Conservatives slam California, challenge Gavin Newsom at CPAC

Ric Grenell speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Fla., on Saturday.
Ric Grenell, a Californian and former Cabinet member under President Trump, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Fla., on Saturday.
(Stephen M. Dowell / Tribune News Service)

Conservatives are taking aim at liberalism at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Florida this weekend.

The most emblematic of these targets? According to some speakers, it’s California and Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Chief among the critics was Richard Grenell, a Californian and former Cabinet member under President Trump, who delivered remarks Saturday morning at the conference in Orlando.


Trump is scheduled to speak on Sunday, the conference’s closing day.

Grenell is well known within Trump circles and first served the administration in 2017 as the ambassador to Germany. In 2020 he briefly served as acting director of national intelligence.

In recent weeks, speculation has mounted that he will run for California governor in the event of a recall. Politico this month reported that Grenell was scoping out a team for a possible gubernatorial run. On Saturday, he dropped a not-so-subtle hint as he closed his CPAC remarks.

“In my three decades in American politics, I have never seen a better case for a recall than there is right now in California,” he said. “And of course, if a public official is still failing to deliver on their promises and you can’t limit their term, or recall them in time, there’s always another option: you can run against them yourself.”

Grenell entered the national political scene in the early 2000s, when he was appointed communications director for the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations by President George W. Bush. After leaving the administration in 2008, he started a political media and consulting business, appearing regularly on news shows and publications to comment on foreign affairs issues.

In 2012 he signed on as spokesman on foreign policy for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. When he joined Trump’s team in 2017, he became the highest ranking federal officer to have come out as gay in the country.

If he does decide to run for governor, Grenell would join fellow Republicans Kevin Faulconer, the former San Diego mayor, and John Cox, the businessman who ran and lost against Newsom in 2018.


Grenell focused most of his remarks Saturday on foreign policy, but shifted into discussing ousting failed political leaders.

“If you want the best case possible for a recall campaign, take a look at my home state of California,” he said. “California used to be Reagan country, the shining example of business innovation and middle-class success. But now when you think of California, you think of out-of-control wildfires, of rolling blackouts, of schools still closed, of shuttered businesses, of bans of fracking and wealthy people jumping the vaccine line.”

“Did you know that Gavin Newsom, the California governor, originally purchased $1 billion of masks and other protective equipment from a Chinese company, when American companies with the same equipment were based in California?” he added.

California has been a consistent target among CPAC speakers, who point to the state as evidence of failed Democratic rule and over-regulation, especially during the pandemic.

On Friday, U.S. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah lobbed his own criticisms during a speech about the Bill of Rights.

“Just look at California. Sad, sad California. The people of California are recalling their governor, because they’ve had enough of these stringent closures,” Lee said to applause and cheers. “They’ve had enough of the encroachment upon their rights, and enough of the government telling them that they can enjoy a five-star meal at French Laundry with their governor, but they can’t go to church.”

Newsom recall organizers say they’re nearing their goal of collecting 2 million petition signatures. State law requires them to submit nearly 1.5 million valid signatures before March 17 to qualify for the ballot.

If the recall does qualify, Californians can expect a vote around November at the earliest, though there are ways Democrats could delay a recall election. There’s no limit to how many candidates can run. During the 2003 recall of Gov. Gray Davis, dozens of candidates threw their hats into the ring, including former child actor Gary Coleman and adult film star Mary Carey. Californians chose Arnold Schwarzenegger to replace Davis.

Chances that they will vote Newsom out of office are low, some political experts say. The governor at this point has said little to nothing about the effort, instead deflecting questions by saying he is focused on COVID-19 vaccine distribution. Consultants and fellow California Democrats, meanwhile, are painting the recall as a partisan political effort.

“CPAC is exposing the Republican recall scheme as a partisan cause célèbre for out-of-state extremists dreaming about installing a Trump supporter as governor of California,” Newsom consultant Dan Newman said Saturday.

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare), while speaking at a CPAC session called “California Socialism: Promising Heaven, Delivering Hell,” endorsed the recall effort, saying it was some hope for California.

He didn’t endorse any specific Republicans, but said the GOP eventually would need to “rally behind one candidate” in order to be successful, adding there were a lot of promising potential candidates right now.

He also had a prediction for the Democratic side.

“The thing to watch for is when the left starts eating their own,” Nunes said. “As soon as a prominent Democrat announces that they’re going to run, that’s when it will probably slide and Newsom will have a good chance of actually being recalled.”

“They take a big risk by not putting a prominent Democrat on that ballot and only leaving it to Republicans,” he added.