Weary Californians are ready to send California Gov. Gavin Newsom to the Andrew M. Cuomo Memorial Home for Incurable Politicians.
The Democrat faces a recall election in September after 1.3 million Californians — including hundreds of thousands of registered Democrats — signed a recall petition damning his performance on everything from illegal immigrants to water-use policies to taxes.
Right now, Newsom has three distinct sets of problems.
His first set of problems can be filed under “Gavin Newsom Is Not Very Good at Politics.”
Newsom made himself into a figure of contempt when, in the midst of the COVID-19 lockdown he ordered and ruthlessly policed, he and his lobbyist cronies — medical lobbyists at that! — discarded the masks he had mandated for the peasantry and sat down for a splendid meal at the French Laundry, arguably America’s most froufrou restaurant, running up a $12,000 tab for wine alone.
Gov. Newsom called it a “bad mistake,” as though he had simply tripped and fallen into a $2,800 bottle of Domaine François Raveneau.
After that comical performance, California Democrats probably wanted to forget he was one of them — which is what Gov. Newsom apparently did. California’s sitting Democratic governor will not be listed as a Democrat on the recall ballot, because he failed to file the paperwork identifying himself as a member of his party before the deadline. In a state where Democrats have a sheer numerical advantage, that is a critical strategic failure.
The second set of problems is found in an even larger file labeled “Gavin Newsom Is Not Very Good at Being Governor.” Newsom’s plutocratic escapades might have been amusing if California were thriving in general — but it is not. California still looks golden for the sort of people who dine at the French Laundry, but for non-gazillionaires, the going is rough: Crime is up, the cost of living is impossible for people who are not big kahunas in Silicon Valley or celebrities in Beverly Hills, vagrant encampments are to be seen everywhere, the streets of many California cities are Third World-style gauntlets of beggars.
And it is going to get worse: Even as booming stock prices provided California with a one-time $15 billion budget surplus, Newsom and his Democratic allies in Sacramento have put the state on track for a string of multibillion-dollar deficits beginning in two years. That’s going to mean higher taxes or cuts in services — neither of which would be welcome.
Newsom’s third set of problems is Larry Elder.
The popular, black talk-show host and columnist from inner-city Los Angeles is the leading candidate to replace Newsom in the recall effort.
What’s more, the usual Democratic playbook is going to hit some roadblocks against Elder, a conservative who is practically engineered to discomfit a self-righteous Bay Area progressive. It is going to be funny watching a rich white guy named “Gavin” sneer at a black man from South Central Los Angeles as a friend of white-nationalist hooliganism. It is going to be positively hilarious to hear a graduate of Crenshaw High School being denounced as a tool of the ultra-wealthy by a San Francisco aristocrat educated — in French, no less — at the Ecole Notre Dame Des Victoires, the sort of thing your family can afford when your father is legal counsel for Getty Oil.
It’s the sage from South Central vs. the schmuck from the French Laundry.
Newsom will pretend he is running against the ghost of Donald Trump, economic injustice and climate change. But what is lacking in California isn’t utopian visions and globe-spanning progressive crusades — it is ordinary competence in down-home governor stuff: crime, budgets, taxes, education, housing, roads. Of course, the French Laundry scandal won’t help: Like Cuomo, Newsom may end up being done in by hubris when incompetence alone would have been grounds for retiring him.
Newsom may survive. The polls right now suggest that he will squeak past in an embarrassingly close call. But if it goes the other way, he would not be the first preening Democratic governor of a big blue state taken down by arrogance, vanity and self-indulgence.
Hell, he wouldn’t even be the first one taken down this summer.
Kevin D. Williamson is the author of “Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Woolly Wilds of the ‘Real America.’”
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