October 6, 2022 - 9:00 pm
As many Americans have probably noticed, the commentary industrial complex is out of whack.
These days, too many media commentators let how they “feel” about a candidate influence their analysis of how that candidate will perform. If they support someone, they’re likely to predict that he or she will go far. If not, they’re likely to write the person off.
I’m not playing that game. To prove it, let me share my latest read on California Gov. Gavin Newsom. It’s complicated.
I’m not a fan, and — as a native Californian — I think Newsom has been a failure in his current job. With regard to the major issues facing the state — from crime and homelessness to affordability and water policy — he has either underperformed or made the situation worse.
Nowhere was Newsom’s failed leadership more sharply on display than with his bungling of the state’s reaction to the coronavirus pandemic. He orchestrated an on-again/off-again economic lockdown, and he kept the public schools closed longer than he should have in order to please the powerful union known as the California Teachers Association.
Yet Newsom also has political skills that are crazy good. He seems to eat, sleep and dream about politics. Likable and an excellent communicator, he has great political instincts. He can read the moment and figure out what people want — then give it to them.
His opponents and detractors — in both parties — underestimate him at their peril.
There is no doubt that Newsom is ready for his close-up. He has been touring the country as of late, calling out GOP extremism and trying to pick fights with Republicans over everything from immigration and abortion to the environment and climate change. He is calling upon fellow Democrats to get off the defensive and be much more combative in defending their beliefs and celebrating their accomplishments.
What Newsom senses — I think correctly — is that Democrats aren’t looking for a happy warrior, as much as a brass-knuckled brawler. Many of them believe that democracy itself is at stake, and they want someone who is ready to go to war. Newsom is beating the war drum.
Some of his favorite targets have been a pair of fellow big state governors, Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas.
And all of this is happening because Newsom — who has repeatedly denied that he is running for the Democratic nomination for president in 2024 — appears to be getting ready to do just that.
It is not a coincidence that DeSantis and Abbott are both likely to figure prominently in the 2024 presidential election, either as a candidate for the GOP nomination or as the kingmaker who chooses the nominee.
There are those political observers who say that Newsom doesn’t have a lane in which to run, or a constituency to fall back on given that he and the incumbent president, Joe Biden, belong to the same party.
That’s silly. When you’re the governor of the most populous state in the country, one that controls 55 electoral votes (more than one-fifth of the 270 electoral votes needed to be elected president), you make your own lane and create your own constituency.
Besides, Newsom seems to have a lot of the qualities that Democrats are looking for in a presidential candidate.
Let’s start with the fact that Newsom is not Biden. A recent poll from ABC News and The Washington Post found 56 percent of Democratic voters want someone else as their party’s nominee in 2024. Only 35 percent want to stick with Biden. That same poll found that the president’s job approval is foundering at 39 percent, while 53 percent disapprove of the job that Biden has done.
Another poll, taken in August, found that nearly three-quarters of college Democratic voters don’t believe Biden should run for re-election in 2024. According to an online NBC News/Generation Lab poll, 73 percent of incoming second-year students don’t believe Biden should run for re-election, while just 27 percent believe he should.
Numbers like that, combined with tepid support among Democrats for Vice President Kamala Harris as the heir apparent, provide an opportunity for a Democratic candidate to come out of left field.
And given that Newsom has been in politics for a quarter century — nearly half the time that the 54-year-old has been on the planet — he is not one to miss an opportunity. Expect him to grab hold of this one.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is email@example.com. His podcast, “Ruben in the Center,” is available through every podcast app.