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Weighing in on DeSantis, Newsom debate

 December 4, 2023 at 4:34 PM PST

S1: Welcome in San Diego , it's Jade Hyndman today. We are talking about the Newsom DeSantis debate , what this means for the Democratic and Republican Party's leadership and what policy stood out. This is Midday Edition , connecting our communities through conversation. Last week , Florida governor and GOP presidential candidate Ron DeSantis debated California's own governor , Gavin Newsom , in a red state versus blue state showdown. UCSD political science professor Thad Kasser joins me to talk about how the debate could shape the road to the white House for Democrats and Republicans seeking office , and also what state policy stood out in the debate.

S2: There were jabbing at each other , talking over each other. But as the debate got going , each outlined very clearly why their states are taking the directions that they are , what their visions for the country would be , and what the values that underlie those are. And differences couldn't be bigger. Yeah.


S2: The personal jibes between them stood out. But I think Gavin Newsom landed some strong critiques of , of governor DeSantis by by really accusing him of being a bully on LGBT issues , talking about him being being out of step with where the nation is on abortion , but most importantly , sort of elevating those two character issues , talking about why California takes the policies that they do and wrapping that in kind of a support and respect for all people , connections to people. Governor DeSantis scored a lot of points by by talking about the direction that California seems to be going and how people are voting with their feet and moving to Florida. Although there's a lot of contestation about whether more people are moving from one state to the other. But but really , his critique of California's homelessness crisis , which has been a big criticism and a big narrative both within our state and across the nation , I think that shows a vulnerability that Gavin Newsom will have to address going forward if he wants to move to the next level of American politics.

S1: Well , speaking of the next level , I mean , early in the debate , Governor Gavin Newsom asked the question that so many people watching were asking.

S2: Ron DeSantis had momentum until Donald Trump regained his political stature. And and so he's falling short in 2024. There's only a few weeks left before the Iowa caucuses somehow to regain that. So really , what he wants to do is strengthen his position as the heir apparent in the Republican Party , the person that the party will turn to after Donald Trump. I think that's why he wanted this podium and took on all these risks. Gavin Newsom made it clear over and over again he's not running either against Joe Biden or Kamala Harris. And he backed that up with defending each of them in their records for 2024. But he probably has his eye on 2028 or another election in America. And I think that is why he wanted to to go into this hostile territory , Fox News , and to defend the California model.

S1: And this debate was really more of a risk for DeSantis than it was for Newsom , because DeSantis is still in the running for president at the moment.

S2: And so it was absolutely worth the risk because his upside was a lot bigger. He needs to reinvigorate his candidacy. Just you know , a few months before you know we're looking at Super Tuesday in the South coming up. He has a 40 point deficit to Donald Trump in his home state. He really needs to get his momentum going again. This was clearly worth the risk for him. And it's got us talking about him for for a few news cycles.

S1: Commentators are saying , though , that DeSantis really had the aid of Sean Hannity.

S2: On Fox News , we heard a set of statistics that that were clearly chosen in a way to reflect badly on California. California came out the last place and all those measures , and many of them were cherry picked data points , which Gavin Newsom fought back against. So that was no surprise that Newsom knew he was going in to to enemy territory. I don't think Sean Hannity was in the moment , biased against either candidate. He wasn't doing any fact checking. He wasn't shutting down one candidate , but not the other. And so I think in the way that he moderated , it was fairly evenhanded. But yeah , this was putting California on the defensive with the questions asked and the data hand-picked to do so.

S1: Well , as you mentioned , this debate was also it was an. Opportunity for Newsom to improve his overall political standing.

S2: He's gone on the offensive , both with his campaign going , reaching out to red states and defending California's values with his becoming the really the leading proxy for the Biden campaign over the summer. And now with really capturing the the attention , the eyeballs , the headlines , everything in the run up to this show that it was worth the risk. And he did nothing to harm himself in this debate. And I think he he showed that that he will be a force within the Democratic Party , especially with younger voters and progressive voters who right now aren't too thrilled about Joe Biden.

S1: Does that steam actually put any momentum behind Biden ? I mean , you mentioned the Biden campaign. Newsom has really been acting as a surrogate at some events.

S2: You even heard Ron DeSantis saying , hey , wait , is Joe Biden paying you ? Because that mantra of jobs , jobs , jobs , what Biden economics has brought to to the US. You heard Gavin Newsom say , you know , more jobs created than the last three Republican presidents combined. You heard him calling out specific bits of legislation that have made us more competitive internationally. All of that is Gavin Newsom doing his his job as as a faithful Joe Biden surrogate and also associating himself and the star power and the constituency that he has and progressive politics right now with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris , all of that helps.

S1: I've heard some commentators say that this was really a look ahead at the issues that will be debated in the presidential race.

S2: We saw crime coming out , but I think it was neutralized in some ways because Ron DeSantis wanted to tell a strong story about , you know , how well things he thinks are going in Florida. So I think that shows that there's a waning issue on that. I think we saw more conversation about book banning and some of the social issues than we're going to see going forward. Those have been a hallmark of Ron DeSantis appeal to Republican voters. He attacks on critical race theory , the don't say gay bill , the book bans. I don't think Donald Trump has really embraced those. They're not part of his persona. And I think they may fall by the wayside a bit more as we move into the general election.

S1: Let's talk more about immigration. You know , DeSantis really criticized Newsom on being soft on border security.

S2: One was that Ron DeSantis was a moderate embracing some of the past towards citizenship early in his career. That was a charge that Gavin Newsom made that Ron DeSantis reacted against. You're not going to be able to make that charge on against Donald Trump. Nobody is going to accuse him of being soft on immigration. Now , on the question of hardening the border , think Gavin Newsom , just like Joe Biden , just like Barack Obama before him has , has said we need secure borders. We need to bolster border security. And again and again , he talked about the $16 billion , the 2300 additional border agents that that Joe Biden has proposed. And so I think that was an important counterpunch.


S2: But if you look at exit polls in year after year after year , but especially in the last election , when people are asked what's the biggest issue ? Immigration is right at the bottom of the list. Only 10% of voters in the last midterm said immigration is the issue most important to them. That's not the impression you get when you watch Fox News , right ? It's that that's that we're in this border crisis and everything is falling apart , and that immigration is responsible for all of the social ills in America , including the financial crisis. That's that's a part of the Republican narrative. It I'm not sure how widely it resonates. And there's a lot of evidence that voters aren't casting their vote based on immigration policy.

S1: You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. I'm Jade Hindman , speaking with UC San Diego political science professor Thad Coser. Thad , let's talk more about the culture war questions that came up during the event , from book bans to abortion.

S2: That's a lot of what this debate was about , right ? Can each of these candidates , who wants to be the presidential nominee , rally those those strongly right wing and strongly progressive communities ? Right. And Ron DeSantis came out with a full throated defense of what he's done in Florida. You know , brought up one of the books that he that he banned , the prop that he's had on the campaign trail. I think that was effective in speaking to people who care about parental rights and who are worried about the direction that that schools and overall society have taken. Gavin Newsom was unapologetic in his defense of the LGBT community , trans kids that plays well in places like California and with the millions and millions of Floridians who don't like where they see their government going. So I think both sides defended their positions effectively.

S1: When Desantis's six week abortion ban came up , he dodged the question and responded with this.

S3: This is a map of San Francisco. There's a lot of plots on that. You may be asking , what is that plotting ? Well , this is an app where they plot the human feces that are found on the streets of San Francisco.

S1: He drew attention to the poop map. He was really trying to draw attention to California's homelessness crisis.

S2: I mean , it was sort of nice. Political jujitsu , right ? Move from an area like abortion politics , where the nation is closely divided , but but leaning against you to an area , you know , there's not a large poop on the streets constituency. And so , you know , most people would be opposed to that , you know , as a , as a political distraction. It may have worked. I think what it does is tries to crystallize the the national and in many parts of California , discontent with what's going on in some of , of the cities. And I think Gavin Newsom needs a better response to what his administration has done to address the crisis of homelessness , what California is doing to address retail crime. He needs to have more actions rather than just saying , you can't attack a great American city because people have been to San Francisco. People have concerns about the direction in which it's headed. Um.

S4: Um.


S2: This is what we've seen again and again in in elections and especially special elections since the Dobbs decision. It may be a reason why the Republican Party didn't retake the House by the nearly the margin that they expected in 2022. And we've seen election after election where where voters in purple and even red leaning states really don't like the direction of sort of draconian restrictions on abortion rights that their party has taken. This could be the wedge issue that keeps the Democrats alive in the presidential contest , and potentially delivers the House back to the Democrats in 2024.


S2: But I think it made the battle lines clear , and it made Gavin Newsom's positioning not as a shadow candidate , but as a full throated backer of the Biden-Harris campaign. It made that absolutely crystal clear.

S1: And is there anything that stood out to you about the debate that we didn't discuss ? We covered a lot of ground here.

S2: You know , my initial read on the debate was there's just a whole lot of yelling. These are two candidates who clearly disliked each other. They were talking over each other , three people talking through much of the early part of the debate. And that's what we've seen in a lot of these presidential debates. They don't look all that presidential , not not all that stately. And and I think this was the kind of yelling that we've seen in society , but it's not really something that makes voters want to tune in.

S1: I've been speaking to UC San Diego political science professor Thad Kosar. Thad , thank you so much.

S2: All right. Thanks very much. Did.

In this combination of photos, Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks on Sept. 16, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa, at left, and California Gov. Gavin Newsom, speaks on Sept. 12, 2023, in Sacramento, Calif.
In this combination of photos, Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks on Sept. 16, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa, at left, and California Gov. Gavin Newsom, speaks on Sept. 12, 2023, in Sacramento, Calif.

Last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and California Gov. Gavin Newsom debated in what was billed as a a red vs. blue state showdown.

UC San Diego political science professor Thad Kousser joined Midday Edition on Monday to discuss the debate's potential impact on the presidential election.


Thad Kousser, professor of political science at UC San Diego