The Corner

Politics & Policy

The Sinking Ship of Gavin Newsom

California governor Gavin Newsom waits to speak at a news conference in San Diego, Calif., October 9, 2019. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

David Siders and Carla Marinucci of Politico takes a long look at the growing effort to recall Governor Gavin Newsom in California, and the dark clouds over the Newsom administration in general. The whole article is worth reading, but a key point is that it’s not difficult to find Democrats getting increasingly frustrated with the performance of the state’s government:

“I don’t think Californians can understand why we have hundreds of thousands of doses sitting there, and they’re not being administered,’’ said Garry South, a Democratic strategist who advised Newsom’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign and was a senior adviser to Davis. “California’s been through nearly 10 months of hell, and now there’s potentially a light at the end of tunnel with these vaccines — but it doesn’t do anybody any good if they’re not administered.”

“You’ve got to get these vaccinations in people’s arms,” he said.

You don’t have to be an anti-vaxxer or “fluther” to notice that California has enacted some of the strictest restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 . . . and the state’s caseload and daily number of new deaths are still spectacularly high — if the pandemic has stopped getting worse, it doesn’t seem to be getting much better. The state is imposing massive economic pain, for minimally discernible public-health gain.

But another key point in Politico’s article is that for Democratic governors, life under Biden may actually be tougher than life under Trump: “The frame of reference through which Californians view Newsom is about to change dramatically when Joe Biden replaces Donald Trump in the White House. No longer benefiting from a reliable foil in Washington, the bar of public approval for Newsom — and for Democratic governors across the country — is likely to be raised.” As Greg and I discussed on the just-taped Three Martini Lunch, Donald Trump’s departure is about to make life a little bit more difficult for every Democratic officeholder.

If you’re a Democrat, you’ve had the cheapest, easiest applause line imaginable for the past four (really five or six) years, some variation of “Donald Trump stinks.” Opposition to Trump was the one giant issue that united the center-left, the woke, economic liberals, social liberals, the Democratic establishment, Bernie Bros, you name it. Among the Democrats, Trump was and is the worst villain imaginable, the cause of all troubles, the ultimate scapegoat.

And later this month . . . Trump’s gone, at least from public office. Being “not Trump” or opposed to Trump won’t be enough anymore; over time, an officeholder’s opposition to Trump will become less and less relevant. The fights of this presidency will fade. (Remember that the Democratic Senate nominee in Kansas didn’t know what the Patriot Act was.) In 2009, Jon Corzine and Creigh Deeds spent a lot of time bashing George W. Bush on the campaign trail. They both lost in November.

Without Trump as a punching bag, governors such as Gavin Newsom will need to build public support on their own merits. Judging from the vaccine rollout in many states, that’s going to be a lot more difficult.