“None of us will be a candidate for our party in 2024,” he said.
The highly unusual debate — moderated by Fox’s conservative host Sean Hannity and billed by the network as the “Great Red State vs. Blue State Debate” — was a window into an alternative political universe; President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump are not running for a 2024 re-run in the 2020 presidential election.
She faced a Republican sparring partner against Newsom, a Democrat, and questions raised from conservative angles as she tried to play a proxy for Biden’s re-election bid.
But the stakes were too high for DeSantis, whose flagging bid for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination needs to make a splash with the Iowa caucuses less than seven weeks away.
Here are six takeaways from what Hannity and Fox News billed as the “Great Red State vs. Blue State Debate”:
DeSantis opened the debate by saying Newsom is seeking the national spotlight as part of a shadowy 2024 presidential campaign built on the hope that the 81-year-old Biden will not ultimately seek a second term.
“Why not admit it? You run,” DeSantis said.
But Newsom went to bat for Biden, defending the president’s record on the economy, immigration and more in front of Fox’s right-wing audience.
“Fourteen million jobs, 10 times more than the last three Republican presidents,” Newsom said as he began reeling off a list of economic accomplishments after DeSantis called him a defender of “bitenomics.”
DeSantis slammed Biden’s handling of the US-Mexico border. “This is a guy who says the Biden administration didn’t lie to the public about the border,” he said of Newsom. “They’re lying to you.”
Newsom, meanwhile, pointed out that DeSantis sent busloads of immigrants from the Texas border to Martha’s Vineyard. DeSantis did so, he said, “and you can take Trump out.”
“How’s that going for you, Ron? You’re down 41 points in your home state,” Newsom said.
Later, Newsom mocked DeSantis for mispronouncing Vice President Kamala Harris’ name.
“Shame on you,” Newsom repeated, correct pronunciation of the vice president’s name. “This is for you Madam Vice President.”
Newsom launched a series of attacks that may have come from DeSantis’ primary opponents, accusing the Florida governor of switching positions on issues such as immigration and environmental protection.
Those attacks — clearly designed to damage DeSantis in front of an audience of Republican presidential primary voters — were among the most memorable moments of the debate.
Perhaps most significant is the matter of epidemiologic policies. DeSantis called Newsom a “lockdown governor,” pointing out that the California governor’s children attended a private school while public schools were closed and open for private education.
DeSantis “followed the science,” closed bars and restaurants and heeded the advice of former infectious disease official Anthony Fauci, and “promoted vaccines,” Newsom denied.
“You passed the emergency declaration before the state of California did. You’ve closed your beaches, your bars, your restaurants,” Newsom said. “Donald Trump exposed you on this, dead to rights.”
“He did everything until he decided to prey on the fringes of his party. As a result, Ron, tens of thousands of people lost their lives,” he said.
Because Trump has avoided the Republican presidential primary debates, those clashes have given DeSantis and other contenders limited opportunities to move the needle.
Thursday night at least gave the Florida governor a chance to remind himself why Republican audiences will like him so widely ahead of the 2024 campaign — why the pro-DeSantis super PAC was named “Never Back Down.”
He repeatedly used Newsom in Biden’s position and called the California governor “slick.”
“He wants you to believe him with your own lying eyes,” DeSantis said.
For Newsom, who was not a presidential candidate, the job was easy.
“Joe Biden will be our nominee in a few weeks. And in a few weeks, Sean will be endorsing Donald Trump for the Republican nomination,” he said.
Hannity, a longtime conservative Fox host, opened the debate Thursday night by pledging to remain neutral. He also told panelists that he did not want to serve as a “hall monitor”.
That was immediately apparent, as both Newsom and DeSantis ran beyond the 60-second time limit Hannity set for a response.
Still, the questions were largely a continuation of what plays out on Hannity’s show on a regular basis — often designed to put Newsom on the defensive.
The California governor often chose to ignore the questions he was asked — to his own detriment in the audience. At times, Newsom tried to become a moderator himself.
During the conflict over abortion, he posed a question to DeSantis. “Ron DeSantis, in the unlikely event that you become President of the United States, will you sign or not sign a six-week moratorium?”
Among the most important moments of the debate was the conflict over abortion rights.
Newsom highlighted DeSantis signing a measure to ban most abortions in Florida after six weeks of pregnancy.
“Your ban is so extreme, it’s criminalizing women and criminalizing doctors, even Donald Trump has said it’s too extreme,” Newsom said.
Asked by Hannity why he signed the bill into law, DeSantis said he believed in a “culture of life.”
Ultimately, DeSantis never answered Newsom’s repeated questions about whether he would sign the national abortion ban into law — and Hannity never followed up.
Newsom, meanwhile, was asked if she would support any limits on abortion rights. She said she supports abortion rights, saying late-term abortions are “extremely rare” and result from fetal abnormalities or conditions that endanger the mother’s health.
“This is a serious, serious exception,” he said. “It depends on the mother and the doctor and her conscience.”
Whatever the merits of the clash of progressive, blue-state ideas and conservative, red-state policies, what played out Thursday night was different.
For the most part, the more than 90-minute debate involved DeSantis and Newsom accusing each other of lying and misrepresenting the other’s records.
Newsom told DeSantis in the closing minutes of the debate.
“You’re a bully,” DeSantis replied.
Hannity, in the finale, sought quick answers from both debaters and tried to switch what he called a “lightning round.”
“It would be great if you two could cooperate. I’m not a potted plant here,” Hannity said.
Both did not cooperate.
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