Newsom praises Biden, shoots down post-debate questions about replacing him

California Gov. Gavin Newsom
California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks before a debate between President Biden and former President Trump on Thursday in Atlanta.
(Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)
Share via

President Biden’s lackluster performance in the first debate of 2024 with former President Trump ended with harsh questions about whether Biden should end his campaign, which California Gov. Gavin Newsom was compelled to answer as a top surrogate for the president in Atlanta.

“I think it’s unhelpful, and I think it’s unnecessary,” Newsom told MSNBC on Thursday after the debate. “With all due respect, the more times we start having these conversations, going down these rabbit holes, it’s unhelpful to our democracy, the fate and future of this country, the world. They need us right now to step up and that’s exactly what I intend to do.”

Newsom waded into a scrum of news reporters after the debate and shot down buzz about whether he would become the party’s nominee after panic set in among some Democrats, who were shook up by the president’s performance — stumbling over answers to the moderators’ questions and occasionally trailing off.


“No, our nominee is Joe Biden,” a seemingly frustrated Newsom said as he was swarmed by reporters. “I’m looking forward to voting for him in November.”

Veteran political consultants and party delegates suggested Biden’s showing could hurt him in polls but pushed back on assertions that the debate would have a material effect on the campaign. The backing of Newsom and other top Democrats, such as Vice President Kamala Harris, helped to lessen the frenzy.

Republican political consultant Mike Madrid chalked up the concern to “a ton of bed-wetting.”

“This was not a good night for Biden,” Madrid said. “There’s no question about it. Was it disastrous,” and will it drastically change the trajectory of the race? “No.”

Regardless of how the race affects Biden, there are political upsides for Newsom if his favored candidate wins or loses.

In their first televised debate, Biden and Trump called each other criminals and liars.

June 27, 2024

A Biden win would benefit California and the governor’s policy agenda, while a loss would make the left coast state and its governor the nation’s top Democratic foil to a Trump White House.


If Biden loses, Newsom would once again lead the Democratic resistance from the Golden State.

The return of the legal battles and social media showdowns over immigration, climate change and healthcare that dominated the first two years of his governorship could elevate his profile and leave him in a prime position to run for president in four years.

On the other hand, Biden’s reelection would almost assuredly be better for the state and Newsom’s ability to make good on his progressive policies.

“There are any number of policies that Trump could implement that would not be good for California,” said Lori Cox Han, the Doy B. Henley chair of American presidential studies at Chapman University. “But that’s also a certain situation that would give Gavin Newsom an opportunity for strong, decisive leadership, if he’s up for the task, and that would be a pretty big test.”

In a recent interview before the debate, Newsom spoke about his concerns for California if Trump wins. He predicted Trump would act immediately to enact his conservative agenda, including mass deportations of immigrants, the dismantling of efforts to combat climate change and restricting abortion.

Newsom said he was worried a Trump administration would “come harder,” and there would be no transition time. The Trump campaign is “already wound up,” he said. “They are ready to go.”


To prepare, Newsom said he’s working to “future-proof” the state.

The governor said his administration, in partnership with California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta, is reviewing prior lawsuits and new case law to understand where the state could be vulnerable. Newsom’s aides are studying the conservative policies laid out in “Project 25,” a handbook of sorts for Trump’s second term, to better understand “what they’re potentially promoting,” he said.

“We’re going through this exact analysis of what protections are in place, what things we can do legislatively, looking at executive actions,” Newsom said.

Newsom says his staff is talking with the Biden administration about pending actions, requests and waivers that the federal government can enact before the president’s first term ends. He’s also looking carefully at federal funding that California has not spent to ensure that a Trump administration could not “claw it back.”

Daniel Zingale, who served as Newsom’s top communications strategist when the governor took office, said the people who speculate about the political benefits Newsom might receive if Trump is elected often don’t have experience governing.

“It is one-dimensional and overly simplistic to say, ‘Oh, that’s good politically for the governor of California,’ because anybody who’s had experience governing when Trump was president would tell you that’s a challenge,” Zingale said.

Zingale said the 100 lawsuits the state filed against the Trump administration became a time suck.


“Lawsuits follow Trump, like Swifties follow Taylor,” Zingale said. “We had more than 100 of them then, and you know you can expect that to happen again, and so that does get in the way of governing.”

Newsom, from the early days of setting up his administration, focused on things that needed to happen for California, Zingale said, but it was in the context of a president who was “a climate denier, a drought denier” and “seemed to have it in for California.”

But Newsom also never shied away from opportunities to contrast himself with the former president.

“The frame of the Newsom administration of ‘California for All’ is blatantly and unapologetically opposed to Trump’s morally divisive ‘them versus us’ way of looking at the world,” Zingale said.

That contrast could prove helpful to Newsom’s standing among Democrats if Trump prevails.

Gov. Gavin Newsom called out former President Trump’s efforts to roll back climate change policies on a world stage during a climate summit at the Vatican.

May 16, 2024

As California governor, Newsom would be able to gain publicity as Trump’s top foe for his final two years in office, which could serve as a launchpad to the 2028 presidential contest.

If Trump wins, Newsom said he and California would “have to defend ourselves and our values.”


“We have a lot to defend that would be tough to lose, a lot to win,” Newsom said in an interview with The Times prior to the debate. “But I’m not expecting to have to worry about this or deal with this ... because Biden is going to get reelected.”

After the debate, Madrid, a Republican political consultant who actively opposes Trump, argued that the dynamics of the race remained unchanged.

“You’ve got an unhinged lunatic and a feeble old man,” Madrid said. “That’s the choice, America. There you go. But there’s nothing new. We saw more of it.”

R.L. Miller, a Democratic National Party Convention delegate from California and founder of Climate Hawks Vote, said in text chats her friends were questioning who the Democratic National Committee should pick as an alternative.

She suggested Democrats should get some rest and calm down.

“Realistically, he’s not going to walk away from another shot at the presidency over one night,” she said of Biden.

Newsom held firm in his support for Biden throughout the night.

On the social media platform X, he called out Trump’s claims that “everybody wanted” to overturn the federal abortion protections under Roe vs. Wade, that the southern border is “the most dangerous place in the world” and that he had the “biggest heart on stage.”


“I was taking notes about all the lies,” Newsom said to MSNBC. “I ran out of paper.”