining if he tried.


Some months ago, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he would be “all in” on a debate with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. DeSantis later accepted. Now some are wondering if Newsom’s offer was sincere because it looks as if he wants to avoid the verbal sparring. Which makes sense: Newsom probably knows he can’t take the heat.

Newsom was fast-tracked for political stardom through his connections to San Francisco wealth and power. He was groomed and polished by the Gettys, the Pritzkers and the Fishers, not only in politics but in business, where he was set up not to fail.

But on his way to the governor’s mansion in Sacramento, which took him through the San Francisco mayor’s and the lieutenant governor’s offices, he never faced a capable political opponent in an election or debate. His path to the next political office was always clear of anything that might slow him or cause him even the slightest adversity. It has always been Blue sailing for him in California.

That sounds an awfully lot like another notoriously thin-skinned Democrat politician from a deep-blue district in a deep-blue state, who never faced any competent opposition and was handed most of his offices like a grant of nobility. And Newsom has a history, like Barack Obama and Joe Biden, for being prickly with reporters who ask him difficult questions. Imagine him facing off against DeSantis, who will certainly arrive at the debate venue with all of his web-footed waterfowl neatly arranged in a linear fashion.


Gavin Newsom has to know, at some level, that he can’t defend California’s performance under his watch. California, that once-Golden State, is staggering under high taxes and energy prices; its cities are in free-fall, and Newsom has not only himself as Governor but a legislature heavily loaded with his fellow Democrats to blame for this. DeSantis can hit him from the right with a barrage of questions:

…When DeSantis confronts Newsom with hard questions, and indisputable facts, how is he going to hold it together? How does he explain that people are fleeing from California and to Florida without losing his cool?

Furthermore, how would he defend his record, without becoming flustered, when he is asked why his state:

  • Lost population for the first time in its history while he was governor?
  • Has lost population for three straight years?
  • Has entered a period of economic sclerosis while the Florida economy is the best in the country?
  • Is losing businesses at an alarming rate?
  • Has a homelessness problem that is entirely out of control?
  • Has two failing major cities?
  • Has the highest gasoline prices in the country while Florida’s are roughly the same as the U.S. average?

Ron DeSantis certainly has a good grasp of his own state’s economic success. Granted Newsom, proving the old adage about something not being just a major waterway in Egypt, has done some bragging about his own record, but he can’t keep evading those numbers forever. That’s probably why he is now apparently looking for ways out of the debate he proposed.


Whatever one might think of the pros and cons of Ron DeSantis, Donald Trump, or any of the other many and varied GOP presidential candidates, what is pretty obvious is that, despite his understated but readily apparent ambitions for the White House aside, Gavin Newsom is neither the President we want nor the President we deserve. He is presiding over a state that is in financial failure, over cities that are disintegrating, and this is in a location that should be a paradise; California has ample resources, gorgeous scenery, beautiful beaches, mountains, deserts, and a (mostly) salubrious climate. That’s why, for many decades, California was the place to go. But now, it seems, California is the place to leave.

As of this writing, the debate is still on, to be moderated by Fox News’ Sean Hannity. Governor DeSantis called Governor Newsom’s bluff. Newsom is having to take a long, hard look at his own record—and it’s not a pretty picture.

But it hasn’t happened yet, and it’s hard to imagine Gov. Newsom, as the event grows ever closer, actually going through with it. Numbers have a ruthlessness about them; you just can’t keep qualifying them, obfuscating them, or wishing them away forever, and that is what Newsom would have to do, while Gov. DeSantis hammers him with data from a state that is going from success to success.


While predictions are hard to make, especially about the future, smart money just now says (if you’ll allow the mixed metaphor) Newsom will find a way to weasel out of this debate. Any advantages from such an event can only accrue to Ron DeSantis.


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