The Newsom-DeSantis debate talked about 2024 — but it really sets the stage for 2028

The Newsom-DeSantis debate talked about 2024 — but it really sets the stage for 2028
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  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis debated each other on Thursday.

  • They're not on the same ballot, but got the chance to play out their feud for national TV to see.

  • The debate, moderated by Sean Hannity, allowed both to posture as champions for their political values.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and California Gov. Gavin Newsom sparred on the Fox News debate stage on Thursday evening, in an unconventional clash between two star politicians who aren't directly competing for a role.

DeSantis is still running for the 2024 GOP nomination, but is doing so while questions grow over his odds against former President Donald Trump and as rival hopeful Nikki Haley gains momentum. Newsom isn't running for president, and says he won't.

With neither of its participants' names on the same ballot, the Sean Hannity-moderated segment — "the Great Red vs. Blue State Debate" — featured a chance for both DeSantis and Newsom to reinforce their positions and presence.

And though they debated issues surrounding the 2024 election, it's possible both men were more motivated by the next presidential race, Kambiz Akhavan, the executive director of the USC Center for the Political Future, told Business Insider.

"DeSantis had little to lose. Newsom had little to gain. Both may have been thinking about what many suspect will be their 2028 matchup," Akhavan said.

Newsom had arrived with the goal of shoring up support for President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, praising their policies and denying that they were too old or incompetent to govern.

"I'm here to tell the truth about the Biden-Harris record," Newsom said in the early minutes of the debate. At one point, he took offense to how DeSantis pronounced Harris' name.

In doing so, the California governor hopes to undermine Trump if he faces Biden in the upcoming election, Akhavan said.

"Newsom wants to be a champion in that battle and do what he can to challenge Trump, even if it means debating his proxies Hannity and DeSantis," said Akhavan.

Newsom's push for Biden-Harris thus served a parallel purpose — boosting his profile in the nation's eyes, Akhavan said.

"Even though Newsom denied running a shadow campaign and vigorously supported Biden and Harris throughout the debate, we all know he has obvious presidential ambitions," Akhavan added. "America doesn't yet know Newsom."

As for DeSantis, he was able to further highlight his case for being president, presenting himself as a "warrior for conservative causes," Akhavan said.

The Florida governor crossed swords with Newsom over education, abortion, taxes, and energy, defending his book banning laws and accusing Newsom of squandering California's resources.

At several points, it appeared as though both men weren't crossing swords at all, shouting talking points over each other and responding to their opponent's accusations by accusing them of something else.

"It was more of a spectacle than a debate," Akhavan said. "The governors talked over each other constantly. They called each other names."

It's thus unlikely that any viewers will change their opinions of either DeSantis or Newsom through Thursday's debate, but it's likely both men solidified rapport for themselves among their already existing supporters, Akhavan added.

"They both won in terms of getting their existing supporters even more in their favor," Akhavan said. "They both lost in that Trump is even more likely to be the Republican nominee after this debate."

A chance for feuding leaders to face off

The debate was a culmination of a longstanding feud between two governors that has at times boiled over into an exchange of bitter insults.

Newsom once called DeSantis "a small, pathetic man" while the Florida governor has said Newsom's "hair gel is interfering with his brain function."

DeSantis has also taunted Newsom to "throw his hat in the ring" and run for president in 2024 against President Joe Biden.

Newsom repeatedly shot down suggestions that he may add his name to the ballot in the 11th hour. Instead, the California governor has publicly acted as a surrogate for President Joe Biden, backing up his record — which was also seen during Thursday evening's debate.

The stakes of the event were also much higher for DeSantis.

The Florida governor has consistently trailed in the polls behind his main GOP rival, Donald Trump. According to a FiveThirtyEight average of national Republican presidential polls, Trump leads 60% while DeSantis sits at 12.6%.

In April, a group of wealthy GOP donors appeared to sour on their support for DeSantis, questioning his presidential prospects. Thomas Peterffy, a GOP megadonor, publicly stated that he no longer plans on financially supporting DeSantis due to the governor's stance on abortion and book banning.

Read the original article on Business Insider