‘You’re lying!’ “You’re just chatting!” It was heat and not much light in the debate between Newsom and DeSantis

(Illustration from Los Angeles Times, photos by Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times, AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

‘You’re lying!’ “You’re just chatting!” It was heat and not much light in the debate between Newsom and DeSantis

California Politics, 2024 Elections

Mark Z. Barabak

Dec. 1, 2023

The wonderfully hyped debate between Gavin Newsom and Ron DeSantis was never going to be anything more than a diversion, a brief sideshow running parallel to the main attraction of the actual campaign for the White House.

The Democratic governor of California is not a candidate for president, as he stated and repeated many times on Thursday evening.

The Governor of Florida


He ran for the Republican nomination, but did so poorly that he stooped to participate in a publicity stunt dressed as a national policy forum that rather reeked of DeSantis’ desperation.

Even by those meager standards, the “Great Red vs. Blue State Debate,” as Fox News breathlessly promoted the decline of cable television, turned out to be a dud.

“You’re nothing but a bully,” Newsom sneered.

You are

a bully,” DeSantis shot back.

And so it went, for more than 90 excruciating minutes, at least during those moments when the two weren’t talking past or about each other, rendering large parts of their testy dialogue completely incomprehensible.

A good debate, or one worth having, highlights issues, parses differences and sheds light on the personalities of the participants. You can tune in and learn something new about the candidates, or perhaps, after meeting each other several times, discover something new and different.

Thursday night’s affair was an exercise in confirmation, underscoring much of what we already understand, namely:

Newsom and DeSantis genuinely despise each other.

They have vastly different approaches and philosophies to governing their vast, varied states.

Fox News is a propaganda arm of the Republican Party with few pretensions to fairness or balance.

The evening’s ringmaster, Sean Hannity, had promised to be a balanced and impartial moderator. But he asks the oh-so-soft questions softly


DeSantis left no doubt about where Hannity’s roots lay.

(The bright red tie he wore should have been a giveaway.)

Each segment was preceded by a selective set of statistics on crime, gas prices, education and homelessness, portraying California as just a hair’s breadth away from capsizing and sliding ingloriously into the ocean. (But not before large swaths of the dwindling population rushed to get out of the dystopian swamp



Despite that clear advantage, it was DeSantis who seemed uncomfortable most of the night. He looked like a man with a hernia as he prepared for a root canal.

“That’s a lie,” was his stock repeater, strangely accompanied by a waxen smile that flickered on and off as if set on a faulty timer.

“You’re just chatting,” DeSantis said, talking back and forth again. ‘I know you like to talk. I know you like to lie.”

“Any time you feel uncomfortable, you just make things up,” Newsom responded.

For the governor of California, who loves to gamble on a national stage, the entire evening was a party. He’s been taunting DeSantis from afar for over a year and clearly enjoyed being able to see him up close; a wide grin telegraphed his joy.

“You’re trolling people … to try to get some news and attention so you can beat Trump,” Newsom said at one point, referring to the Republican Party’s leading frontrunner. ‘And by the way, how are you, Ron? You’re 41 points behind your own home state.”


The subplot of the evening was Newsom’s so-called “shadow campaign,” as DeSantis called it, to wrest the Democratic nomination from aging incumbent President Biden.

But California’s governor has been utterly slavish in the role of dutiful party soldier, repeatedly touting Biden’s performance with a rat-a-tat of statistics, a Newsom signature on falling inflation, rising employment and other favorable barometers .

He even jumped to the defense of his old enemy, Vice President Kamala Harris, when DeSantis mispronounced her first name. (Intentionally, it seems.)

“It’s KOM-a-luh,” Newsom intoned. “Madam Vice President, for you.”

Much has been made of the showdown as a possible preview of the 2028 presidential campaign.

But that battle is still politically centuries away.

Comparisons were also made to the California governor’s debate. Ronald Reagan and New York Senator Robert Kennedy, two other political celebrities who staged a similar kind of exhibition match in May 1967. They too were seen as future presidential rivals.

But even though Reagan’s performance in that sober match was widely praised, it took three tries and more than a dozen years before he finally reached the White House.

Newsom could have been considered the winner Thursday night, if there was such a thing, simply by having DeSantis show up and debate him as an equal.

But It is highly unlikely that anything said or done on the red-and-blue sound stage outside Atlanta will change the trajectory of the 2024 campaign.

The typical half-life of a political debate, even a legitimate one, is about 24 hours. All the hype aside, the showdown between Newsom and DeSantis seems destined to fade away just as easily.

The best that can be said is that Fox, when given the opportunity to extend the forum beyond the planned 90 minutes and Newsom was certainly eager to continue, graciously spared his audience and succeeded.

Here we hope for no recurrence.


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