A Pointless Debate Kicks Off A Ridiculously-Early Campaign

[ Posted Thursday, November 30th, 2023 – 17:29 UTC ]

A completely pointless debate (at least in terms of the 2024 presidential race) will take place tonight on Fox News. Ron DeSantis will be debating Gavin Newsom, with Sean Hannity as moderator. But even though I'm a diehard political junkie, I may not even tune in to see it, due to its absolute irrelevance to current events. It's likely that just catching the highlights later will be enough.

So why am I even writing about it? Because it's a chance to take a ridiculously-early look at the contest that's going to happen within the Democratic Party in four years. You could say this is the start of the 2028 Democratic presidential primary race, but in reality it's been going on in a very subdued way for a while now. The Newsom-DeSantis debate is happening as a direct result of this shadow primary jockeying, in fact.

Whatever happens next November, this will all be inevitable in four years' time. Either Joe Biden wins a second term or he doesn't. Either way, he's not going to run again. This will open up the field, and there are plenty of Democratic politicians eyeing the prospects already.

First up, of course, is Vice President Kamala Harris. She would have an easier time of campaigning for the top job if Biden pulls off a victory next year, obviously. She'd then have four more years in office as Biden's chosen successor. And it is rather ghoulish, but there is a non-zero chance that she may actually be president by the time 2028 rolls around. Joe Biden is, after all, 81 years old. He'll be 86 at the end of his second term -- if he makes it that far. If Harris is elevated to the presidency, she'll become even more of the presumptive favorite to win the 2028 nomination, of course. If this does come to pass, she'll have a record in office that she'll have to either brag about or defend, and she'll be able to run as an incumbent.

Ghoulish possibilities aside, even just as veep Harris will have her own record to run on. She's had a very shaky time of it so far, taking on some tasks that have proven impossible to solve (the southern border), but also championing some issues where she is a natural (abortion rights). Whatever you think of Harris personally, she will have a step up on everyone else running.

California's Governor Gavin Newsom has certainly been the most obvious about beginning his bid for the 2028 Democratic nomination early. After easily surviving a recall election, Newsom absolutely cruised to re-election in the state -- and since he didn't have to spend all that much money on his campaign, he's been spending it elsewhere to draw a stark contrast between himself and Republicans in red states. Most notably, he's done this by picking political fights with DeSantis.

Newsom, as a politician, has his plusses and minuses. He has a distinctive style, one that is a bit polarizing. Some Democrats welcome his brash nature, while others are put off by it. So it's a fairly subjective thing as to whether his style registers as positive or negative to the voters. Personally (my own bias speaking here...) overall I find his style to be refreshing, although at times I do wonder about certain tactics. Newsom is a fighter -- he takes the fight directly to the Republicans. He stands up strong for his positions and is scathing in his takedowns of the GOP positions. He is, in a word, feisty.

I am, in general, a big fan of feistiness from the left. Especially in the Trump era. Sitting back and allowing bald-faced GOP lies to remain unchallenged is not a winning strategy, as far as I am concerned. Making the case against them is pathetically easy (or it should be at any rate), but most Democrats (being Democrats) just aren't capable of making such a straightforward case. Newsom is. The fact that he's appearing in a debate on Fox News shows that he's not afraid of entering the lions' den to do battle. Of course, he's doing battle with a man who does not seem to even be in contention for the GOP nomination anymore, making the entire exercise irrelevant, but it will serve as a sort of 2028 pre-season scrimmage match.

Two other Democratic governors also seem to have a great chance of making a splash in the 2028 contest: J.B. Pritzker of Illinois and Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan. Both are strong personalities and both have acceptable ideological credentials -- what might be described as "lefty enough, without being too lefty." Both are doing great things for the people of their state, and Whitmer in particular has capitalized on the fact that Democrats now control both chambers of her state's legislature (which hasn't happened in decades). She has not been shy about pushing through an agenda that has been stymied for a very long time in Michigan. That's the sort of boldness I would like to see in a president -- knowing how to strike while the political iron is hot. These aren't the only two Democratic governors who may be considering making a bid for the presidency in 2028, but they are the two who have caught my eye over the past few years (in terms of tracking their records in their home state and also due to their political style).

Other members of Biden's cabinet may also toss their hats in the ring as well. This will be awkward to do, since it will be seen as a sign of disloyalty to Kamala Harris, but whether Biden wins a second term or not it seems almost inevitable that (at the very least) Pete Buttigieg will make a second bid for the top job. Much like Newsom, Buttigieg has seemed to be running a very low-level campaign to promote himself ever since he joined Biden's team. And he certainly would be a historic candidate, should he win the nomination. Buttigieg is one of those Democrats who feels if he just explains everything well enough, he'll win everyone over. He does a good job of this, to be fair -- he is relatable and understandable in a way many politicians never quite achieve. He's not exactly Bill Clinton, in terms of the ease of "just explainin' stuff," but he is still better than most Democrats are at doing so.

All of these possible candidates have one thing in common: they are relatively young. There is going to be a "passing of the torch to a new generation" after Biden, which is why I can't really even take seriously the idea that someone like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren will run next time around. Don't get me wrong -- I would love to see either one of them win the nomination, but I just don't see it happening. The voters are already pining for someone more youthful than Biden, and this feeling is only going to grow over the next four years, no matter what happens next November.

Sanders and Warren aside, though, there is the old saying that: "100 senators look in the mirror each morning and see a president looking back at them." There are plenty of Democratic senators who could make a viable bid for the presidency next time around, too many to actually list here. At least a handful of them will likely run in 2028.

A big part of the rationale of running Joe Biden again is to avoid this intraparty squabble while faced with the prospect of Donald Trump being the Republican nominee, of course. Who knows how Gavin Newsom or Kamala Harris would fare against Trump? Biden has already proven he can beat Trump once, and he's confident he can beat him again. We'll all find out whether he is right or not next year, but Biden's position certainly is a logical one.

While 2024 seems destined to largely be a repeat of the 2020 election, a sequel which might be named "Biden v. Trump II," the next cycle could be wide-open for both parties. If Biden or Trump win, they won't be constitutionally allowed to run in 2028. If Trump wins, Biden's never going to run again. If Biden wins, Trump may indeed try to run in 2028 (you can never tell, with megalomaniacs, after all -- they usually don't gracefully exit the stage), but if that's the case he may be nowhere near as invincible in the primaries as he seems to be right now. He'll be a two-time presidential loser in that case, making the argument "He can't win!" a lot easier for other Republicans to make. Even if he runs (which is in no way certain), he'll have a lot of challengers to deal with next time. And if he doesn't, the field will be wide open on both sides of the aisle.

This is kind of the point (if there really is one) of tonight's debate. Both men are eyeing either running next time around or the possibility that they could have to step in if their party's nominee falters in some major way. A Washington Post article I read today about the debate started out in a very snarky way:

Fox News is set to air the most intriguing debate of this presidential campaign season Thursday, when Sean Hannity hosts a showdown between two governors who really can't stand each other -- Florida's Ron DeSantis and California's Gavin Newsom.

One of these guys has managed, with admirable boldness and skill, to establish himself as a viable alternative to his party's embattled front-runner.

The other guy is actually a declared candidate for president.

Cue rimshot: (ba-dum-da-dum).

Snark aside though, it is true that both of these politicians are positioning themselves as a possible alternate if their party's presumptive nominee suddenly becomes completely untenable -- which in Biden's case would probably mean a medical emergency of some sort, while in Trump's case it would probably mean getting convicted of serious federal crimes (although even that might not stop his candidacy, to be honest).

So while tonight's debate isn't even any sort of "undercard" to the 2024 presidential race, it is a practice session of sorts for what will come sooner or later. Four years' hence, both of these candidates could wind up facing off against each other. This wouldn't be guaranteed for either of them, since the 2028 field is likely to be wide open on both sides and plenty of other experienced politicians will be jumping into the fray.

Which is why tonight's debate might actually be worth watching after all. Pointless though it now is, it may provide a peek into a post-Biden Democratic Party versus a post-Trump Republican Party. Maybe that's overselling it, but it at least has that possibility. Newsom is definitely going to run for president next time around. DeSantis may not, if his performance in the 2020 primaries is dismal enough, but then again bigger comebacks have happened.

Tonight's debate, for now, is a mere sideshow. It will be a faceoff between the two parties' agendas, and it is a chance for both men to make a positive impression on the country. My guess is that, unless there is a truly explosive moment or two tonight, quite likely this debate is going to sink into obscurity immediately after it airs (I could easily see this becoming nothing more than political trivia in bar quizzes, years down the road). But for those already exhausted with the prospect of "Biden v. Trump II," it could at least provide some entertainment value. That's about the best that can be said of it before it happens, at least from where I sit.


[Program Note: Due to me forgetting about a previous engagement, while I promised two weeks ago that tomorrow would see the return of Friday Talking Points after the holiday break, this will not actually happen until next Friday. My apologies for the mixup. Instead, tomorrow will see an annual event here... with kittens! So please tune in anyway, and we'll see you next week for the belated return of Friday Talking Points.]

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


25 Comments on “A Pointless Debate Kicks Off A Ridiculously-Early Campaign”

  1. [1] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    I look forward to the annual anti-puppy discrimination fest

  2. [2] 
    andygaus wrote:

    Isn't there some kind of deadline to register as a candidate? If Biden has a medical emergency four months from now, could Gavin Newsom still be on the ballot for the general election? I am petrified that Trump will be unable to run in the general election because he's in jail, and Biden will lose to Nikki Haley, who will promptly pardon Trump, besides being a terrible president. Could some more knowledgeable person explain the situation to me?

  3. [3] 
    andygaus wrote:

    I feel fairly confident that Biden can beat Trump, despite current polling. I don't think he can beat Haley, because so many voters think he's too old and they don't want President Kamala (and neither do I).

  4. [4] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Whatever happens next November, this will all be inevitable in four years' time. Either Joe Biden wins a second term or he doesn't. Either way, he's not going to run again. This will open up the field, and there are plenty of Democratic politicians eyeing the prospects already.

    Sadly, it is precisely this kind of thinking that will ensure a second term for Trump! :(

  5. [5] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    A Newsom-DeSantis debate - on Fox News, especially! - is hardly irrelevant. On the contrary, it might be just what the Doctor, ahem, ordered ... in the sense that if Biden is really serious about wanting a second term to finish his domestic agenda - and overhaul his foreign policy which is so desperately in need of a total realignment - then he needs to think seriously about making a veep change.

    A Biden-Newsom ticket is surely a match made in heaven, if ever there was one. And, I mean that sincerely ... I'm not trying to be facetious, here.

  6. [6] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    I, too, believe that Joe will beat P01135809. His sucky polling numbers are due to inflation along with the fact that the Democrats aren’t trying to undo wealth inequality. Kamala was ranked as the most liberal Senator at the time and I think she’s a victim of the same Hillary Clinton misogyny, so I’ll be happy to vote for her.

  7. [7] 
    andygaus wrote:

    Biden also needs another vice president because so many people (including me) don't want President Kamala if anything happens to him in his second term.

  8. [8] 
    andygaus wrote:

    It's not quite as bad as John McCain running with Sarah Palin as his veep, but it's in the same general category.

  9. [9] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    So, did anybody see the big debate? I'd like to know how it went ...

  10. [10] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I think the bad poll numbers have more to do with things like the way Biden has dealt with the Ukraine file, the way he pulled out of Afghanistan, the way he lets Israel do the kinds of things that are bad for Israel - this, actually, seems to be somewhat of a trend where the old saying that 'with friends like the US, who needs enemies' is applicable - the crisis on the southern border, his lackluster performance on the climate file (he's not even going to COP28...rolleyes) ...

    He has quite a lot of work to do between now and next November.

  11. [11] 
    Bleyd wrote:

    A Whitmer/Newsom ticket in 2028 could be very interesting. Reasonably aged with a lot of governing experience and a lot of fight. You'd also have representation from the midwest to help pull in votes from the rust belt states along with a California liberal to add to the progressive bona fides. Of course they'd probably have to put aside their differences after likely beating up on each other in the primaries, and it's hard to say if either would be content playing second fiddle to the other.

  12. [12] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    I disagree with your assessment that either (1)Ukraine or (2) the Afghanistan pullout are hurting Biden. Both, especially Afghanistan were Biden cleaning up after Trump. The Repugs will certainly TRY to blame it all on Biden (see Covid-related inflation) but given that Trump’s going to be their nominee and the utterly disfunctonal House so I say Blue Tsunami next November.

  13. [13] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    I think if Trump makes it to election Day without being incarcerated, he'll win.

  14. [14] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I agree with Joshua ... unless Biden makes some big changes and fast. We'll see.

  15. [15] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    There wasn't even anything close to a blue tsunami to replace Trump in 2020, so ...

  16. [16] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Okay, so I've gathered some information on the Newsom debate and I've had time to rethink my [5] since I can't actually delete it.

    What my [5] demonstrates is merely that I believe there needs to be a change of running mate on the Democratic side. The reasons for this are numerous and include Biden's age which so many Dems seem to be obsessing over.

    However, if such a change is to be made, then it has to be serious and Newsom is decidedly non-serious, on second sober thought.

    I can't think right now who Biden's new running mate should be but my thinking on the need for Biden to make this change has only grown since the Newsom-DeSantis debate. (by the way, why anyone who enjoys debates between the candidates running for president wouldn't love to see more of these one-on-ones is completely beyond me ... I'm talkin' to you, Chris!)

    There has to be someone out there - besides a Jerry Brown type person who is also burdened by the ageism criticism who can round out the 2024 Democratic presidential ticket and create some real excitement and energy ... and reassurance of the kind that actually WOULD have a serious chance to create a Blue Tsunami!

    Can anyone around here think of such a running mate? Don't take your time, 'cause that ain't on our side. Ahem.

  17. [17] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    What my [5] demonstrates is merely that I believe there needs to be a change of running mate on the Democratic side.

    Not. Gonna. Happen.

    The Dems simply cannot suppress turnout by bailing on a female person of color just because her press and the resulting bad polling has been, well, Biden-level bad. That would be political malpractice, no?

    BTW “blue tsunami” doesn’t mean Joe will win 40 states. It refers to Congress and the Judiciary etc.

  18. [18] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I know it's not gonna happen. That's why I'm so depressed.

    Biden chose unwisely in 2020 and he's stuck with that choice, I suppose. That's too bad - for him, me and all the Dems.

    Of course, it is possible that I may be proven wrong and that he'll win with the ticket he has. Hope so!

  19. [19] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Btw, it's not about her bad press. That would be manageable. It's about her performance and lack of experience and the shallowness of her knowledge base.

    She really had no business running for president in the 2020 cycle, especially after her disingenuous attack on Biden over busing. Yes, I can hold a grudge for a very, very long time, I have discovered.

    She should have spent more time in the senate honing her craft and learning about things. Too late for all of that now.

    She was never a good fit with Biden's experience and position.

    Say, just had a thought, how old is John Kerry and is he in good health?

  20. [20] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:


    Where has Harris shown that she lacks experience and knowledge, exactly? If anything, with her years as DA in SF and the AG for California prior to being elected to the US Senate in 2016, she has decades of public service experience that few other women of color her age can claim.

    I was more impressed with her record going after the big banks and lenders and her prison reform programs as AG than I was with her time in the Senate. That is probably due to the fact that her time in the Senate was just 4 years with Trump as the President, so it’s not like she could have gotten too much legislation passed during that time. Just curious what the flaws are that make people dislike her so.

  21. [21] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Flaw number one ... running for president in 2020 against the likes of Joe Biden when she had precious little experience in national politics and even less in international affairs.

    That was enough for me to cringe at Biden's selection for his running mate. Now, she is nothing more than a head wind on his chances for reelection.

    She could have made a great president if only she was willing to put the time and effort into it. The Trump years should have been a gift to her ultimate presidential ambitions.

  22. [22] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:

    So your entire dislike of her stems from her desire to run for President in 2020? You know Biden had the gall to run for President in 2008 as the Dem’s candidate even though everyone knew it was Obama’s time to shine! Then Obama chose to make him his VP for some reason… but that was Obama’s call — kinda like how Harris was Biden’s call. It took Obama and Biden a little time to get their groove right, but once they did, they were an incredible duo. I guess I am holding out for that to happen with Biden and Harris. Not that you asked, but my advice would be to let goof past grudges and to judge folks on who they are today. We could do a lot worse than Harris.

  23. [23] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I don't dislike her, Russ, not at all!

    As for 2008, it was Obama who had the gall. And, I like him, too. You will recall that Iraq was circling the drain during that campaign and Biden was the only one on the planet who had a feasible and well thought out plan for US policy there that had the chance to make things right for the people of Iraq if the plan hadn't been sabotaged by Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld. You may also recall that this plan for an overhaul of US policy on Iraq received the overwhelming bipartisan support in a Sense of the Senate vote of 78 to 23 in favour! When had a vote like that last happened in the senate and when has it ever happened since?

    As for Obama and the 2008 Iowa caucuses, I will never forget that Biden received less than one percent of that vote. Less than one percent!!! Un-freakin'-believable.

    Yes, it was certainly Obama's year to shine and I withdrew my grudge against him - if not from Iowans - when he tapped Biden for his running mate. I'm a bit biased here, but I would say that choice was one of the most enlightened choices for vice president than any would be POTUS has ever made in the history of the republic.

    I have no grudge against Kamala and I have enjoyed listening to some of her addresses - the George Floyd funeral comes easily to mind. She is just not ready to be president, in my view, plain and simple.

  24. [24] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Correction to [23]!

    It wasn't the George Floyd funeral but rather the Tyre Nichols funeral at which vice president Kamala Harris spoke so passionately about police reform.

  25. [25] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Btw, Russ, Biden announced he was running for president as early as 2005. I remember it well. He said it during one of his regular appearances on Meet The Press with Tim Russert.

    I remember thinking at the time that was a good strategy to, ah, clear the field. Silly me.

    Not sure when Obama announced but it was well after Biden announced his intentions and some length of time after that Obama was caught on tape disrespecting Biden in the senate. But, I never held that against him.

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