Morris Fiorina, professor of political science and Hoover Institution fellow at Stanford University, said that Gavin Newsom is running a shadow presidential campaign in preparation for 2024.
California Governor Gavin Newsom’s vetoes, international travel, and planned debate with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis amount to something like a covert presidential campaign.
At least for this cycle, it’s difficult to see how Mr. Newsom would succeed; he has been a staunch backer of incumbent President Joe Biden and hasn’t wavered as other Democratic primaries have passed with the filing deadlines.
Two years after state term limits will eject him from the governor’s house, in 2028, he might be shooting for that year. Or, if everything goes according to plan, he might act sooner.
“I think it’s been pretty obvious that Newsom has been positioning himself for a run in 2028 and to be available in 2024 should Biden’s health or capacities deteriorate to the point that Democrats decide that they need another candidate,” said Morris Fiorina, professor of political science and Hoover Institution fellow at Stanford University.
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President Biden’s capacity to run for reelection was also questioned by California Assemblyman James Gallagher, the head of the Republicans in that body of the legislature.
“Right now, everybody in public is saying they’re rallying behind Joe Biden, but it’s very clear that he is deteriorating,” said Mr. Gallagher.
According to a Rolling Stone magazine article, Trump is planning to withdraw the US from NATO once he wins the 2024 election, but he might not follow through on that desire.
The Democratic majority leader of the California State Senate, Gloria Romero, declared that Mr. Newsom was “the replacement candidate” and that “the conundrum is the vice president.”
2024 as 1968
Opponents of President Biden have occasionally drawn comparisons between him and former President Jimmy Carter, who oversaw a hostage crisis and rising inflation. As the US increases its backing for Israel against Hamas, another parallel may be provided by President Lyndon B. Johnson, the dealmaker from Capitol Hill who is even more marred by the conflict. Similar to the Vietnam War, a large portion of the Democratic base opposed the fight, in part due to the deaths of civilians.
The unpopular President Johnson withdrew from the campaign early in 1968 amid anti-Vietnam riots. After months of internal party strife, which included the killing of presidential nominee Robert F. Kennedy, the Democratic convention in August in Chicago was disorderly and violent.
The darling of the party establishment at the time, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, eventually won the nomination by defeating Senator Eugene McCarthy (D-Minn.), a fellow Minnesotan who opposed the war, as well as a number of other candidates. Following his defeat by John F. Kennedy in the 1960 presidential contest, Mr. Humphrey was defeated by Richard Nixon in the general election. Nixon was previously written off as a lost candidate in American politics.
There exist notable parallels between the years 1968 and 2024. Chicago will host the Democratic National Convention once more. The son of Robert F. Kennedy is also a candidate, although he is running as an independent. Additionally, Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), President Biden’s next Democratic primary opponent, is a native of Minnesota, much like Mr. Humphrey and Mr. McCarthy were (though he isn’t campaigning against an unpopular war, unlike them).
President Johnson’s withdrawal from the race “opened up the delegates that he may have already won at that point to be able to vote as they pleased on the floor of the Democratic convention,” according to Chuck DeVore, a former member of the California State Assembly who is currently employed by the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
“Essentially, you end up with this brokered convention. We may end up seeing something very similar in 2024,” he said.
Seeking the Center on Domestic Issues
The Chicago convention of 2024 is several months away. Right now, all that can be evaluated by an observer is what California’s governor has already done to raise his chances of winning the presidency.
Some of Mr. Newsom’s vetoes during the previous legislative session garnered media notice. He blocked legislation, for example, that would have made the possession of hallucinogenic mushrooms less illegal. Additionally, he vetoed legislation that would have changed child custody proceedings to favor parents who “affirm” a minor’s transgender identity, as well as a bill that would have provided free condoms in California’s public high schools.
Liberal pundit Jill Filipovic described some of those vetoes as “disappointing” in an opinion piece on CNN, claiming that the governor is “a man who puts his own political future ahead of the will of the people.”
Ms. Romero doesn’t quite see it that way, despite the fact that some observers could feel a tilt toward the middle.
“It’s really political calculation,” she said. She lambasted some of the bills emanating from California’s Legislature, calling them “almost Babylon Bee-ish.” They are, in short, hard for the governor to greenlight if he wants to become competitive across a country where California values aren’t always and everywhere welcome.
She conjectured that a few of the vetoes indicate the governor’s attempt to win back the confidence of nonleftist Democrats like herself, many of whom are fed up with Mr. Newsom’s management style.
The governor of California, according to Ms. Romero, is a chameleon-like character who gains from the traditional media’s generally tolerant portrayal.
Like Ms. Romero, Mr. Gallagher described the vetoes as a political ploy to deflect attention from the governor’s left-wing views.
“The problem is, he’s still passing pretty radical policy,” Mr. Gallagher said. He mentioned legislation like S.B. 253, a bill sponsored by Democratic state senator Scott Wiener that would force big businesses to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions.
He claimed that Mr. Newsom’s vetoes would enable him to maintain his environmental agenda, which is a trademark issue for him both domestically and on his recent trip to China, where climate policy was a major priority, while still appearing harsher on drugs.
Vetoes by the Numbers
Mr. DeVore proposed that the vetoes might not be as extraordinary as first thought.
“Every governor of California, or really any governor across the country, will veto a certain number of bills that they see as just poor bills,” he said.
“I think there is a danger in reading a little too much into that,” he added, noting that the state’s past Democratic governors have also vetoed bills from the Legislature, which has skewed left for many decades.
In fact, the overall picture is murkier, despite certain media coverage implying that Mr. Newsom’s latest vetoes bring him closer to the American middle.
The most recent legislative session saw 890 measures signed by Mr. Newsom and 156 vetoed by him. This indicates that he rejected slightly less than 15% of the bills that were presented to him by the state legislature, which is controlled by strong Democratic supermajorities in both chambers.
Based on an examination by the Office of Research of the California Senate, it is consistent with his prior actions.
In 2022, Mr. Newsom vetoed slightly less than 14.5 percent of the laws that came before him. The governor vetoed 16.51 percent of the measures that came across his desk in 2019, which was a larger percentage than in 2023. While that was a significant improvement over a 7.89 percent veto rate in 2021, it was fairly on par with a 13.08 percent veto rate in 2020.
During his second term as governor, Mr. Newsom’s immediate predecessor, fellow Democrat Gov. Jerry Brown, vetoed a comparable number of laws. Under his direction, the veto rate varied from 10.71 percent in 2013 to 16.52 percent in 2018.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, the state’s final Republican governor, was the last to regularly veto a larger number of measures. Every year he was in office, the movie star turned politician defeated over 22% of the bills that made it through the Legislature. In 2008, he exercised his veto power the most, rejecting thirty-five percent of the bills that were proposed.
When it comes to Mr. Newsom’s purported move to conservatism, Mr. Fiorina of the Hoover Institution contended that his vetoes are only one aspect of the story.
For instance, the governor declared in September that the Board of State and Community Corrections would be giving more than $267 million to California’s law enforcement organizations.
“He made extra funds available to local authorities for crime fighting,” Mr. Fiorina said.
Furthermore, the governor initiated the CARE Court program for mental health treatment, which resisted a legal challenge by disability rights activists in the California Supreme Court. Homelessness is a serious issue in Mr. Newsom’s state and is largely caused by mental illness.
“Crime, homelessness, trans issues … it is almost as if his staff is thinking, ‘What attack ads about [California] liberals will the Republicans run in the Midwest battlegrounds? Let’s move now to head them off,” Mr. Fiorina said.
Mr. Newsom is expected to “dance to the latest tune of the piper, even as silly as they might be, to basically become the new head of the Democratic Party,” according to California Democrat Ms. Romero.
Newsom in China
While in office, President Nixon—who had defeated Humphrey in 1968—visited China. The president, who was once a young poker shark, cautiously but boldly played his hand amid the disintegrating Soviet Union and China.
John Coolidge Adams’s opera “Nixon in China” was inspired by the journey, which was so famous that it helped pave the way for the end of the Cold War. President Nixon’s character remarks, “Five-card stud taught me a lot about mankind,” in the third act.
Although a statement from the governor’s office stated he discussed “a variety of human rights issues including Hong Kong, Tibet, Xinjiang, and Taiwan” with other officials, Mr. Newsom did not raise China’s human rights record with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
“It is wrong to visit China and fail to bring up human rights issues. But Newsom went further, defending his failure,” said Anders Corr, a strategic analyst of international affairs, in an email.
“This is not an unusual thing, for a California governor to be on the world stage,” Mr. DeVore said.
“California has a unique relationship with the Pacific Rim, and so it’s not unusual for delegations to go to Asia,” Ms. Romero said.
She was particularly critical of his stumble while playing basketball.
“Politics is a sport. There he is, playing a sport, and he literally trips over and falls,” Ms. Romero said.
Newsom Versus Harris
Beyond proving his competence in both domestic and international issues, Mr. Newsom needs to do more as he moves closer to a potential White House run. He needs to carefully avoid Vice President Kamala Harris, who is currently ranked second in the world in terms of authority.
During a September appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Mr. Newsom stated that Ms. Harris “is naturally the one lined up” in the event that President Biden declines to run.
Although the daughter of two professors fits the profile of an intersectional realpolitik candidate, the vice president has consistently scored highly unlikeable and poor likability in polls. However, there are a few reasons why Mr. Newsom would be difficult to fit in.
“You would have to overstep her to get in that place. And if he does, then they’re going to have a problem with black voters, a core part of their voting constituency,” he said.
Ms. Butler was a prominent member of the Service Employers International Union (SEIU), a significant political force for Democrats, in addition to being an LGBT Black woman. EMILY’s List, a pro-abortion access group, was led by her as well.
“She brought with her two vital constituencies for the modern Democratic Party,” Mr. DeVore said.
Additionally, Ms. Butler declared she will not run for office again. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who is well-liked by many Democrats for his part in President Trump’s initial impeachment, now has a path forward.
Newsom Versus DeSantis (and Trump)
Mr. DeVore, like Ms. Romero and Mr. Gallagher, surmised that even with the presidency at stake, Mr. Newsom would find it difficult to avoid Ms. Harris.
“How do they finesse being able to minimize the time where Biden is a lame duck [and] somehow figure out how to muscle Kamala Harris aside and have a reset at getting a person in as a standard bearer who has a better shot at winning? This is not an easy thing to do,” he said.
A portion of the legitimacy to pull it off might come from the governor of California’s next debate with Mr. DeSantis, another candidate for the White House.
Mr. DeSantis accepted Mr. Newsom’s challenge to a debate, which he ridiculed. On November 30, the two will square off on Fox News anchor Sean Hannity’s show.
“The fact that he took the bait in relation to this debate shows that he’s completely unqualified to be president of the United States,” Mr. Newsom said in a September interview coinciding with the second Republican debate in Simi Valley, California.
Until the Republican front-runner, President Trump squares off against the governor of California, other Americans could hold off on making their decisions.
President Trump has held the positions of both the White House and the World Wrestling Entertainment WrestleMania ring, in contrast to Mr. Newsom, Mr. DeSantis, or Ms. Harris.
Vince McMahon, the promoter of WWE, and Mr. Newsom have never faced off, but he can talk trash that is appropriate for contemporary American politics. He said that Mr. DeSantis would “get rolled by Trump” in April.