And many think boxing is brutal. OK, it is. But if Monday night’s political theater were a prize fight, the referee would have disqualified one of the participants early on for low blows. If it were a football game, the zebras would have worn out all of their flags. “Personal foul — gross and deliberate distortion — 15 yards — repeat first down.”
I watched the Monday night “debate” between incumbent Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and his Democrat challenger Charlie Crist so The American Spectator’s readers didn’t have to. It was a sacrifice because these affairs are never fun to watch (I counsel against doing so), almost never informative, and have probably never changed one voter’s mind. And they aren’t really debates, which is why I put the word in quotes. Forensic food fight comes closer to describing most of them. They’re just alternating and timed insults and accusations, most of these bearing only the remotest relationship to reality. This was the case Monday, at least on one side.
This was the only debate in this contest and so the only chance Crist, who trails DeSantis by double digits in most polls, had to directly challenge his opponent. And it was a chance for his cash-starved campaign to enjoy a little free airtime. So Crist did his best, which in his case means his worst.
Crist misrepresented DeSantis’ record and his positions on abortion, taxes, education, gay rights, COVID, and the trans fad. He also considerably perfumed his own threadbare record in the catalogue of state offices he’s held and neglected, including governor from 2006 to 2010. He tried to paint DeSantis as an uncaring tyrant who divides people rather than unites them, as he, Crist, would do as governor. This from a guy who calls the current Disuniter and Chief at 1600 the greatest president of his lifetime and who approves of his calling MAGA Republicans (whatever that means) “semi-fascists.” Crist’s many knee-slappers included claims that under DeSantis, Florida has become the most expensive state in the nation; that Floridians died in the thousands because DeSantis refused to keep Florida locked down for COVID when it was no longer necessary; and that Floridians died because DeSantis refused to order Fort Myers and nearby communities to evacuate for Hurricane Ian, when all the experts were forecasting that the monster storm would hit Tampa. Crist even claimed that gas prices in Florida are high because of DeSantis’ “lack of leadership.”
On the important issues of the day, Crist has always been able to turn on a dime and give you nine-cents change.
Crist attempted his dishonest deconstructions in a smarmy, more in sorrow than in anger tone, while bearing the expression of one just dropped out of heaven. The man is so oily that if he held a campaign event in your home, you’d have to have your carpets cleaned after he left. And his Pinocchio nose would reach from the living room out the back door of even the largest home.
If Florida voters have been paying attention these last four years (alas, not all have been), this performance will get Crist nowhere. And like the Sen. Marco Rubio–Val Demings debate last week, TV ratings, when we know them, will likely be, to put it charitably, modest. The only thing Crist has going for him in getting away with his flights of fancy is that almost 3.5 million more people have moved to Florida since Crist was the Republican governor here, his last statewide office, and so have no firsthand knowledge of Crist’s lack of performance in the offices he’s held and of his shameless party-swapping and flip-flopping on issues to suit what he believes the moment calls for. On the important issues of the day, Crist has always been able to turn on a dime and give you nine-cents change. DeSantis referenced this shape-shifting only once, when he said, accurately, that Crist “used to be tough on crime about six political parties ago.” (READ MORE from Larry Thornberry: The Unbearable Lightness of Charlie)
To the surprise of no one, Crist began and ended the night with a sermonette on “a woman’s right to choose” (translation into plain English: killing unborn children). He launched into the only issue Democrats have this election cycle when the first question was asked, even though the question was about providing low-cost housing for all the state’s new residents, residents from elsewhere who apparently aren’t aware that Florida is the hellhole that Crist claims it to be under DeSantis. Crist ended his summation with a hymn of praise to abortion and salted many of his comments throughout the hour with criticisms of restrictions on abortion, including Florida’s 15-week deadline for ending pregnancies, which he calls “barbaric.”
Crist dodged questions about what restrictions, if any, he would like to see placed on abortion. The only question DeSantis dodged was whether, if reelected, he would serve his full four-year term rather than seek the presidency in 2024. It’s understandable why DeSantis wants to ignore this issue. There’s little doubt he will be a player in 2024 and, quite possibly, the Republican candidate for president.
The two took opposing positions on the question of sex-change surgery for minors. Crist called numerous times for “common sense” in public policy. But on this one the common-sense prize goes to DeSantis, who pointed out the obvious truth that children are not equipped to make the life-altering decision to undergo sex-change treatment and surgery. Crist said that this decision should be left up to individuals, including youngsters, and included this under the “right to choose” mantra. This attitude may be common among the bat guano left, but it makes no sense.
DeSantis resisted the temptation to go after Crist’s bizarre political history, though this is certainly, as we’ve learned to say, a target-rich environment. He mostly just catalogued the things his administration has done, things which have earned him a favorability rating north of 50 percent. He pointed to the state’s historically low unemployment rate, a record budget surplus, tax cuts, and very fast and efficient cleanup after Hurricane Ian, with roads and bridges repaired quickly, power restored, schools reopened, and, most importantly, hundreds of Floridians rescued from the ravages of the storm.
The entire hour went this way, with DeSantis’ pointing out what his administration has accomplished and Crist’s saying that it was all too terrible to bear and that things would be ever so much better under him. The moderator of the debate, which took place in a hall in Fort Pierce on Florida’s east coast, kept urging the audience not to applaud or otherwise make noise. She would have failed in this effort even with a whip and a chair. The attendees hooped and hollered like attendees at a WWE SmackDown! event for the entire hour. One more reason why these undignified and rarely informative events are a waste of otherwise good time, and why no one much would miss them if we did the sensible thing and quit holding them.