It’s on. Tensions between Governors Ron DeSantis and Gavin Newsom have been rising for months, but the two men are finally set to meet on the debate stage. As DeSantis told Fox News host Sean Hannity on Wednesday, “I’m game … just tell me when and where.”
This is welcome news. After rising to prominence during the pandemic—the former for his decision to quickly reopen Florida and fully end the state’s lockdown, the latter for closing California’s churches and schools—DeSantis and Newsom are now the heirs apparent in their respective parties. And regardless of their success or failure this election cycle, no two men better represent the crucial choice Americans must make in the coming decade.
That’s the choice between self-government and dictatorship.
Of course, the debate will also provide a more robust discussion of policy differences than Americans have grown accustomed to in recent years. And many in Washington will understandably celebrate. But more importantly, in moving our national conversation away from DC altogether and toward the states, the DeSantis-Newsom debate will provide much-needed clarity, juxtaposing not only different approaches to public policy, but two rival visions of America’s future.
Newsom’s vision for America is a form of anarcho-tyranny: letting criminals go free and leaving people to pursue their most perverse impulses while using unlimited state power to oppress hard-working and law-abiding Americans. As California residents already know, that means BLM rioters are free to loot and vandalize restaurants, but those restaurants can’t open for business because of Covid-19. That means teachers are free to coerce children into a transgender identity, but parents can’t take them to a psychologist or a pastor because doing so is considered “conversion therapy.” That means the “Sisters” of Perpetual Indulgence are free to mock Christians, but Christians must pay fines for attending church on Sunday.
DeSantis’s vision is the opposite of Newsom’s hellscape: ordered liberty. To be sure, that requires limiting government power so America’s economy and civil society can flourish, but it also demands “guard[ing] against the effects of our own ignorance and licentiousness,” as founding father Benjamin Rush put it in his 1787 address to the people of the United States. In Florida, that means leading the post-pandemic economic recovery to the tune of 11% GDP growth and punishing woke companies that host drag shows for kids or advance a “not-at-all-secret gay agenda.” That means expanding school choice and ensuring that no students are subject to indoctrination in critical race theory or gender ideology. That means defending religious liberty to the hilt and boldly declaring that America “was built on the foundation … of what happened thousands of years ago in the Holy Land.”
It’s simple. Newsom’s anarcho-tyranny punishes virtue and rewards vice; DeSantis’s ordered liberty punishes vice and rewards virtue. In recent months, however, some so-called conservatives have struggled to distinguish between the two governors, suggesting that “the culture war is coming for American liberty … in red states and blue alike.” But such criticism is backward. Just ask the 500,000 people that have fled California since April 2020—often for more conservative states like Florida. They know real freedom when they see it.
A governor that can’t distinguish between truth and falsehood, good and evil, or beauty and perversion isn’t fit to govern his own state, much less our country. And no two governors represent the political visions battling for America’s soul as clearly as Newsom and DeSantis. Side-by-side on stage, mano a mano, the two men will make their case for two very different Americas. Presented with a choice rather than an echo, the people will be free to judge for themselves.
This piece originally appeared in the Daily Caller on August 8, 2023