Focusing on health care, education, crime, homelessness, poverty and the myriad other issues that governors face these days would be a refreshing departure from the buzzwords and personal invective that mark most political discourse these days – including the long-distance exchanges between Newsom, a Democrat, and DeSantis, a Republican.
Both See Event as an Opportunity
Alas, there is a small likelihood that Thursday’s 90-minute event will be such an adult conversation because both politicians obviously see it as an opportunity to advance their political careers beyond the offices they now hold.
DeSantis is trying, so far without much success, to establish himself as the Republicans’ fallback presidential candidate should former President Donald Trump’s many legal problems derail his bid for a second presidency. Given Hannity’s deeply red audience, the debate is an opportunity for DeSantis to regain momentum as a viable alternative to Trump.
Meanwhile, Newsom, having survived a recall election and won a second and final term as governor, is trying to establish himself as a national political figure, perhaps to replace Joe Biden if the president’s standings in polls force him out of next year’s presidential election, or run in 2028 – his constant denials of such ambitions notwithstanding.
At the very least, Newsom wants to be seen as a visible and effective surrogate for Biden, thereby earning brownie points that would propel him to a cabinet post or some other high-profile position after his governorship ends in 2027. It’s improbable that having devoted half of his 56 years to climbing the political ladder one rung at a time, Newsom would simply return to being a purveyor of wine and food.
Therefore, this will not be a debate between two governors so much as a clash between two politicians with future ambitions of some kind. What they have done – or not done – as governors is merely grist for each to score points on the other and thus polish their credentials as political warriors.
DeSantis will portray California as a dystopian cesspool of crime, drugs and squalid homeless encampments, pointing out that hundreds of thousands of Californians have fled the state in recent years. Don’t be surprised if he cites a new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California that 61% of Californians believe that the state no longer nurtures the American dream.
Newsom, meanwhile, will portray DeSantis as a dictatorial figure who bans books, censors speech, allowed COVID-19 to run rampant, suppresses LGBTQ Floridians and wants to eliminate women’s rights to seek abortions. Newsom has been hammering on those themes for months, even running ads in Florida.
Their subliminal messages will be that to allow the other to become president would be allowing the supposed horrors of their governorships to bring ruin to the entire nation.
Maybe this is being unduly cynical. Maybe they will have the mature conversation that Hannity promises. Maybe pigs can fly.