Florida Republican Governor and 2024 presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis was mocked for his awkward reaction to California Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom's criticism of DeSantis’ flagging poll numbers during last night's Fox News debate, which was moderated by network personality Sean Hannity.
Things took an embarrassing turn for DeSantis during a segment on immigration and border security when Newsom pointed out that DeSantis was trailing former President Donald Trump by 41 points in his “own home state” and suggested that DeSantis only takes such extreme political positions so he can "out-Trump" the former President.
Newsom was referencing a recent survey by Florida Atlantic University/Mainstreet Research/PolCom Lab that reveals a growing disparity between Republican voters' support for DeSantis and Trump in Florida. According to the poll released on Thursday, Trump now leads DeSantis by 41 percentage points, doubling his previous advantage from July, when he held a 20-point lead over the Florida governor.
In the FAU/Mainstreet/PolCom survey conducted between October 27 and November 11 among 946 registered Florida voters, Trump commands 61 percent of the vote in a diverse Republican field, while DeSantis trails significantly at 20 percent. In the previous poll from July, Trump stood at 50 percent among Florida Republicans, whereas DeSantis held 30 percent.
DeSantis could only look into the camera and smile stiffly when Newsom said:
“You’re trolling folks and trying to find migrants to play political games, to try to get some news and attention, so you can out-Trump Trump."
"And, by the way, how’s that going for you, Ron? You’re down 41 points in your own home state."
You can see their exchange and DeSantis' reaction in the video below.
Newsom also took DeSantis to task over proposed book bans in Florida, accusing DeSantis of using "education as a sword for your cultural purge."
"1,406 books have been banned just last year under Ron DeSantis' leadership. I love that he keeps pulling this out. I've seen this. He's been doing this all over the campaign."
To spotlight DeSantis' anti-LGBTQ+ agenda, Newsom invoked some of California's own history. He mentioned the 1978 "Briggs initiative," a ballot measure that proposed banning gays and lesbians from teaching which Newsom called "the original 'Don't Say Gay' bill."
Though that proposition failed, Newsom used it as ammunition against DeSantis, saying:
"I don't like the way you demean the LGBTQ community. I don't like the way you demean and humiliate people you disagree with Ron. I really find this fundamentally offensive."
In the video below, you can see that DeSantis behaved similarly—smiling awkwardly while standing rigidly.
DeSantis was swiftly mocked as clips of his reactions to Newsom's remarks went viral.
DeSantis has continued to face criticism amid concerns among Republican operatives about his apparent lack of social skills or personality.
According to the New York Times, the governor had to be reminded to maintain eye contact and shake hands during his visit to Iowa, further fueling the perception of a disconnect with everyday people.
DeSantis was widely mocked online over the summer after a Fox News interview he gave sparked immediate comparisons to Homelander, the unstable villain on the Prime Video series The Boys who employs a forced smile and calculated demeanor to shape public perception by proclaiming his excitement for others to meet the "real me."
Similarly, he found himself at the center of social media attention for his facial expressions during August's Republican presidential debate after he appeared to attempt a smile following an applause line, only to either abandon the attempt or struggle to execute it smoothly.