By Dan Walters | CalMatters Columnist
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s nearly three-hour-long presentation of his second budget last week was peppered with scornful references to President Donald Trump, some in response to reporters’ questions, others unprompted.
The governor repeatedly drew contrasts between California’s policies under his governorship and those of Trump on homelessness and other issues, implicitly contending that the nation would be better off if it were more like California.
“If I’m not willing to stand up to a bully,” Newsom said at one point, “if I’m not willing to stand up to someone who is attacking immigrant communities and refugees and attacking people working very hard every single day to feed their families, then I don’t belong here.”
“We don’t need Donald Trump. … I’m the homeless czar in the state of California,” Newsom replied to a question about Trump’s criticism on the issue and his threat to intervene if the state fails to deal with it.
Gloomy Republican and media depictions of the state, Newsom quipped, are a “California derangement syndrome” — a play on the “Trump derangement syndrome” that’s said to drive Democrats into extremes in opposition to the president.
The flip side of Newsom’s holding up California as an example to be emulated, of course, is that as he runs for re-election this year, Trump will also cite California as a negative example of what Democrats will wrought should they regain power in Washington, playing up such issues as rampant homelessness.
A current article in National Review, a conservative magazine, by Will Swaim, president of the California Policy Center, provides the gist of what Trump’s campaign is likely to say about California — and Newsom — to voters in other states.
“I still get buzzed when I recall that a majority of Californians looked at what Gavin Newsom allowed while mayor of San Francisco — rampant homelessness, transportation gridlock, failed public projects, a widening income gap, sidewalk needles, and human, er, waste — and decided they wanted that for the whole state. They elected him governor in 2018 and now complain that California is going to hell,” Swaim writes.
What’s the end game, one might wonder, as Newsom vies for national attention — sending help to earthquake-stricken Puerto Rico over the weekend generated oodles of media coverage, for example — and anoints himself as a leader of the anti-Trump “resistance.”
It’s pretty obvious that the governor of California wants to be president of the United States someday. Willie Brown, the former Assembly speaker and Newsom’s political patron and predecessor as mayor of San Francisco, says in an interview with Politico, “he is still on track (for the White House), he’s doing what he needs to do…”
So what are Newsom’s chances of segueing from the governorship to the presidency?
Timing is a problem. Were Trump’s re-election bid this year to fail and a Democrat take up residence in the White House, Newsom would likely be blocked until 2028, when he would be gone from the governorship and the political spotlight — unless, of course, he’s succeeded Dianne Feinstein in the U.S. Senate by then.
Newsom’s ambitions would be best served by a Trump win this year, which would set up a 2024 run.
The economy is another paradoxical aspect to Newsom’s presidential prospects. He boasts of California’s strong economy, which provides the tax revenues he needs to finance his ambitious plans for expanding health care, early childhood education and other services.
However, that strong economy is also one of Trump’s best arguments for re-election. A recession this year would hurt Trump, but also force Newsom to scale back those plans.
CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters.
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