Dem 51
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GOP 49
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The Newsom-DeSantis Debate Is on Hold

In Sept. 2022, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) challenged Ron DeSantis to a debate. DeSantis later accepted. It is an odd pairing since they are not running against one another in 2024, although they could in 2028. The deal seemed on for a while, but it is now stalling, even though both politicians love attention and each one wants to hold the other up as an example of everything that is wrong with the country.

A debate would be asymmetric warfare. Newsom isn't up for reelection and will be term-limited in Jan. 2027. He can go for the jugular and not worry about what the voters in Iowa think since by Jan. 2028 they will have long forgotten the debate. By aggressively attacking DeSantis, Trump, and the Republican Party, while defending Joe Biden, Newsom can gain brownie points with the Democratic base without much risk of a downside.

DeSantis' campaign is floundering. If Newsom wipes the stage with him, he'll be finished. He can yell "woke, woke, woke" all he wants, but Newsom is quick on his feet and more than capable of defending himself. If DeSantis is able to back Newsom into a corner and be declared the winner, it will help his campaign, but he has to worry about what the evangelicals in Iowa, the crusty Yankees in New Hampshire, and independents all over the country will think. Favorably impressing all those groups at the same time is paramount for him. Newsom doesn't have to worry about any of that. He can just throw punch after punch and wait for DeSantis to react.

But for the moment, the debate is on hold. The issue is the audience. Newsom is fine with Fox News broadcasting the debate and even fine with Sean Hannity as moderator. He is not fine with a live studio audience packed with Republicans who will cheer every word DeSantis utters and jeer every word he utters, like an episode of The Hot Seat with Wally George. DeSantis wants the audience and Newsom wants just the three of them and a couple of stage hands present. Newsom's position is: "This is about having a debate, not a TV spectacle."

Newsom's fears are not unfounded. At a recent town hall featuring Donald Trump and moderated by CNN's Kaitlan Collins, the audience kept heckling Collins and applauding when Trump spoke. Reports afterwards emphasized how boisterous Trump supporters dominated the broadcast. Newsom wants no part of that. Will Hannity and Fox agree to have no audience rather than cancel the whole thing? The ratings would be phenomenal and they know it. Often, business decisions drive the show.

Newsom clearly is raring to go. On July 28, he sent Hannity a three-page proposal, suggesting locations in one of the three swing states—Nevada, Georgia, or North Carolina—on Nov. 8 or Nov. 10. Those dates would come well after the first two official Republican debates on Aug. 23 and Sept. 27, respectively. It would also give Newsom the chance to decide the fate of hundreds of bills in October. The proposal also banned any pre-written notes. DeSantis came up with a counterproposal that included replacing the candidates' opening remarks with slickly produced videos. Newsom believes that he is a far better speaker than DeSantis and wants to force DeSantis to make his own case, not rely on some video producer to do it for him. Newsom described the counterproposal as saying DeSantis wanted cheat notes, a hype video, and a cheering section. Will they come to terms? We don't know yet, but each of them has something to gain for it happening and Fox could make a lot of money from it, so it certainly wants the debate to happen. (V)

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