Charlie Crist puts Ron DeSantis on defense at only gubernatorial debate

The first and only gubernatorial debate between Gov. Ron DeSantis and Congressman Charlie Crist seemed to have the incumbent on the ropes.

DeSantis sometimes looked like a dear in the headlights as he gritted his teeth and smirked at some of the Crist zingers.

The biggest takeaway that everyone will be talking about Tuesday: DeSantis, who is widely considered a strong GOP contender for the White House in 2024, would not commit to serving the full four-year term if he was elected governor. He stayed quiet as Crist asked him again an again.

“Why don’t you look in the eyes of the people of the state of Florida and say to them if you’re re-elected, you will serve a full four-year term as governor? Yes or no,” Crist asked DeSantis. “Yes or no, Ron? Will you serve a full four-year term if you’re reelected governor of Florida? It’s not a tough question. It’s a fair question. And he won’t tell you.”

Finally, DeSantis had a rehearsed response: “The only worn out old donkey I’m looking to put out to pasture is Charlie Crist.”

Which is cute, but not an answer. Or is it? Isn’t he saying, by not committing to the four years, that he’s not committed to the four years?

“We know you love to bully people,” Crist shot back. “And the little name calling you just exchanged? I can take it.

“But you shouldn’t do it when children are standing behind you at a press conference and they’re wearing a mask,” Crist added, referring to the guy’s shaming of DDS students when they wore masks at a press event.

“Apparently, that’s your nature.”

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Crist had DeSantis against the wall on other topics, too, such as the abortion ban, property insurance and inflation and the guv’s response to Hurricane Ian and the COVID-19 pandemic, where DeSantis said he protected jobs. “I made sure you could earn a living. I made sure that you could operate your businesses,” the governor told a rowdy crowd in Fort Pierce.

“I wouldn’t pat yourself too much on the back,” Crist shot back. “We’ve lost 82,000 Floridians.” (The death toll in the state is 82,126.)

“I would have listened to scientists unlike the governor,” Crist said. “If he wants to talk about how he reopened this and he reopened that, you can keep things reopened but you gotta do it with an eye toward what health providers tell you.”

DeSantis reminded debate watchers that Crist called for “harsh lockdowns” that “would have destroyed the state of Florida.

“Our hospitality and tourism industry, which has thrived, would have gone into disrepair. It would have thrown millions of Floridians into turmoil.”

Then DeSantis promised “the largest tax relief plan in the history of the state of Florida,” with reduced tolls and tax exemptions on pet food and diapers.

“Aren’t you supposed to be helping us all four years instead of just the last year,” Crist shot back. “The middle class is getting crunched in Florida. You can’t get an apartment. You can’t afford a house. You can’t pay your property insurance. ‘Cause he’s taken his eye off the ball over and over and over again.”

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Crist also called DeSantis’ 15-week abortion ban cruel and talked about a Jacksonville girl, a victim of incest, had to go to another state to have the pregnancy terminated. DeSantis, meanwhile, reminded viewers that Crist was once pro-life — like he was once Republican.

“Is this an honest change of heart? Or is this a guy that’s going to shift with whatever when he needs to, to try to keep his political career alive,” DeSantis asked. “I think we all know the answer to that question.”

The governor was on the defense much of the time. On his “Don’t Say Gay” bill, he likened gender identity flexibility to “chemically castrating young boys,” and on critical race theory, he said he didn’t want to “teach kids to hate our country,” or each other.

Crist had a much simpler answer to all that: “We ought to teach facts at our schools.”

The only time the two candidates agreed was on the Parkland shooter: Both said Nicholas Cruz deserved the death penalty.

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But they spent zero time on inflation, affordable housing, property insurance, resiliency or any the crazy rise in rental rates.

And while this debate might charge the Democrat base somewhat, it seems too little too late. Crist is dying in the polls, with some having him as far as 10 points behind the governor. More than 1.2 million people have already voted statewide so far.

While Crist may have “won” the debate simply for putting the guv in such an uncomfortable position for an hour, nothing was really said that was surprising or that would change anyone’s mind. No votes were won.