Monday, August 28, 2023








        Think for a moment about a few political facts:


Here’s one: California Gov. Gavin Newsom is among President Biden’s most vociferous backers and it may now be too late for Biden to back out of next year’s campaign. Here’s another: Newsom’s second and final term as governor ends almost two years before the next presidential election.


So Newsom realized early on that if he ever wants to be president, he must establish himself as a major national Democratic figure independent of the office he now holds.


That’s the context of his putative upcoming debate with Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who by now also must be aware that he, too, will not be running for president at this time next year and that if he’s ever to be president, he also might need to survive as a major party figure independent of his current office.


        That’s the context of the Newsom-DeSantis debate conceived by the Californian and agreed to by the Floridian, with only a few relatively minor details yet to be worked out.


        Newsom wants the debate in a Fox TV studio with no audience. DeSantis wants a live crowd at the debate, with cheering allowed, even encouraged. Maybe he figures he might be more credible if his folks yell louder than Newsom’s. DeSantis wants short videos at the debate’s start; Newsom wants four-minute opening statements.


        These demands both might be mistakes by DeSantis, who has sometimes been prone to error when under significant pressure.


        But the disputes are mere nitpicking – if DeSantis does not try to use them to somehow back out of the debate he agreed to right after Newsom issued his challenge on July 28.


        Newsom, of course, was glad to make DeSantis a prop in his effort to become a Democratic symbol.


        So what might these men debate in their encounter, likely to occur in Georgia, the lone state on both men’s lists of desired locations?


        Likely to be first is both governors’ handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which Newsom faced by closing down most businesses across his state, while DeSantis left almost everything in Florida open. Newsom required masking in most public places, while DeSantis signed a bill that bans masking requirements.


        DeSantis will brag that Florida suffered few financial ill effects from the viral invader, while Newsom will claim Florida saw about 40,000 more Covid deaths than if it had followed his model. If those are their claims, both will be correct. The question will be how many viewers believe the extra Florida deaths were worth the money saved.


        Then there will be censorship. DeSantis moved strongly against the Walt Disney Co. – his state’s largest employer through Orlando’s Disney World – when the company vocally opposed Florida’s year-old law banning classroom discussion below the fourth grade of gays or alternative lifestyles. There is no such ban in California.


        Florida also bans some books from schools, while Newsom says he’ll crack down on a Southern California school district that's attempting to follow a Florida-like plan.


        Republicans like to say Democrats limit freedom of speech via the so-called “cancel culture,” which they say deprives audiences of viewpoints unlike what is considered politically correct. Democrats retort that Democratic states neither impose bans on teaching certain topics in public schools nor ban books, while Florida and some other Republican-led states are doing both.


        So this may devolve into a dispute along the lines of the culture wars that have deepened what was already a major split among Americans.


        If it does, Newsom will be voicing views that polls show resonate with Democratic voters nationally, while DeSantis will be doing the same for Republicans.


        It all means this debate promises to outdo Newsom’s repeated ad campaigns in Texas and Florida in raising his national party profile. Chances are it might do the same for DeSantis, who has not articulated his views ably in the early stages of this year’s presidential campaign.


        In short, this debate probably won't do much to shape next year’s election, but it may draw some lines for a 2028 election if it makes either or both men symbols of their partys’ futures.



    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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