Column: Is Gavin Newsom running for president? No, it just sounds like it
Gavin Newsom sounds like a man ready to jump on the next flight to Iowa or New Hampshire or wherever Democrats start their 2024 presidential campaign.
After the leak of a draft Supreme Court decision portending the imminent demise of Roe vs. Wade — and the end of legal abortion as the country knows it — California’s governor delivered a blistering indictment.
Of his own party.
“Why aren’t we standing up more firmly, more resolutely?” he barked into a bouquet of microphones outside Planned Parenthood’s Los Angeles headquarters. “Why aren’t we calling this out. ... Where’s the counteroffensive?”
Newsom also had a few scathing things to say about some of the folks Democrats love to hate, including Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, Fox News fire starter Tucker Carlson and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III.
“I can’t take any more Manchins,” Newsom said of the center-right Democrat who has helped stymie much of President Biden’s legislative agenda.
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It was the type of angry, impassioned speech that might launch an upstart presidential campaign and couldn’t help but contrast with the wan performance of Biden, whose response to the high court was a quick pivot into a legalistic discussion of the right to privacy established by the Roe decision.
For some Democrats, it was a welcome tonic for the sluggishness that seems to have beset their party amid untamed inflation, futility on Capitol Hill and impotence against the reversal of abortion rights. Naturally, there was chatter about Newsom’s possible designs on the White House.
“Thanks for your service — but please retire in 2024, Joe Biden!” tweeted one enthusiast. “And Democratic Party: nominate Newsom!”
There are, of course, any number of obstacles to the governor running for president, not least his hopes of winning a second term in Sacramento in November. Woe unto any politician — even one seemingly as well-positioned as Newsom — who seems to be taking voters and reelection for granted.
But the speculation can’t be helped; the office of California governor has the magical power of instantly transforming each and every occupant into a presidential prospect.
Those around Newsom say he has never openly hankered after the White House, and he has apparently never had any sort of in-depth discussion with his political team about running for president. Publicly, he insists nothing could be further from his mind.
“Literally 100% never been on my radar,” Newsom said in the afterglow of beating last year’s recall attempt, when the inevitable presidential talk bubbled up.
That’s not to say the governor doesn’t harbor national ambitions, but there are limits.
The Democrat in the White House may run again in two years and Newsom has no intention of challenging Biden. Should the president opt against a second term, Vice President Kamala Harris would be the front-runner to replace him.
Despite a sometimes fraught relationship with Harris — who shares much of the same political and donor base from their days in San Francisco — Newsom also has no plans to take her on if she seeks the White House in 2024.
He is surely mindful, like those surrounding him, of California history.
Democrat Jerry Brown and Republican Pete Wilson both ran for president while governor and each came up far short, illustrating the difficulty of running the state while trying to navigate the cross-country steeplechase of nominating contests.
For all of that, Newsom may very well believe that he could, and maybe should, be president someday. But at age 54, he can wait.
The threat to Roe vs. Wade enables Gov. Gavin Newsom to pivot to a familiar campaign strategy: focusing on what’s perceived as a conservative threat.
In the meantime, associates say, the governor is eager to carve a larger role for himself on the national stage, befitting the overseer of the world’s fifth-largest economy and head of the country’s most populous state. (Those around Newsom who agreed to talk about his political future wished not to be identified because the governor frowns on such discussion.)
Newsom has already taken on Republican Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas over mask mandates and the state’s near-ban on abortion, and sparred with DeSantis over Florida’s punitive treatment of Disney for opposing legislation critics call the “Don’t Say Gay” law. Both are potential 2024 presidential candidates.
The tongue-lashing Newsom delivered last week was different. (House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for one, was not pleased. “I have no idea why anybody would make that statement unless they were unaware of the fight that has been going on,” the San Francisco Democrat responded Sunday on CBS.)
By loudly and brashly confronting his own party, Newsom presented himself as someone Democrats need to reckon with, even if a presidential campaign isn’t in the immediate offing.
“What more do you need than this [Supreme Court] decision to wake us up and start asserting ourselves more aggressively?” Newsom demanded as he stood in front of Planned Parenthood, coiled in anger.
Given the fighting mood of the Democratic base, Newsom could be well placed to help lead the party in a post-Biden era. Especially if Democrats lose the White House and the party is looking to rebuild.
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