Ron DeSantis and Gavin Newsom are set for a one-of-a-kind showdown: What to expect as the rivals debate

Flagging runner-up will face off against the ‘shadow’ candidate who says he isn’t running

John Bowden
Washington DC
Thursday 30 November 2023 18:39 GMT
Ron DeSantis says Trump and Biden are too old to be president

The increasingly strange spectacle of the 2024 Republican primary will continue to develop on Thursday as a one-of-a-kind debate plays out on Fox News.

Typically, Republicans and Democrats don’t debate each other in person until a nominee from each respective party is chosen. Typically, a sitting governor who insists he isn’t running for president is not among the participants. But we’re throwing out the rulebook this year, and as such Florida Governor Ron DeSantis — currently polling at No 2 in the Republican primary field — will face off against Gavin Newsom, governor of California and definitely-not-candidate for the presidency.

Mr DeSantis and Mr Newsom will meet for a one-on-one debate moderated by Sean Hannity, a staunch conservative who has said that he has no plans to hide his views during the face-off. A top defender and known confidante of former President Donald Trump, Mr Hannity’s primetime opinion show has also been a refuge and reliably safe interview spot for the Florida governor as he faces sharper criticism from other conservatives.

Not present (or likely thrilled about this): Joe Biden and Donald Trump, the two presumptive nominees according to all available polling. Mr Biden’s camp has made it known what they think of this matchup and issued a handful of nameless statements calling Mr Newsom’s appearance disrespectful. The governor has, in turn, repeatedly insisted that he is not running for president, and added that he believes talk about Mr Biden stepping aside to be a distraction. The president, apparently accepting this, mended fences during his visit to California earlier this month.

Mr Trump’s team has no reason to be happy about this either. The former president is likely to be treated as a punching bag during the event, and for that to play out on Hannity potentially carries more weight. Though it likely won’t change the equation much; Mr DeSantis has not shown any great talent for effective and cutting criticism of the frontrunner in the three televised debates up until now, and has seen his poll numbers sag steadily since a botched campaign launch on Twitter Spaces.

The Florida governor finds himself in a very tough spot. He is likely to face not only jabs from his opponent but potentially sharp questions from Mr Hannity regarding his campaign’s performance. At present, Mr DeSantis’s campaign is much closer to being overtaken by a rising Nikki Haley than it is to catching up to Mr Trump, who leads his opponents by double digits in every survey. He needs a strong performance, without the competition from other camera-ready Republicans like Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy, to send a jolt of energy into his campaign and remind voters of what he can bring to the table.

Much of the attention will be on the performance of the Democrat, Mr Newsom. Despite his insistences, his recent actions including a meeting with Xi Jinping and a visit to Israel suggest clear national ambitions; his portfolio increasingly looks prepped and ready for a 2028 bid. Expect him to show up prepared to counter not only culture war provocations but pointed questions about California’s homelessness epidemic and cost of living crisis. And expect him to have his own jabs to land against Mr DeSantis, possibly on the issue of the governor’s increasingly costly war with Disney.

Both participants in Thursday’s debate have real stakes on the line, though for clearly different reasons. In the end, the real winner may be neither governor, but instead a broader victory for those in both parties — and independents — who argue that voters by and large want the parties to move on from both Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in