The Scary Things I Learned About America From the DeSantis-Newsom Debate

By John Zmirak Published on December 4, 2023

I tried, gentle reader. For your sake, I really did. I’ve been boycotting Fox News since it stepped up to help the Steal on election night 2020 — watching Steve Bannon, Charlie Kirk, and Tucker on Twitter. And to be perfectly candid, a whole lot of hours of MasterChef Australia, if only to maybe stay sane. But on two separate occasions I went to a friend’s house, who’d DVR’d the debate, and sat down and tried to watch it.

A Hapless Zookeeper in the Gorilla Cage

I got through ten minutes the first session, and 13 minutes the second. And that was all I could do. In case you haven’t seen it, the debate Sean Hannity hosted between California governor Gavin Newsom and Florida governor Ron De Santis was like one of those live-action Disney movies from the late 1970s, where an amiable character played by Dean Jones or Kurt Russell gets saddled with tending a hyperactive chimp, or a runaway talking car. Except that in the movies the roguish animal or machine was fundamentally benevolent.

Gavin Newsom, by contrast, in the debate, was like an aggressive gorilla rampaging in its enclosure, hurling his poop at the walls and pounding his chest in triumph. One lie after another leapt out of his mouth, and he punctuated each of them with a rakish, shameless smile:

  • California is booming. It rules. It dominates.
  • People are desperate to move to California. Florida itself is emptying out thanks to emigres fleeing to Los Angeles and San Francisco, like the desperate farmers in The Grapes of Wrath.
  • Senior citizens were dying like flies of COVID in Florida, and those nursing homes Newsom stuffed with contagious COVID patients were safer than the plague-ridden beaches of Miami.
  • De Santis wants to outlaw contraception.
  • He taxes the poor to serve the rich.

De Santis, like a patient animal behaviorist, dutifully followed his ape-like charge around, trying to get him under control and keep the mess to a minimum. Thoroughly prepared with facts and figures, and backed up by a genuinely stellar record of good government, De Santis strove to correct Newsom’s demagoguery and lies. But somehow De Santis’ earnest, dutiful and responsible performance fell flat next to Newsom’s scintillating high-wire act.

Newsom Is a Tribalist Demagogue

Of course Newsom could seem fearless. He’s performing over a net. He knows that he can lie outrageously without old-fashioned “fact-junkies” in the media stepping forward to correct him. The COVID panic taught him that. And the Hunter Biden laptop story. And the Kyle Rittenhouse story. And so on, through every major medium and every important story … . Newsom wasn’t playing to honest journalists who even pretend to strive to put aside their biases. That’s so 2015.

Nor was he appealing to citizens who remember their ancestors and care about their descendants, who are weighing the wisest policies that will serve the common good — as John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon were appealing in their 1960 debates.

De Santis is still earnestly trying to do accomplish exactly that. Which makes him a decent citizen and a good human being. But these days, not much of a presidential candidate, alas.

We Are All Vikings Now

Newsom knows that such honest, civic-minded political behavior is a rare and fragile accomplishment, and that its time in America has passed. We have now regressed to a more primitive stage of politics — which to be honest, has dominated most of fallen human history, with a few brief, shining exceptions.

We’re back in the age of the Vikings, of tribalism and feudalism. Its central rule is simple: We organize ourselves to conquer and dominate Them. The question of whether a given claim is true or false hardly even matters. Is it a good weapon We can use to clobber Them over the head? If not, then toss it aside. We judge a leader by how many scalps he can take from our enemies.

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Here’s the thing: If those are the rules by which your enemies are playing, you can’t go on pretending that nothing has changed. If one boxer in a ring takes out brass knuckles and a switchblade, his opponent isn’t admirable for sticking to the Marquess of Queensbury rules, and hoping that the bribed referee and judges will award him the match on points. Instead, he’s a fool, and you’d be a dope to bet on him — especially if the stakes of your wager include your children’s future.

Christians must avoid doing what’s intrinsically evil, but there’s no Gospel demand that we be gullible saps and doormats. Christians fighting the Vikings didn’t pretend they were facing a civilized foe who spared civilians or kept his word. Go watch The Last Kingdom to see how Alfred the Great saved England.

Shades of Marco Rubio

Aaron DeCorte at The Federalist had the best take on DeSantis’ appearance as zookeeper inside the gorilla enclosure. He said that most viewers who weren’t DeSantis loyalists

saw a presidential candidate that had some shades of Marco Rubio circa 2016 getting wrecked by Chris Christie. The repetitive talking points and stats in the face of a full-on frontal assault by Newsom is troublesome. You saw a guy who practiced all the stories he was going to tell last night (father-in-law, French Laundry, Newsom kids in person at private school) and still couldn’t tell them well.

You were thinking: if Trump told these exact same stories they would have landed with such force that Gavin’s White House dreams might have died on that stage last night. You also might be thinking that if Nikki Haley told those same stories she would have raised millions more dollars for her campaign. You saw a guy with a friendly moderator not be able to shift on the fly and bury Newsom when everything (data, history, and truth) was on his side. You also know that Donald Trump wouldn’t need to pull out crumpled paper to embarrass Newsom. He could have told those exact two stories without the props just as effectively.

There is no way that Gavin Newsom would have agreed to debate Donald Trump. The explanation is obvious. Trump realized back in 2016 that the left isn’t playing by the rules. He also saw that the GOP establishment was only pretending to, using the old high-minded script and rituals of civility to betray their voting base and sell our country out — albeit on the installment plan, instead of all at once in the fire-sale the Democrats prefer.

We Won’t Get Fooled Again

The high-minded rhetoric and Marquess of Queensbury rules that dominated the pre-Trump GOP were what gave us all of the following:

  • One Republican Supreme Court appointee after another who betrayed the pro-life cause.
  • The Iraq War, premised on lies, which ended with a genocide of Christians on George W. Bush’s watch.
  • Massive, uncontrolled immigration that froze blue collar wages and fueled racial hatred of white people, creating entire congressional districts full of Somali refugees who want sharia. Muslim mobs in New York City attacking the Christmas tree lighting at Rockefeller Center.
  • Same-sex “marriage,” imposed on us by judges, which bulldozed every obstacle against the demonic transgender madness.
  • A Deep State that’s now a secret police working to persecute conservatives and Christians, using the tools which Bush and Cheney handed them in the fascist Patriot Act.

What’s more, those GOP leaders who pretended to represent us (Bush, McCain, Romney and Ryan) made it clear that they prefer to see far-left Democrats win, rather than let populists like Trump take over the party. George W. Bush, who ran as an evangelical Christian promising a “modest foreign policy,” ended by equating the January 6 protestors with the 9/11 terrorists who killed 3,000 Americans. And virtually smooching with Marxist racial hatemonger Michelle Obama at John McCain’s funeral.

No wonder we’re sick of civility, high-minded slogans, and abstract appeals to fuzzy “ideals.” They’re wrapping paper which in our experience decorates a box full of … the same ape waste the Democrats are peddling.

Next time I’ll explore the very real downside of Trump’s decision to go “full Viking” in the 2024 race, and what we can do to try to modulate and control it.


John Zmirak is a senior editor at The Stream and author or co-author of ten books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Immigration and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism. He is co-author with Jason Jones of “God, Guns, & the Government.”

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