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The Ron DeSantis show is back on the air

'For my next trick...' (Credit: Fox News)

December 1, 2023 - 10:00am

In last night’s Fox News debate with Gavin Newsom, Ron DeSantis tried to burnish his supposedly unique brand: a culture warrior who can actually deliver. Though billed as a clash between “red state” and “blue state”, this debate was equally an opportunity for the Florida governor to try to recapture some of the promise that once made him a favourite for the GOP nomination.

In the Republican debates so far, DeSantis has often seemed aloof, and avoided mixing it up with his primary rivals on stage. He threw that away in his bout with Newsom. Instead he jabbed and lunged, at one point recalling how Newsom’s own father-in-law had told him that “Florida is much better governed, safer, better budget, lower taxes,” and so forth. He responded to Newsom’s criticisms with his own counterattacks. The crosstalk could at times come quite heavy, but it sent a clear message: this DeSantis is a fighter.

Topics that played a significant role in DeSantis’s ascent returned, especially coronavirus and education. DeSantis trumpeted his own efforts to reopen schools during the pandemic and hammered the populist point that school closures hit “working-class kids” particularly hard. He and Newsom brawled over parental rights and educational policy. In a clearly premeditated stunt, DeSantis unfolded a sexually explicit page from the graphic memoir Gender Queer (with some parts strategically blacked out) that he said can be found in some California public schools. “This is pornography,” he said, “It’s cartoons. It’s aimed at children. And it’s wrong.”

DeSantis came prepared with another handout, too. Amidst a discussion of crime policy, he pulled out a map covered in a collage of earth tones and said, “This is an app where they plot the human faeces that are found on the streets of San Francisco.”

This showmanship has worked before. DeSantis’s face-offs with Charlie Crist in 2022 often featured cultural controversies and coronavirus disputes — and he went on to win re-election by a landslide. And the original DeSantis strategy had framed him against the extremes of social progressivism, simultaneously mobilising the conservative grassroots and appealing to a number of middle-of-the-road voters (who are also wary of the cultural-Left vanguard). DeSantis’s re-election victory was about much more than those battles, but it did demonstrate how a Republican could win big by not shying away from cultural issues.

Clips from the debate are already circulating on social media. DeSantis’s team will hope that they could reach viral status and help break through the noise. In a primary campaign that has been defined by Donald Trump, the only hope DeSantis (or any other challenger) has for displacing the former president is to create the sense of being a distinctive alternative.

Slashing Newsom on Covid, crime, and culture is a good way of reminding the conservative base why DeSantis became their grassroots hero in the first place. And, based on last night’s showing, DeSantis has good reason to hope he is still enough of a spectacle to convince some Republican voters to turn over from the Trump Show to another channel.


Fred Bauer is a writer from New England.

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Caty Gonzales
Caty Gonzales
7 months ago

By far and away the most competent executive in the US (and probably the west right now). If want to genuinely turn things around and reverse some of the changes we have seen in the last several years, rather than opting for managed decline and a slowing of the rate of growth of the blob, this is your man.
Republican primary voters, get to the polls and do the right thing.
#DESANTIS24

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
7 months ago

Newsom struts & purrs, whilst DeSantis actually gets things done.

Daniel Lee
Daniel Lee
7 months ago
Reply to  Cathy Carron

I would only disagree to the extend that it’s also true that Newsom gets things done. Bad things. Very bad things.

Daniel Lee
Daniel Lee
7 months ago

I will vote for DeSantis in the primary, but for either him or Trump in the general, depending on who gets the nom. ANYONE who will stand up and fight is absolutely necessary. If it’s Eisenhower, fine, but if it takes Patton cursing and peeing in the Rhine and slapping people, whatever. We face an existential threat and this is close to our last chance to crush it.

Shrunken Genepool
Shrunken Genepool
7 months ago

We live in hope

Paul MacDonnell
Paul MacDonnell
7 months ago

It is a complete mystery to me why American conservatives do not appreciate that DeSantis would wipe the floor with Biden AND he is more Conservative than Trump AND he has a record of solid delivery.

Trump was pro lockdown. This, alone, disqualifies him. The character who Napoleon reminds me of most in the recent movie is Trump. A spectacular success. But eventually the mounting costs are too great.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
7 months ago

DeSantis 2028. The fun starts next November.

Carlos Danger
Carlos Danger
7 months ago

Gavin Newsom and Kamala Harris have been the Ken and Barbie of politics for almost 30 years. Both are telegenic and adept at getting picked by the party machine. Neither has a single signal accomplishment to their name.
Ron DeSantis made some mistakes during the pandemic but at least he got the big things right. Gavin Newsom got too many big things wrong. I live in San Mateo County just south of San Francisco. Even our public health officer criticized Gavin Newsom for his anti-science, nonsensical actions.
That Ken and Barbie are so close to the presidency scares me. I think we’d do better with a literal doll in the office rather than either of those two. A doll may not do any good as a president, but it wouldn’t do any bad either.