Gavin Newsom’s latest moves were chalked up to presidential ambition. Here’s another theory

By Garry South

August 24, 2022

The Sacramento Bee

Speculation has run rampant recently about whether Gov. Gavin Newsom is getting ready to make a run for president. I don’t know exactly what’s going on in Newsom’s head, but it’s pretty hard for any governor of the nation’s largest state, with more people than Canada or Australia, to look in the mirror in the morning and not see a potential president staring back at him.

After all, Newsom’s predecessor Jerry Brown went for the brass ring not once, not twice, but three times — twice as a sitting governor. The governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, almost surely would have thought about making a run if he had not been barred because he was foreign-born. And until his approval ratings took a dive due to the electricity crisis, leading to his recall, Gov. Gray Davis was widely considered a potential presidential candidate in 2004 based on his overwhelming win in 1998, when he became the first Democratic governor of the state to be elected in 20 years. Even milquetoast Gov. Pete Wilson made a run for the 1996 Republican nomination.

In Newsom’s case, the speculation has been fanned by a few unusual and eyebrow-raising moves. He purchased time for a television ad in Florida that took to task the state’s Trumpesque Republican governor for all of his right-wing moves. Then he bought full-page newspaper ads in Texas to go after that state’s equally troglodyte GOP governor for his lax gun policies. And he’s been trolling the MAGA crowd on Trump’s own Truth Social.

Inevitably, a governor of California placing ads in the two next-biggest states, along with other in-their-face maneuvers, have led to the conclusion among many pundits that Newsom must surely be plotting a run for the White House.

But I have a different take on what he’s up to, and anyone who’s been paying the slightest bit of attention could come to the same conclusion by listening to Newsom’s own words.

The governor has wasted no opportunity to bemoan the inability or unwillingness of his own party to stand up and effectively and aggressively counter the GOP’s attempts to restrict Americans’ rights and subvert our elections.

“Where is the Democratic Party?” Newsom railed back in May. “Why aren’t we standing up more firmly, more resolutely? Where’s the counteroffensive?”

For years, Democrats have stood by and watched as Republicans abridged every norm, precedent and protocol. In 2016, Democrats appeared hapless and helpless as the Republican U.S. Senate majority refused for nearly a year to give a presidential Supreme Court nominee even the courtesy of a hearing, a first in the long history of the chamber’s practice of its advice-and-consent role.

Worse, we have allowed Republicans to hijack the lexicon of public policy to the detriment of long-standing Democratic priorities. The estate tax has become the “death tax,” Barack Obama’s health care reform was disparaged as including “death panels,” a woman’s right to choose was shorthanded into “partial-birth abortion,” the rights of transgender people have been reduced to fear-mongering about men in girls’ bathrooms, and making it easier for people to vote has been distorted into election fraud. Come on, Democrats, let’s stop letting Republicans redefine the terms of every debate.

With Donald Trump having essentially taken over the Republican Party and refashioned it in his own toxic image, it’s high time for Democrats to fight back in intelligent, timely, aggressive and effective ways.

So huzzah to Gavin Newsom for stepping up to the plate, taking the bat and so deservedly hitting these wretched Republicans over the head with it (figuratively speaking, of course). The survival of our very democracy is at stake.