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Opinion: The Sept. 14 recall is coming. Stop complaining, and start picking apart the candidates

California gubernatorial candidate speaks to supporters during a campaign stop in Norwalk on July 13.
California gubernatorial candidate Larry Elder speaks to supporters during a campaign stop in Norwalk on July 13.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021. Four years ago today, Donald Trump famously ignored the advice of scientists and squinted directly at a solar eclipse. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

It’s time to break the glass: California is slightly more than three weeks out from possibly removing Gov. Gavin Newsom from office. The fact alone that a slim majority of voters could recall a governor amid a public health crisis and replace him with one of the 46 candidates who garners what could be a pitifully small plurality of support is unnerving enough. The process arguments against the recall have all been made, and they’re fine as far as they go. But at this point, you might as well be shouting into the void when you gripe about the unfairness of a recall election that is legal and happening whether you like it or not.

Far more productive is to focus on what California might become after Sept. 14, and exactly who could be leading the state. The Republican front-runner is Larry Elder, a talk radio host who’s never held office and would probably not hold up well to the months of journalistic scrutiny that running in a general election brings (remember, Arnold Schwarzenegger undoubtedly benefitted from the frenzied 2003 recall campaign sprint). Thankfully, in the course of reporting for years on the political career of Stephen Miller, op-ed columnist Jean Guerrero has dug into the life of Elder, who served as a mentor to Miller when the future anti-immigrant White House advisor was a high school student in Santa Monica.

Just think: An early mentor to the Republican operative who orchestrated the Trump administration’s unrelenting cruelty toward immigrants and asylum seekers could soon become governor of California, and the implications of that are truly terrifying. As Guerrero notes, Elder throws around statistics purporting to show the reality of crime committed by Black people, but they’re gross exaggerations that paint nonwhite Americans as especially dangerous. Elder’s views, Guerrero warns, were shaped by a leading white supremacist repeatedly cited in Elder’s books and articles. For people of color in California, an Elder administration would be catastrophic.

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I’d like to think that California voters wouldn’t elect as governor an inflammatory talk radio host who parrots white supremacists and mentored Stephen Miller. But for most of 2016, I thought a country that twice elected Barack Obama surely wouldn’t make an operatically unfit, racist bully its president. Throw in the peculiar mechanics of California’s recall process, which tilts even less democratic than the electoral college, and there’s plenty of reason to worry.

So how should we vote in the recall? Columnist Nicholas Goldberg couldn’t bring himself to vote for any of the 46 gubernatorial wannabes, so he voted no on the first question — whether to recall Newsom — and left the second part of his ballot blank. The Times Editorial Board makes an impassioned plea for voters to reject the recall, and reluctantly endorses (although I’m not sure that’s the best word for it) former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer as the “least bad option in a recall field that ranges from the merely bad to the utterly catastrophic.” Some of our readers have said they’re writing in Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis.

Whatever you do, don’t sit the recall out. The editorial board warns that the people most motivated to show up and vote are those who want to remove Newsom. So the biggest threat to the governor isn’t a talk show host with no government experience or the Republican politicians who could never win in a regular election; the biggest threat to Newsom and the entire state of California is voter apathy. L.A. Times

The Afghan government’s collapse is tragic. It was also inevitable. So much will soon be lost in Afghanistan because of the return of the Taliban: the hard-won rights of women and girls, the lives of countless people to brutality and privation, the improvements brought about by nearly 20 years of U.S.-led nation building. But our anguish over everything lost in Afghanistan doesn’t change a hard truth, says the editorial board: “The war in Afghanistan has been ruinously costly in money and in lives. Biden made the difficult, but correct, decision not to prolong this quagmire any further. The return of the Taliban to power is a tragedy, but it is a tragedy that was decades in the making.” L.A. Times

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More on Afghanistan: The Taliban’s return means death for LGBTQ Afghans; the United States needs to help, writes LZ Granderson. The Afghan government’s stunning collapse shows Biden was right to withdraw, argues Charles A. Kupchan. Our withdrawal from Afghanistan signals to the world that the U.S. can’t be relied upon, writes Jonah Goldberg. Voters might forgive Biden and his party for the Taliban’s resurgence if the president can deliver on infrastructure, says columnist Jackie Calmes.

She’s a physician in a hospital COVID-19 unit, and she’s running out of compassion for the unvaccinated. Dr. Anita Sircar shares the story of a patient who came to her emergency room gravely ill with COVID-19; he had tried everything — an antibody infusion, hydroxychloroquine, antibiotics — and none of it worked. What he did not do was get vaccinated because, as he explained to Dr. Sircar, none of the vaccines had received full authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The patient died. L.A. Times

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As always, you can share your feedback by emailing me at paul.thornton@latimes.com.

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