After DeSantis vs. Newsom, will debates get even more pointless?
Florida and California set a precedent for anyone to blow raspberries on a national stage.
Reporters watch from an off-site hotel as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and California Gov. Gavin Newsom engage in a snippy slap fight on the Fox News cable channel Thursday night.
Reporters watch from an off-site hotel as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and California Gov. Gavin Newsom engage in a snippy slap fight on the Fox News cable channel Thursday night. [ ROBIN RAYNE | ]
Published Dec. 1, 2023|Updated Dec. 1, 2023

While innocent Americans were minding their own business Thursday night, Danny Zuko raced Leo “Craterface” Balmudo, the leader of rival greaser gang The Scorpions, for pink slips at Thunder Road. No, that’s not …

Oh, right, I blocked it out. Actually, some of us masochists hunkered down to witness “The Great Red vs. Blue State Debate” on Fox News, and there was no prize, not for anyone. That’s because the two debaters aren’t running against each other for … anything. They just don’t like each other and wanted us all to know. And Americans are so numb to this bellwether ritual of political decline that we watched anyway, waiting for a proverbial fly to land in someone’s hair so we could plop little jokes onto the internet before Elon finally blows up his dysfunctional website like the Joker.


To review: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a cat clawing the curtains for a distant second place in the Republican presidential primary, engaged in a snippy slap fight with California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who is not running for president, but probably wants to? Maybe later? Both men appear to be waiting for other, older men to become infirm or incarcerated so that they may slip into the highest office undetected.

This cynical televised matchup set a dangerous precedent, one that encourages anyone with a bone to pick to vie for COMMANDER-IN-BEEF using a cool 113 minutes of live cable news time, as well as the global supply of self-tanner, for their own devices.

Even the stars of the show knew this contest made no sense. Newsom kicked off the festivities by saying, “The folks watching are probably wondering, what are we actually doing here?” Yes, governor, thank you. DeSantis commenced with nearly two hours of his trademark smile, that of a man who has been told, “Now do a silly one,” after already taking six photos he didn’t want to take.

Debate moderator Sean Hannity called things “rather dull” before throwing to commercial. Later, when the governors kept talking over each other — either before or after DeSantis pulled out a literal map of places he said human feces had been found in San Francisco, a Poop Map — a neglected Hannity said, “I’m not a potted plant here.” As a cherry on the sundae, they argued about which governor has bullied Special Olympians more. Viewers went to bed courting a sleep paralysis demon of Hannity wagging a luxury pen.

Look, we know that televised debates in their current form are not a place for, you know, debate. They are not disseminators of reliable information, not changers of minds. They are simply nightmare fuel for fact-checkers and a chance to double down on one’s preferred Teletubby. As Hannity concluded while his direct deposit was clearing, “I think the American people will decide. Governing philosophies could not be more different.”

Yes, yes, I know, if it’s so unbearable, don’t watch. That’s a tough one. It’s like trying to look away from somebody cartwheeling through the grocery store with no pants on. Yes, we’d all like to think we’re above it until the streaker gets to the BOGO wine bottle area and all bets are off.

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There may be a teachable moment in this slice of, erm, history for those who make TV programs, though. If audiences just crave another weeknight drinking game, there are less traumatizing ways to get there than letting two politicians use the serious matters of people’s lives to win a meme war.

Consider, perhaps, pitting broccoli against ice cream, hosted at the Ben & Jerry’s headquarters. Imagine the ratings of a Diet Pepsi vs. Diet Coke battle! Sorry, Pepsi. It was never going to end well. Or, honestly, put two dudes from different dating apps behind podiums and let them debate whether a hot dog is a sandwich. Please, the ratings will be unheard of, and we the people can finally call things what they are.

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