His message to Ron Klain and Jill Biden over the summer – when he traveled to Washington amid growing speculation and considerable West Wing irritation that he was plotting a primary challenge – was to count him as a strong supporter of Biden’s re-election: “I’m counting on me,” he told them.
Newsom conveyed the same to Biden himself on election night.
After spending much of the evening with his family, aides and supporters at the governor’s mansion watching the surprisingly strong returns from Democrats, the governor rushed to a Sacramento hotel to briefly celebrate his own landslide re-election and trumpeting approval of a ballot measure enshrining abortion rights in the California constitution.
“We have made it clear with conviction that we are a true state of the free,” Newsom told reporters. He pitted California, and himself, against book and abortion ban governors in other states who also won re-election but remained unnamed. Or at least they did explicitly, until Newsom alluded to one who “brings migrants to an island”.
It looks like he has all the makings of a classic political preview, an upcoming attraction, as it looks 400 miles on the 5. Here’s the freshly re-elected next-gen Democrat of a mega-state standing with his young family and calling the freshly reelected next-generation Republican from another megastate hours after DeSantis claimed victory on stage with his young family.
The 2024 showdown, it seems, was underway.
But this is Sacramento not Hollywood. And today’s political culture, especially among Democrats, is not the stuff of Aaron Sorkin’s pictures.
So after addressing the cameras, Newsom found himself standing in front of his motorcade on a chilly night for California, talking on his cell phone and telling the soon-to-be-80-year-old president, don’t worry, he was at edge .
“I bet everything; put me in coach,” Newsom told Biden. “We’ve got your back.”
The Governor didn’t intend for me to hear his part of the conversation, I just left the hotel as he took the congratulatory call on the sidewalk, his four children and his wife, Jennifer, by his side. But as he drove back through Sacramento to the mansion, it was hard not to think of the difference between him and the last two California governors who had chosen to live in the three-story Victorian.
In 1976, Ronald Reagan challenged a sitting president, Gerald Ford, and four years later Jerry Brown did the same against Jimmy Carter. Both incumbents would lose the general election, much like George HW Bush did in 1992, the last year a president would face a serious remote primary.
This fear of hurting your own president and not ensuring his defeat until the fall is part of the reason why the primaries against the incumbents have faded, and it is certainly a priority for young challengers who do not want not harm their future prospects in the party.
Yet there is something else at work now that was missing when Reagan and Brown mounted their challenges. The current intense polarization and the contempt that the two parties have for each other have favored an internal cohesion within the two coalitions which, much more than an ideological unity, acts as a brake on insurgencies.
In other words, there is a perceived penalty for confronting one’s own leaders because weakening them would risk the unthinkable – helping the opposition.
So it’s understandable that the only forcing mechanism that can alter this dynamic is whether staying loyal to one leader poses the greatest risk of aiding and abetting the other party. That’s why some Republicans believe (or at least strongly hope) that their lackluster midterm performance could finally free them from Donald Trump’s grip — because while GOP voters are willing to tolerate a lot of Trump, they won’t. can’t stand it to ensure Democratic success. .
It’s also Trump explaining why a Democratic Party that stretches from Bush Republicans to devout Social Democrats is now operationally closer to the House of Windsor than the pirate ship it once looked like. Look no further than the orderly succession whereby, within hours and with barely a whisper of dissent, they effectively swapped three new House Democratic leaders to replace three octogenarians – 50 years and a world away from George McGovern giving his acceptance speech in the middle of the night after the outcome of the party convention in 1972.
Stopping Trump’s comeback is the party’s number one priority and everything else is a dangerous distraction, including any open discussion, at least for now, about whether it’s in the Democrats’ interest to reappoint the oldest president in American history. (Trump isn’t a spring chicken either, party activists can already be heard screaming at their screens while reading this.)
Back at the Governor’s Mansion, where Newsom’s allies dined on pasta and sliders as the results came in, the Governor is still aware of his golden lineage. He notes that Nancy Reagan realized the 19th century building was “a fire trap” shortly after the Reagans moved in after the 1966 governor’s race and points out where John F. Kennedy allegedly asked the governor of the time. Pat Brown, Jerry’s father, for his endorsement in the 1960 presidential race.
Yet while he eloquently explains why Trump and DeSantis pose significant risks to American democracy, Newsom also seems to acknowledge that as long as Trump looms as the potential GOP nominee in 2024, Democrats will give Biden a big hand. And that was before the full extent of the party’s surprising success was factored in in the days following the election, which had the opposite effect on the future of the president that midterm Republican failures have had on Trump’s perceived viability.
“He didn’t just beat Trump once, I think he can beat him again,” the governor said, articulating Biden’s message perfectly. “I hope he runs, I will support him enthusiastically.”
So why do so many Biden loyalists suspect his plot?
“It’s frustrating because I have so much reverence and respect not only for the president but the vice president is an old friend, for all those interesting things you all like to write about, we’ve known each other for 25 years “, Newsom continues, referring to Vice President Kamala Harris unprompted.
He, of course, knows the reason for the speculation. He has spent much of this year criticizing Democrats for their lackluster message, wondering aloud where the leadership lies and demanding they go on the offensive.
Newsom maintains he was radicalized by the recall push against him last year, an effort he eventually rebuffed with ease but which for a time scared him and his team.
“I’ve seen what the Republican Party can do when focused, trying to wipe us out in off-year, off-month elections — I’ve respected the hell of that,” he said. , before trumpeting his own efforts to defend himself. out of the challenge. “It taught me a lot about the other side and it gives me an idea of what we are capable of when we are focused.”
Governor insists he won’t run for president even if Biden doesn’t run – ‘the answer is no,’ he said – but is less adamant about 2028, when he will 61 years old and her children will be older.
It may be hard to believe for someone still considered a rising star, but it will be nearly a quarter of a century since he burst onto the national scene. Then he was the dashing new mayor of America’s most famous liberal city, proudly issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in San Francisco and actually demonstrating that, as he likes to say, California is the where America’s future happens first.
Now, after eight years in the shadow of Jerry Brown’s Sacramento sequel has finally given way to his rise to governorship, Newsom should be at the height of his career. Instead, he’s facing the same skepticism from the East Coast media and political class about his future — a dapper San Francisco guy as a Democratic presidential candidate? — and his ambitions clash with another entrenched former Democrat.
At the moment, he is eager to enlist as Biden’s super surrogate and is looking for opportunities where he can get them. It targets Elon Musk, whose purchase of San Francisco-based Twitter has alarmed liberals, suggesting the world’s richest man is using the social media platform to help his other businesses.
“I imagine there’s a reason he’s fundraising for Kevin McCarthy and a reason he’s singing the praises of Ron DeSantis,” Newsom said of Musk, citing the benefits that the entrepreneur gets Republican governors for companies like SpaceX. “He’s also the beneficiary of their largesse in places like Texas and their tax credits.”
Newsom is even more eager to do battle with McCarthy, the Republican from Bakersfield, Calif., who hopes to become president of the next Congress.
“The shoe will quickly be on the other foot” if McCarthy becomes a speaker, promises Newsom. He calls the McCarthy District “the murder capital of California”, taunting, “What do you do about it, Kevin?” And he asks McCarthy for his views on a complete overhaul of immigration after years of talking about “a good game on the border.”
More importantly though, it’s DeSantis who Newsom can’t wait to tangle with. Now re-elected, the Californian wants to travel more – and he hopes to take his message to red states like Florida, where he said he would compare his record on Covid, crime and, above all, how Newsom defines “freedom” to DeSantis.
“I’m ready to take risks, I’m ready to go out and I tell you for sure that I look forward to going out more without much ambition except to push this narrative back and try to reframe this debate and get back to attacking the freedom,” Newsom said.
Does this, I asked, become an easier campaign to run if Biden is an announced candidate and you support his re-election, which will almost certainly be the most vocal Rose Garden campaign in history.
“I think it’s a lot easier because it’s done with more purity of heart,” he shot back, alluding to what he called “cynicism” about his motives.
Newsom said he’d like to see an early 2023 nomination statement from Biden and then, as he said, “let me go.”
“It allows me to have my back and go out there and make the point that I made to the White House, that I made to my party: use us, use- we !” exclaims Newsom.
He was talking about governors and mayors, but there was no doubt which one he had in mind.