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Saxman: DeSantis v. Newsom – The Rope A Dope Debate

The big debate tonight between Governors Gavin Newsom (D-CA) and Ron DeSantis (R-FL) on Fox will resemble the famous 1974 (?!) Rumble in the Jungle between boxing heavyweights Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.

DeSantis will be going for a Big George knockout and Newsom will replicate the Rope A Dope tactics of Ali.

rope-a-dope — Wordorigins.org [1]

Here is where the candidates stand on Real Clear Politics:


Pretty easy to break this one down, right?

Ron DeSantis has to go on the attack from the start. He’s not only trailing Donald Trump in the polls, but DeSantis is behind the former president and Nikki Haley in hypothetical general election matchups against Joe Biden.

That matters.

DeSantis needs to be seen by voters in the early nomination states as delivering a knockout of Newsom in order to have a chance at becoming the alternative to Trump.

Thus far versus his Republican opponents, DeSantis has not performed anywhere near the high expectations from late last year. Trump 2.0 he ain’t, but a knockout performance tonight could help fix that.

While Trump is the obvious poll leader nationally, he’s under 50 in both Iowa and New Hampshire.

DeSantis will focus on his record in Florida while hitting Newsom hard on California’s progressive policies.

Newsom will be more than happy to be attacked by DeSantis on Fox with Sean Hannity moderating. Like Ali, he will take those punches all night long and will want to counterpunch smoothly by attacking Trump while supporting abortion rights.

That will build Newsom’s street cred with the Democratic base as being tough and not backing down to their sworn enemies of Fox/Sean Hannity and Ron DeSantis.

Yesterday, the WSJ lead editorial compared and contrasted Florida and California.

Spoiler alert – they prefer DeSantis and Florida.

Sacramento has rushed to the left in recent decades while Tallahassee has moved to the right. Since winning election in 2018, Messrs. Newsom and DeSantis have advanced sharply different policies on Covid lockdowns, taxes, school choice and climate regulation, among other things

Click here for that editorial and the comparison on eleven different policy areas. [3]

Key talking points that will emerge on this one:

  1. Ratings – will this debate draw viewers? The bottom line is that DeSantis needs Republicans in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada to tune in and come away with thinking, “I think he’s the guy. DeSantis is the future.”
  2. Newsom is CLEARLY positioning himself to be a credible nominee for the Democratic Party. He will feed the base of his party while DeSantis does likewise. He will score enough points to keep the chattering class chattering about Old Joe moving off the stage.
  3. Politics is about the future. Biden is the past and Newsom is, for now, seen as the future of the Democratic Party.
  4. The Republican field will very quickly get to the top 3 – Trump, DeSantis, and Nikki Haley. Chris Christie and Vivek Ramaswamy are playing out their roles but they will be encouraged to get out after the next debate.
  5. I see both DeSantis and Newsom improving their positions within the base of their party. DeSantis has a lot to lose and will come out swinging, Newsom will score points just for showing up and taking the shots for his team.


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