DeSantis And Newsom Debate: A Showdown Between Alternative Visions Of America

Almost a year before Americans head to the polls for the 2024 presidential election, two prominent political fighters – a Democrat and a Republican – will square off on the debate stage.

It may not be next year’s title card – that’s Donald Trump and Joe Biden who are seemingly heading toward a 2020 rematch.

But these contestants, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and California Governor Gavin Newsom, make this week’s showdown an interesting contrast – and perhaps a preview of political battles to come.

The made-for-television event is the result of months of verbal sparring – and a cable news network and a conservative talking head, Sean Hannity, eager to offer a platform for the duel.

As the two men prepare to enter the ring, let’s look at the tale of the tape.

The governors

In one corner, lacing up his thick-heeled boots, is Ron DeSantis.

Once thought to be a top contender for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, he has fallen on hard times, sagging in the polls and cutting his campaign spending as donor contributions taper off. This debate offers him the opportunity to set himself apart from his Republican rivals, including former President Donald Trump, by demonstrating he has the composure and strength to go toe-to-toe with the Democrats.

Across the ring, slicking back his well-coiffed hair and getting his game face on, is Gavin Newsom.

He won his first governor’s race in 2018, the same year as Mr DeSantis, and his political career has followed a similar upward trajectory. Mr Newsom may not be running for president this year, due to there being a Democratic president running for re-election, but he clearly harbours White House ambitions.

One way or another, the 2028 Democratic nomination fight is going to be an open contest, and Mr Newsom could use this debate – along with other spotlight-grabbing opportunities – to burnish his credentials as a party standard-bearer.

The states

This isn’t the first TV sparring match between two political heavyweights. In 2017, Senators Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz – runners-up for their respective party’s presidential nominations the previous year – twice met in front of the cameras in what felt like an alternate presidential contest.

When Mr Newsom and Mr DeSantis tap gloves on Thursday night, however, the two men not only represent their party’s ideological differences, they also stand as the leaders of two states that have most clearly put those political philosophies into effect.

Graphic showing each governor and size of their state

Both California and Florida are at the top of the rankings in population (first and third) and economic muscle (first and fourth).

They’re also single-party fiefdoms. Democrats control California, including all statewide offices, and Florida is similarly under Republican domination.

During the Trump presidency, California was held up as the liberal counterpoint – a land that offered an alternative to the right-wing populism on the ascent in Washington.

That script flipped when Mr Biden took over and “the free state of Florida”, as Mr DeSantis put it, became the conservative alternative to the Democrats’ liberal national government.

The policies

Although both Mr DeSantis and Mr Newsom have national political aspirations, they both also have records to tout – and defend – in their home states.

Mr Newsom will be able to point to California’s broad range of liberal social policies – including a robust social safety net that includes healthcare and aid to the poor, gun-control, openness to immigrants, and gay and transgender protections.

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