Five takeaways from lone Florida governor debate between Ron DeSantis and Charlie Crist
FORT PIERCE, Florida — Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and Charlie Crist (D-FL) slugged it out in Florida’s sole gubernatorial debate, hitting one another on everything from the economy to the pandemic to the social issues that have roiled the state.
The debate, perceived as a warm-up for DeSantis should he launch a presidential bid in 2024, was an hourlong demonstration of policy chops and political one-liners on Florida’s first day of early voting before the Nov. 8 elections.
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Here are five standout moments from their verbal bout:
DeSantis’s awkward response when asked if he’s running for president
Crist defied the campaigns’ mutually agreed-to rules on asking one another questions when he addressed the elephant in the room.
“Why don’t you look in the eyes of the people of the state of Florida and say to them, if you’re reelected, you will serve a four-year term as governor?” Crist asked DeSantis.
After inquiring with the moderator whether Crist’s time was up, DeSantis, who has focused his criticism on President Joe Biden and not his opponent, was adamant that the only “old worn-out donkey” he hopes to “put out to pasture” is Crist.
Crist returned to the point during his closing arguments, contending Floridians deserve more than a governor with presidential aspirations.
“He won’t even tell you that he’ll serve four years if you reelect him,” he said.
DeSantis likening gender transitions to ‘genital mutilation’
Both DeSantis and Crist discussed abortion and gender identity in graphic terms, two topics that have dominated their messaging.
“When they say ‘gender-affirming care,’ they mean giving puberty blockers to teenage girls and teenage boys,” DeSantis said. “They mean doing double mastectomies on young girls. They mean chemically castrating young boys. That is wrong.”
“It’s inappropriate to be doing that, basically what’s genital mutilation,” he added.
Crist, who is relying on abortion access to drive voter turnout, needled DeSantis on Florida’s 15-week ban.
“He’s also … a little bit of a chameleon,” DeSantis said of Crist. “He used to support a federal constitutional amendment that outlawed all abortion, regardless of any type of exceptions. Now he’s taken the other extreme position.”
“The question is, is this an honest change of heart?” he asked. “Or is this the guy that’s going to shift with whatever when he needs to to try to keep his political career alive?”
DeSantis defends immigrant flights to Martha’s Vineyard amid investigation
DeSantis stood by his decision to transfer about 50 immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, after being scrutinized for treating them as political footballs.
“It’s only when they go to D.C., New York, or, of course, Martha’s Vineyard,” he said. “We have elites in this country that want to impose policies on you, but they don’t want to have to suffer the same consequences that you may have to in your community.”
“It’s sad that it comes to this, but what we did [is] put this issue front and center,” he continued.
The Treasury Department is investigating whether DeSantis improperly used interest earned on federal COVID-19 funds to fly the immigrants north, in addition to a migrant class action lawsuit on the matter.
DeSantis underscores his COVID-19 response
Crist warned DeSantis not to “pat yourself on the back too much” because 82,000 Floridians died from COVID-19, despite the governor routinely touting his management of the pandemic.
“When you look at the Thanksgiving table, one of those empty seats is probably one of those people for many families watching tonight,” he said.
Undeterred, DeSantis asserted Crist would have introduced “harsh lockdowns,” whereas Florida’s tourism industry has flourished and domestic migration has increased under his leadership.
“Charlie Crist and his friends in Congress were urging you to be locked down. I lifted you up,” he said. “I protected your rights. I made sure you can earn a living. I made sure you could operate your businesses, and I worked like heck to make sure we had all our kids in school five days a week.”
DeSantis and Crist share rare moment of unity on Parkland shooter
DeSantis announced he intended to ask the Florida legislature to amend the state statute that prevented Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz from receiving the death penalty this month.
“I think he deserved the ultimate punishment,” DeSantis said. “When you murder, in cold blood, 17 innocent people, there’s no other punishment that meets the gravity of that crime, and to have one juror hold out on that was a travesty.”
Crist described Cruz’s crime as “absolutely abhorrent,” adding Florida has to “make sure that we can enforce those laws that say there are consequences to your actions.”
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DeSantis earlier quipped that Crist was tough on crime “six political parties ago” but now backs defunding the police.
Cruz was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole after one juror declined to give him the death penalty.