Sans Trump, the Republican presidential debates of 2023 have mostly been piddling contests in a shallow pool. We’ve seen nasty insults — most aimed at or directed by Vivek Ramaswamy — and that’s fun to watch. But you can catch those bits on social media and the rest hasn’t been worth tuning in for.
Maybe the problem isn’t just the lack of the Big Orange on stage. Maybe it’s just that the TV debate format doesn’t really work in the internet age. It’s never a battle of compelling ideas. It’s a clash of off-putting egos, each looking to land the big viral moment.
Take last night’s experiment on Fox News. Desperate for a good showdown, the network pitched Governor Gavin Newsom of California against Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida for ‘The Great Red vs Blue State debate.’
It was quite an interesting idea. Ron, the failing GOP presidential candidate, vs Gav, the Democrat hoping Joe Biden might retire or die so that he can breeze past Vice President Kamala Harris and into the White House. Florida vs California: two huge and sunny states. Two very different American futures.
The debate could have been a great PR moment for DeSantis: a chance for him to show why he’s running for president, since his record as a conservative governor of Florida has been demonstrably more successful than decades of disastrous Democratic leadership in California.
Instead, we got a glimpse of why, for all his strengths, DeSantis is not quite presidential material. What exactly presidential material means in the age of Trump-Biden is a difficult question to answer. But Ron just appears not to have it.