Gavin Newsom Is Gross and Embarrassing and Will Never Be President
So he should stop making an embarrassing national spectacle of himself.
I have a rant.
In theory, Gavin Newsom is running for re-election as governor of California. But he is also, in the least subtle way possible, trying to position himself for a presidential run.
He’s challenged Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — also nominally just a candidate for re-election — to a national debate on CNN. And he’s used re-election campaign funds to put up billboards in South Carolina and six other states advertising the availability of abortion in California. And there has been a steady stream of news stories, obviously fueled by the governor’s allies, about how he stands ready to run for president as soon as the Democratic nomination becomes available.
I hate this for a few reasons.
First: The posturing is gross and cheap. The abortion billboards say “California is ready to help,” but they direct readers to a website that does little more than inform readers that abortion is legal in California and they may travel there to receive one. Gee, thanks. California does not, in fact, offer anything especially useful to women living 2,000 miles away who need abortions — if you need an abortion you can’t get in South Carolina, your likely best option is to travel to North Carolina. The billboards amount to using women in red states as a prop to burnish Newsom’s image. Similarly, proposing to debate DeSantis on CNN (about what, immigration policy neither of them controls?) does nothing to address migrant issues. It’s all about how these issues can be used to draw attention to Gavin Newsom.
My second irritation is that Democrats already have a candidate for 2024. His name is Joe Biden, he’s presided over a series of important legislative victories, his poll numbers have improved markedly, and his renomination remains Democrats’ best chance to hold the White House in two years. Newsom’s extremely public posturing toward the presidency undermines Biden, which is possibly why Biden made the highly unusual choice earlier this month to wade into a California state policy dispute — publicly urging Newsom to sign a bill related to farm-worker unionization about which the governor has reservations. Politico reports that Newsom is “privately seething” over Biden sticking his nose into California business in a way that highlights a breach between Newsom and labor. Well, maybe Newsom should consider keeping his nose out of Biden’s business, if that bothers him so much.
But the biggest reason Newsom’s antics bother me is that he would be a really bad candidate for Democrats, whether in 2024, 2028, or thereafter.
Who exactly is Newsom a candidate for? Is Gavin Newsom supposed to help the Democratic Party retain what support it has among non-college white voters in the Midwest? Does he particularly excite black or Hispanic voters? Is he supposed to appeal to moderate suburban women who are worried about which political party is going to go too far? What kind of crossover appeal has he ever demonstrated?
Sure, he put together a thumping margin in last year’s recall election — against Larry Elder, an absolute joke of a candidate who ran a right-wing campaign in a deep blue state. This was not like facing down Arnold Schwarzenegger. Newsom is a replacement-level liberal California Democrat with no especially appealing backstory, ideology, or dedicated support base to differentiate him — which is why he has to resort to these sorts of PR stunts designed to appeal to exactly the sort of core MSNBC viewers that Democrats can count on in any election, whoever they nominate.
Plus, let’s be frank — would you buy a used car from this man?
Gavin Newsom looks like the kind of guy who would have an affair with the wife of his close friend and campaign manager. Or who, when he was 39 and mayor of San Francisco, had a girlfriend who was too young to drink. Or who would dine with a group of 12 at The French Laundry just hours after warning Californians not to gather for the holidays due to COVID. Or who would marry Kimberly Guilfoyle.1 Or who would pose with Guilfoyle like this on Ann Getty’s rug:
Of course, Newsom looks like that kind of guy because he is that guy. He did all those things! He’s practically the opposite of Relatable Joe from Scranton — an effete, sleazy, high-handed liberal from San Francisco who seems like he might hit on your wife, if she’s hot.
Kamala Harris would be a better candidate.
I think we’ve learned some lessons from the last few cycles, right? It was a problem that voters didn’t like Hillary Clinton and it was especially a problem that they did not trust her — as Gabriel Debenedetti noted when I talked to him on the podcast two weeks ago, Biden privately harped on this obvious problem as the 2016 campaign progressed, even as other Democrats remained oblivious to it. We learned a lesson the hard way and in 2020, we nominated a guy who was actually likable and we won. So why would we, in the future, nominate a guy whose whole vibe is “Bill Clinton without charm”?
Sure, you might be tempted to say that his Republican opponent will be worse. In the theoretical world where Newsom were nominated in 2024, he could be up against DeSantis or Donald Trump. But again, we’ve seen how “the other side’s guy is even more repellent” works as a strategy — it did not lead to a Hillary Clinton presidency.
And Trump, for all his downsides, brought energy and new voters into the Republican Party. It’s not clear to me that it was a good trade — Trump alienated a lot of voters, energized the opposition, and lost the popular vote twice — but at least it was a trade. Newsom, meanwhile, is off-putting with no obvious offsetting characteristic that would help him win votes compared to other, more likable candidates Democrats could nominate.
For all the repellence of his persona, Newsom has done some good things as governor of California. In particular, he’s signed a number of sensible housing policy bills. He should focus on that, and abandon the ludicrous notion that he should ever be the Democratic nominee for president.
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