Sean Hannity and Gavin Newsom are an unlikely cable news bromance. The conservative Fox News host and the Democratic California governor are ideologically polar opposites. But their recent joint appearances — an hourlong sit down in June and a lengthy interview after the second Republican presidential candidates’ debate on Sept. 27 at the Ronald Reagan Library — offered a robust but cordial discussion of issues, a rarity these days in a media landscape where politicians and advocates are more comfortable preaching to their own tribes. Hannity, who typically cites California’s problems with crime and housing as a symbol of all that’s wrong with the Democrats, was even singing praises for In-N-Out Burger at his second interview with the governor. “From the first time we met we just hit it off and there was a certain relationship that developed that was like, ‘Oh, come on, you don’t believe all that,’” Hannity said of Newsom in a recent interview at Fox News headquarters in Midtown Manhattan. “It was always friendly and never contentious. You can say anything to him. You can have fun with him.”
The success of their recent meetings prompted Hannity to turn it up a notch. He invited Newsom and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, running for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, to debate on his program. Hannity negotiated the terms and details directly with the political rivals, who will meet Thursday in a 90-minute showdown at 6 p.m. Pacific on Fox News. The matchup is unusual from a TV news perspective because it is rare for two politicians not running against each other to be given such a high-profile forum. (Fox News is calling it “The Great Red vs. Blue State Debate.”) The last memorable example was on May 15, 1967, when a previous California governor, Ronald Reagan, appeared with Robert F. Kennedy, then representing New York in the U.S. Senate, to take questions from students studying overseas for a full hour on CBS. “Neither of them were running at that time,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “They both were ambitious and everybody suspected they would.” Both men did pursue the presidential nominations of their respective parties the following year, with Kennedy’s surging campaign ending when he was assassinated just after winning the California Democratic primary. But it was Reagan who burnished his national reputation on the 1967 program, as the polished former actor displayed a firm grasp of global affairs. The moment helped set him on his path to the White House in 1980. On Thursday, Hannity will question the dueling governors himself — without an audience — in Alpharetta, Ga.
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Hannity has given assurances he won’t be the wrestling referee who looks the other way while one of the brawlers brings a steel chair into the ring. He noted that Newsom was pleased with their first interview. “I kept my pledge to give him a fair shot and let him answer,” Hannity said. “If I have one goal going in, it’s that people walk away and say, ‘Wow that was a good, spirited, healthy informative debate.’” Mike Murphy, a screenwriter and longtime Republican political consultant, said there is value in Newsom’s willingness to appear in a potentially hostile environment as he builds a national reputation. “There’s a feeling sometimes among Democrats that nobody goes into the Fox lion’s den with a big stick and fights back, so I think he thinks he might help the wider cause while helping himself,” Murphy said. “I’m always in favor of grab a microphone and go on offense as long as it’s live TV and nobody can edit it.” Newsom has said in the past that he watches conservative media. He may be better acquainted than most Democrats, as his ex-wife is Kimberly Guilfoyle, a former co-host of the Fox News panel show “The Five” who is now engaged to Donald Trump Jr. Hannity recalls Newsom visiting Guilfoyle at the network’s offices and studios. While Murphy thinks Newsom’s upcoming appearance can help pave the road to a future White House run, he believes there is short-term risk for Democrats. The governor’s smoothness and on-camera vigor could invite more discussion about Biden’s age — the president turned 81 on Nov. 20 — which has become a significant issue among pollsters and pundits.
"Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts." - Daniel Patrick Moynihan