The long-running rivalry between Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is reaching a boiling point.
Newsom went after DeSantis on Monday after more than a dozen migrants from the Texas border were flown to Sacramento, Calif. He called the Florida governor a “small, pathetic man” and suggested that Florida officials could face kidnapping charges for their involvement in the stunt.
It’s not the first feud between the two governors, who are seen as rising stars within their respective parties. Newsom and DeSantis have traded barbs for well over a year, and DeSantis has made Newsom — and the deep-blue state he leads — a key foil of his conservative political brand.
“Newsom is catnip for conservatives. He’s the polar opposite of Gov. DeSantis,” said Dan Eberhart, a Republican donor who’s backing DeSantis’s presidential bid, adding that “Newsom’s progressive agenda has turned California into a woke paradise where no one wants to live.”
“Newsom can’t help but respond to DeSantis’s provocations, which is exactly what DeSantis wants,” Eberhart continued. “He’s the perfect foil for Gov. DeSantis.”
The flight, which arrived in California’s capital Friday, was followed up Monday with a second group of Latin American migrants flown to Sacramento aboard the same chartered plane.
DeSantis has personally remained silent on the flights, which resemble an operation conducted last fall when the Florida governor arranged for two groups of migrants to be flown from San Antonio, Texas, to Martha’s Vineyard, the elite Massachusetts resort town.
He has enthusiastically discussed last fall’s migrant flights on the campaign trail, boasting during a recent swing through Iowa about sending dozens of “illegal aliens to beautiful Martha’s Vineyard.”
Yet Tuesday evening, the Florida Division of Emergency Management confirmed that the state was behind the flights to Sacramento, explaining that the migrants made the trips voluntarily “through verbal and written consent.” A spokesperson for the department also pushed back against allegations of kidnapping from California officials.
“From left-leaning mayors in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, Colorado, the relocation of those illegally crossing the United States border is not new,” the spokesperson Alecia Collins said in a statement to The Hill. “But suddenly, when Florida sends illegal aliens to a sanctuary city, it’s false imprisonment and kidnapping.”
DeSantis has repeatedly projected a hard-line stance on immigration, vowing to complete the border wall that his chief primary rival, former President Trump, promised for years. During a campaign kickoff rally in the Des Moines suburbs last week, he spoke at length about border security and pledged to “end mass migration” and “hold the Mexican drug cartels accountable for murdering American citizens.”
Yet despite his silence on the Sacramento flights, Newsom and California Attorney General Rob Bonta have said they believe that DeSantis signed off on the Friday flight.
DeSantis’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Previously, the California governor has gone after his Florida counterpart over everything from abortion rights to gun control, even going as far as to buy airtime in Florida last summer to run an ad inviting residents to “join the fight” against DeSantis’s policies.
“Or join us in California, where we still believe in freedom,” he said in the ad, which aired on Fox News. “Freedom of speech, freedom to choose, freedom to hate, the freedom to love.”
Newsom also made a surprise trip to DeSantis’s home state in April, visiting with students at New College, a public liberal arts school that has been at the center of the Florida governor’s conservative education campaign.
The anti-DeSantis crusade has helped make Newsom one of the most prominent Democrats in the country and fueled speculation that he could one day seek the White House, though he’s repeatedly said that he has no interest in running in 2024, when President Biden will be up for reelection.
Yet his spat with DeSantis has been mutually beneficial, allowing DeSantis to tout the rivalry as a sign that his state is doing something right, if his work is drawing fire from the governor of the nation’s largest Democratic stronghold.
He’s repeatedly pointed to Florida’s rapidly ballooning population, and California’s declining one, to attack “woke” ideology and Newsom’s job performance.
“How many people are moving from his state, fleeing to come to mine for freedom versus vice-versa?” DeSantis said on Fox News Radio’s “The Guy Benson Show” in March. “And I guarantee you we win in the net in-migration. People are leaving California in numbers we’ve never seen because of his failed policies.”
At the same time, Never Back Down, the main super PAC backing DeSantis’s presidential bid, has seized on Newsom to hammer Trump.
After Trump issued a lengthy statement in April claiming that, under DeSantis’s leadership, Florida “has become one of the least affordable states to live in the country,” the group made a public offer to give Trump “financial assistance to help him move to his beloved California, so he can be close to his good buddy Gavin Newsom, whom he loves so intensely and gets along with so well.”
One Democratic consultant described the back-and-forth between Newsom and DeSantis as a “symbiotic relationship.”
“If you’re the Democratic governor of the largest, the most-populous state, it’s not going to do any good to get along with [DeSantis],” the consultant said. “But that works the other way around; if you’re Ron DeSantis and you’re running in a primary, California is the big baddy here.”