Analysis: Yes, DeSantis-Newsom Fox News Debate Was 90 Minutes of Compelling Primetime Cable News

By A.J. Katz 


When it’s all said and done, the Fox News primetime “Red State vs. Blue State” debate on Thursday featuring California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom and Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis may serve as a preview of a 2028 presidential general election debate.

However, in the short term, it was a 90-minute clash featuring a 2024 presidential candidate running a distant second in his party’s primary race against a big-state Democratic governor and Joe Biden-Kamala Harris administration surrogate who’s not even running for president this election cycle.


Sean Hannity hosted the event inside a mostly empty TV studio in Georgia, a location chosen due to its status as political neutral ground.

It was an interesting television event, nonetheless. Not often on primetime cable news do we get to see two high-profile politicians from opposite sides of the political spectrum engage in a fiery discussion over economic policy, Covid, cultural issues, and much more. Plus, one would think Fox News sees an uptick in average 9 p.m. viewership, despite having to go up against the Seahawks and Cowboys on Thursday Night Football.

The debate was also difficult to watch at times.

The two participants, standing at podiums alone onstage, repeatedly accused each other of lying about their respective records, and talked over each other throughout. Yes, two candidates mostly focused on policy, there were personal insults being thrown out in the open as well.

DeSantis called Newsom “a liberal bully” at one point in the proceedings (and many other things). Newsom disparaged DeSantis’ status in the current GOP primary race, reminding viewers he’s “down 41 points in his own state.” The California governor also remarked that the men had one thing in common, “neither of us will be our party’s [presidential] nominee.”

Hannity certainly tried his best, but struggled to control the action. He kept telling the candidates to give each other “breathing room.”

During a discussion on abortion policy, Newsom turned to DeSantis to ask him if he would sign a national six-week abortion ban if he were president, similar to the law he signed as Florida’s governor.

“No, no, no, no — I’m asking the questions!” said Hannity. But Newsom didn’t stop.

“Will you or will you not sign a six-week ban, in the unlikely case you become President of the United States?” asked the California governor. “Will you sign a national ban? He won’t answer that.”

Hannity stepped in again and asked DeSantis about why he signed that bill that reduced Florida’s abortion restrictions from 15 to six weeks. DeSantis responded, and then Newsom interrupted to try his previously-posed question again.

“This is an important conversation, will you or will you not support a national ban if it lands on your desk?” asked Newsom.

DeSantis responded that Newsom hadn’t answered Hannity’s question about abortion restrictions. Newsom kept asking if he would support a national abortion ban — and Hannity jumped in to say, “Gentlemen, we are moving on to the next issue.”

Towards the end of the debate, Hannity remarked, “It would be great if you guys cooperated. I’m not a potted plant here!”

While each governor defended their record in leading their respective states while debating the issues at hand, Newsom also made a point of playing the role of Biden-Harris surrogate at various points throughout. For example, when DeSantis said President Biden, at 81 years old, is ”in decline” and represents “a danger to the country,” Newsom fired back, “I’m proud of the work Biden and Harris have done,” before citing various statistics showing economic improvement over the past 12 months. “I will take Joe Biden at 100 rather than Ron DeSantis any day of the week at any age.”

If one took the bold step of scouring social media after the broadcast, each side seemed to feel “their guy” won. Liberals thought Newsom “absolutely torched” DeSantis. Conservatives thought it was a “massacre” in DeSantis’ favor.

The debate probably served a positive purpose for both candidates. DeSantis got some practice in leading up to the next 2024 GOP primary debate, which is being held Wednesday in Alabama, and also energized Conservatives who loathe the California governor. It’s also very likely the DeSantis campaign will raise a large chunk of change from his performance. On the other side, Newsom and Democrats were able to tout the Biden-Harris administration’s accomplishments live to millions on Fox News primetime, something which doesn’t happen very often, if ever.

All in all, despite the interruptions and occasional personal insults, it was a compelling 90 minutes of primetime cable news, something Hannity and Fox were undoubtedly hoping for when they finalized the debate months ago.