Is was a surprisingly civil affair. Fox News’s Sean Hannity and California Governor Gavin Newsom sat down for a tense debate Tuesday. Both men brought their A game, and they seemed to be having fun ribbing each-other:

It started with some points of agreement. “We need more cross pollination, we need more of these conversations. We live in an echo chamber,” Newsom said.

He has a point. He’s one of the few progressive politicians eager to appear on Fox News. He entered the lion’s den.

On immigration, Newsom quickly defended the President Joe Biden’s administration, claiming that crossings have gone down 70% after Title 42’s expiration. He passed the buck deftly, suggesting that visas get modernized and updated, thereby streamlining the immigration process. He said he wanted to create a pathway for citizen as Ronald Reagan did during his administration. The guy is good.

And interestingly enough, Newsom didn’t push on his more out-there progressive policies. On Monday he suggested adding an amendment to the constitution that would ban assault weapons. But he only mentioned gun control in one sentence, saying solely that he wanted background checks. He’s clearly catering to the Fox News audience.

On whether Biden is mentally capable? Hannity tried his best to get Newsom to address the burning question on the voters mind. Hannity, actually complimenting Newsom, suggested that his phone must be blowing up with calls for him to run for president in the wake of Biden’s ever-deteriorating mental state.

Newsom didn’t deny he got those calls, instead changing the subject, heaping praise on the president.

“I’ve gotten calls about how impressive it was he passed bipartisan bills. My phone lit up at how impressive it was that he passed a bill with McCarthy on the debt ceiling, also with infrastructure, CHIPS and Science Act and gun control reform-”

Hannity interrupted. “But are you getting those calls to run?”

“I’m rooting for our president.”

Then there was a debate about policy, and Hannity brought the focus back on Biden’s future and his capability to lead. He asked point blank, how would you grade the president? You think his surrogate would give him an A.

But Newsom wouldn’t go there. He wouldn’t give Biden a grade. He seems to be hedging his bets in a not so subtle way.

“How would you grade his presidency? How about on the economy, let’s talk about the economy. Wanna give him an A?,” Hannity pressed.

In response Newsom spoke about how US inflation was lower than that of the UK and some key other countries.

But still, he wouldn’t give Biden a grade.

How do we parse all this? Newsom is a stalking horse presidential candidate. He’s hoping Biden might throw in the towel right after the primary wraps up. The president surely wouldn’t want Robert F. Kennedy or Marianne Williamson to have an opportunity to snatch the Democratic nod. But if Biden were to step aside after the official August end date of the primary season, the delegates could install Newsom like they’re back in the smoke-filled rooms of 1952. 

That’s why Newsom is framing his policies in a way conservatives could be intrigued by. He wants their vote in a general election. Call me crazy, but Newsom has been allied with the elite-left, not the Sanders-purely progressive wing. He has curried favor his entire career.

The question is, with California losing population by the moment, with Silicone Valley’s most industrious players migrating to red states, and with an explosion of homeless and a denigration of quality of life in San Francisco, could Newsom sell himself at all? And there’s a reason why the Dems might end up playing it safe. Newsom isn’t as likeable as Biden. For all his faults, Biden seems like a nice enough guy at first glance. Newsom gives off a used car salesman vibe, a little too slick to get voters to relate to him.

Needless to say, each side felt that their guy came out as the victor. One progressive watcher shared this amusing meme:

And check Steven Crowder’s fact-check Newsom’s constant side-stepping:

It’s bound to be an interesting race, and we’ll be here to help you make sense of it all.

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