DeSantis is fighting to gain ground against former President Donald Trump in the race to be the Republican nominee for president in 2024. Newsom, a Democrat, has made several moves that hint at a presidential run but maintains his support for President Joe Biden as his party’s nominee.
“There are profound difference[s], but there’s one thing that we have in common: neither of us will be the nominee for our party in 2024,” Newsom claimed during the debate.
Many, however, have speculated that the Democratic National Committee could pull a last-minute bait-and-switch during or after its convention next August.
As for DeSantis—whose stock has plunged considerably due to a lackluster, low-energy campaign—his best hope is to be the default choice if Trump becomes ineligible. However, many of the early NeverTrump backers he was counting on have recently flocked to pro-Establishment neocon Nikki Haley instead.
DeSantis opened by saying, “You have to try to mess California up, and yet that is what Gavin Newsom has done since he’s been governor. He’s the first governor to ever lose population. They actually, at one point, ran out of U-Hauls.”
Referring to the COVID-19 pandemic, DeSantis said Newsom “imposed restrictions on his own people while exempting himself from those restrictions. He led the country in school closures, locking kids out of school while he had his own kids in private school [receiving in-person instruction].”
Newsom said he was at the debate to “tell the truth about the Biden–Harris record and compare and contrast Ron DeSantis’s records and the Republican Party’s record as a point of contrast that’s as different as daylight and darkness.”
He said DeSantis wants to “reverse” American policies to a pre-1960s era “on voting rights, on civil rights, on LGBTQ rights, on women’s rights—it’s not just access to abortion but also access to contraception.”
He went on to bash DeSantis for what has been one of the governor’s signature issues, his hardline stance in the culture-war struggle against corporations like Disney, which has theme parks in both states and scuttled its plans for a major relocation from California to Florida after clashes with DeSantis over the state’s anti-grooming law for public education.
“You are focusing on false separateness,” Newsom said in his attack on DeSantis.
“You are on a banning binge a cultural purge intimidating and humiliating people you disagree with,” he continued. “You and President Trump are trying to light democracy on fire.”
On the issue of pandemic-era lockdowns, Newsom said DeSantis passed an emergency declaration before California did and closed down Florida beaches and restaurants, which DeSantis refuted.
“You had quarantines, you had checkpoints, all over the state of Florida,” Newsom said. “By the way, I didn’t say that. Donald Trump laid you out on this.”
“That’s not true,” DeSantis countered.
“Why did everyone leave California to come to Florida,” the Republican asked, adding that Newsom’s in-laws even went to his state. “They were coming to Florida because we were open. We were open, you were closed.”
On the issue of the border, DeSantis called it, “déjà vu all over again with that flurry of lies,” referring to Newsom when he stated the administration wasn’t lying to the public about the border.
“Gavin Newsom is lying to you about what it’s going to take to solve this problem,” DeSantis said. “California is a sanctuary state. They thumb their nose at federal immigration law. This has real consequences.”
DeSantis cited an example of an illegal foreign national who was released by Los Angeles authorities who wouldn’t cooperate with ICE. The man in question went on to murder the mother of a 3-year-old.
“California policies do not work,” DeSantis said. “Liberal elites [like Newsom] like to impose burdens on you … who want open borders who lecture everybody else about it. Then the minute they have to deal with any of the consequences, oh man, all hell breaks loose, and they get upset.”
Newsom referenced DeSantis’s program that bused asylum seekers from Texas to different locales, including Martha’s Vineyard and Sacramento, California.
“I’m the only guy here that’s a border state governor,” Newsom said. “You’re trolling folks and trying to find migrants to play political games to get news and attention so you can out-Trump Trump. By the way, how’s that going for you? You’re down 41 points in your own home state.”
DeSantis said the odds that Biden’s border policies have enabled terrorists to enter the U.S. are a certainty.
“Of course, our enemies will take advantage of this,” he said. “Joe Biden is sitting on his hands. He refuses to take care of the border. He refuses to hold the drug cartels accountable. This is the vision of Biden, Harris, Newsom: open borders. There will be a terrorist attack at some point that we’ll be able to trace back to our southern border.”
Newsom countered that “Joe Biden put a $14 billion immigration package in front of Congress,” that lawmakers refused to act on, adding that DeSantis wanted to “demagogue this issue.”
Newsom also said Joe Biden would be the Democratic nominee and “in a matter of weeks, [DeSantis] will be endorsing Donald Trump as the nominee for the Republican Party.”
The governors also sparred over topics including migration from blue to red states, taxation policies, education outcomes, crime rates, and abortion while talking over each other.
Hannity pointed out several times that Newsom refused to answer questions about his record, specifically on the issue of why people were leaving California, higher taxes, worse education outcomes, among others.
Headline USA’s Ben Sellers contributed to this report.