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Red and blue duke it out in Georgia

DeSantis and Newsom defend drastically different leadership styles

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (left) and California Gov. Gavin Newsom Associated Press

Red and blue duke it out in Georgia

Dueling Govs. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Gavin Newsom of California faced off in a debate Thursday night hosted by Fox News. On paper, only one of the two is running for president in 2024. DeSantis is a distant second to former President Donald Trump in polling for the GOP presidential nomination.

Newsom is a party favorite among Democrats but has insisted that he has no White House aspirations for next year. Instead, he has supported President Joe Biden’s reelection bid and has said that if the president is for some reason unable to continue in office, he would endorse Vice President Kamala Harris. But that hasn’t stopped him from assuming a presidential persona.

The governors focused on lauding their party and state accomplishments and attacking the other side as failing the country. And those jabs characterized the night more than any specific policy ideas.

“Are there political calculations to everything? Probably, sure,” Hannity told Politico before the debate. “But I think they have a sincere belief system that fundamentally predicates all the policies that flow forward when they lay out their agendas. You can’t have two more dramatically different views of governance.”


Newsom first challenged DeSantis to a debate after the Florida governor chartered flights to deliver illegal immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., in September 2022. DeSantis wanted to bus or fly migrants to sanctuary cities like Chicago, New York City, and Washington to draw attention to surges at the southern border. But Newsom and Democrats said DeSantis was toying with vulnerable people.

“Hey [DeSantis], clearly you’re struggling, distracted, and busy playing politics with people’s lives,” Newsom wrote in a tweet. “Since you have only one overriding need—attention—let’s take this up & debate. I’ll bring my hair gel. You bring your hairspray.”

In the past year, most Democrats in Washington have agreed that there is a crisis at the border but disagreed on how to address it. On the debate stage, Newsom touted his status as governor of a border state. He poked at DeSantis and the broader Republican Party for not yet passing Biden’s $14 billion proposal in the latest emergency supplemental package to fund immigration reforms.

“I support border security. I think the asylum system is broken,” Newsom said. “You’re trolling folks to find migrants to try to play political games with so you can out-Trump Trump… And here’s what I haven’t heard: not a peep from Ron DeSantis. Why don’t you lead your party and support that $14 billion bill? It takes Congress to work with the administration.”

DeSantis argued that California does not have the high ground immigration policy. A major tenet of his campaign has been a promise to remove “the elites” from Washington. He said border policies of liberal states exacerbate the humanitarian problem.

“California is a sanctuary state. They thumb their nose at federal immigration law and this has real consequences,” DeSantis responded. “Those policies are deadly; they do not work. These liberal elites like to burden you; they don’t want to have to face the consequences of their actions.”


Earlier this month, Newsom released an ad in Florida and Washington that hammered DeSantis on Florida’s abortion laws. In April, DeSantis signed a heartbeat bill that protects unborn lives past six weeks of gestation. At the debate, DeSantis defended his record.
“I believe in a culture of life,” he said from the stage. “I think we’re better off when everybody counts. The position we have from the modern left, including in California, is that they will take your tax dollars and they will fund abortion right up to the moment of birth. That is really extreme.”

In September, Newsom signed a nine-bill package that largely blanketed the state’s abortion providers with protection from litigation from other states and exclusion from insurance programs. California allows abortion “until viability.” In his ad, Newsom characterized DeSantis as trying to jail abortionists and women who had abortions. “That’s not freedom,” Newsom narrated. “That’s Ron DeSantis’ Florida.”
“As it relates to the issue of late-term abortions, it’s almost always because of a fetal anomaly, or the life of the mother,” Newsom rebutted. “And in those rare cases, I trust the mother and her doctor to make that decision. It should be up to the mother, her doctor, and her conscience.”


Tonight’s debate came on the heels of Newsom’s recent visit to China and personal audience with President Xi Jinping. Newsom went to discuss climate change policies and a U.S. partnership with China to reduce emissions. The visit also served to boost his profile on the global stage. He was the first U.S. governor to visit the country in four years. As a result of the visit, Newsom has directed California agencies to draft memorandums of understanding with Chinese counterparts in four major cities, including Shanghai and Beijing.

“Divorce is not an option,” Newsom said of U.S.-Chinese relations after his visit. “I do not want to see this relationship deteriorate—it serves no one. We are better when we are cooperating and competing, not cold-shouldering one another.”

DeSantis does not appear to be planning any handshakes with Xi any time soon. On Nov. 13, he created the SecureFlorida Portal, which requires foreign nationals in the state to report property holdings. In May, DeSantis signed three bills aiming at stopping China’s influence on American economy, education, and real estate. One of these bills prevents “Chinese entities and affiliates” from purchasing farmland or land near military bases in the state.

“You need to have hard power in the Indo-Pacific to deter China’s ambitions,” DeSantis said. “You need to take the economy and we need to de-couple from China—we’re dependent on them for so many things and finally we need to get serious about their influence in this country.”

Newsom drew on his recent visit to argue he had a greater understanding of politics in the region.

“You’re a walking hypocrite on the issue of China,” Newsom told DeSantis.” I confronted Xi on the issue of fentanyl, Ron. I confronted them on human rights—I absolutely did with the foreign minister and the vice president and other leaders in China.”

Who won?

In the broad scheme of presidential election politics, analysts agree the debate did not do much to change the minds of already politically motivated voters.

“This debate is all but a blip in the season of presidential debates overall,” said David McCuan, a political science professor at Sonoma State University in California. “Gov. DeSantis had a much lower bar to meet to raise up the fortunes of his slagging campaign. So on balance, he did better than expected and Newsom often came across as mean-spirited and insult-driven. He gave an awesome defense of California without laying out a vision for the future.”

John Stemberger is president of the Florida Family Policy Council. He hosted DeSantis as a keynote speaker this spring for the council’s annual gala.

“Newsom is the most winsome and persuasive in the Democratic Party,” Stemberger told WORLD after the debate. “But DeSantis clearly won the debate by every standard. It was such a clear contrast not just of worldviews but also ability to articulate facts and objective reality.”

But Stemberger also acknowledged Trump’s front-runner status. He said that while tonight’s debate might not shift the electoral map, it gave DeSantis more trajectory as an announced candidate.

“Tonight appealed to a very high percentage of people who don’t want Biden or Trump,” Stemberger said. “This was a compelling look at the alternatives. It helps DeSantis tremendously, and if he gets into the general, he will win.”

WORLD’s Leo Briceno contributed to this report.

WORLD has updated this report from its initial posting to clarify John Stemberger’s comments about Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Carolina Lumetta

Carolina is a WORLD reporter and a graduate of the World Journalism Institute and Wheaton College. She resides in Washington, D.C.



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