Ron DeSantis likes to frame himself as a “fighter” on the campaign trail. In practice, he seems more like a glutton for punishment. Because his Fox News debate with Gavin Newsom is the latest act of self-injury in a campaign that’s been full of them.
I turned on Thursday’s debate as a skeptic — in that I wasn’t sure why this needed to happen in the first place. And I was mostly proven right. By the end, I still didn’t understand why it had happened. Sean Hannity was (no shock here) an ineffective and highly partial moderator. Across a host of issues — from immigration to Covid-19 — we got a lot of leading questions that maligned California and a lot of unintelligible cross-talk as Newsom tried to correct claims by DeSantis and Hannity.
But if you’re the kind of person who’d relish the opportunity to see a robotic DeSantis publicly flayed by a superior debater, Newsom’s performance was the most gratifying since gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum torched DeSantis back in 2018.
In the role of Biden surrogate, Newsom managed to tout the administration’s economic successes and to contrast the liberal worldview with DeSantis’ “pre-1960s” vision for America. All while shoveling dirt onto DeSantis’ flailing 2024 campaign.
“There’s one thing in closing that we have in common,” he said in his opening remarks, “neither of us will be the nominee for our party in 2024.”
Newsom — engaging in my kind of mischief — seemed eager to harp on tensions between the GOP presidential candidates.
Speaking to Fox News’ conservative audience, he criticized DeSantis for spewing anti-China rhetoric even as he’s maintained financial ties to the country, noting that even Trump calls DeSantis “Red Ron.”
In that same exchange, he asked DeSantis when he’d drop out of the 2024 race to give Nikki Haley a shot at beating Trump.
And he accused DeSantis of trying to “out-Trump Trump” with his bigoted publicity stunt of flying migrants from the Texas-Mexico border. “By the way, how’s that going for you, Ron? You’re down 41 points in your own home state.”
DeSantis’ poll numbers also lag Trump’s and Haley’s in key primary states like New Hampshire and South Carolina. Major right-wing donors, once enthralled by DeSantis, have been turning to Nikki Haley instead. Now add to that his getting destroyed in an unnecessary debate with a noncandidate.
The DeSantis campaign appears to be out on its feet. Perhaps it’s time for this self-proclaimed fighter to throw in the towel before he suffers more permanent damage.