The most intriguing presidential politics out of California this week don’t involve the Republican debate. It’s watching how aggressive Gov. Gavin Newsom is in running for president this cycle.
President Joe Biden is faltering mentally and physically. At a campaign reception last week, he repeated a story nearly word-for-word just a few minutes apart. Repetition is a warning sign of dementia. This month, he left a Medal of Honor ceremony early.
On Tuesday, Axios reported that Biden’s team is working to minimize the chances that he falls.
Voters have noticed. An Associated Press poll last month found 77 percent believe Biden, 80, is too old to be president for another term. That included 69 percent of Democrats. A recent Axios poll found two-thirds of Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents wanted someone other than Biden to be the nominee.
Then there’s Biden’s poor performance. Voters equate Bidenomics with high inflation. Biden’s approval rating is deeply underwater, 41 percent to 54.5 percent.
Newsom, California’s terrible governor, is well aware of these facts. It explains why he’s running a shadow campaign for the White House. He frequently inserts himself in the national political conversation and the business of other states. In June, he called for a constitutional convention on gun control. He has even agreed to participate in a Fox News debate against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Nov. 30.
Perhaps one could overlook all that as standard behavior for a politician with national ambitions. But consider these recent moves.
Newsom spent years watching retail crime explode in his state. But this month, he bragged that his state was sending $267 million on local law enforcement groups to crack down on organized retail theft. Last Friday, he vetoed a bill that would have linked custody in divorces cases to a parent going along with their child’s transgender beliefs. He also vetoed a bill that would have prevented California’s prisons from sharing information about jailed immigrants with federal officials.
Newsom didn’t see the light on crime, biological reality or illegal immigration. An obvious explanation is that he’s looking to limit his vulnerabilities if he were to run for president.
Newsom would be foolish to wait. Presidential nominations never resemble engraved invitations, but two-thirds of Democrats wanting another candidate is as close as one could hope. Robert Kennedy Jr. is currently in a distant second, but he may be running as a third-party candidate. Regardless, Newsom — as a liberal governor of the largest state who raised tens of millions of dollars last year — would be a much stronger challenger.
Even if Newsom loses, he would position himself as a top candidate to be the Democratic Party’s nominee in 2028. That’s important, because he’s termed out in 2026. Also, Vice President Kamala Harris is Biden’s natural successor otherwise.
Republicans should be thrilled that Newsom continues to maintain he won’t run for president this cycle. Newsom is a terrible governor, but he would be a much stronger Democratic nominee than Biden.