Is Newsom too blah blah to be president?
We all know the campaign is coming, writes Eric Ting on SFGATE.
“When you were governor of California, you backed off of single-payer health care after you and the state Democratic Party received ungodly amounts of money from big insurance donors,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez might say.
“Gavin Newsom simply cannot be trusted to enact progressive policies like Medicare for All,” Rep. Ro Khanna may add.
These are the same criticisms Warren and Booker faced in the 2020 primaries: Booker was called “a neoliberal who’s cozy with the monied elites of Wall Street and Silicon Valley” by The New Republic, and the progressive souring on Warren began in earnest after she equivocated on her support for Medicare for All.
Newsom has a history of being squishy on policy when it comes to the desires of moneyed interest groups, whether it be prison guards opposing a vaccine mandate or Hollywood lobbyists seeking exemptions from stay-at-home orders. He has also drawn progressive ire over his handling of fracking permits and the currently proposed gas rebate. Other presidential candidates running as progressives will have a remarkably easy time painting Newsom as a neoliberal establishment sellout; if you thought the Elizabeth Warren snake memes were harsh, wait until you see what the Bernie Sanders wing of the party might have in store for Newsom.
Would Newsom be better off running as a more centrist candidate in the mold of Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar? The moderate wing of the Democratic Party heavily prioritizes electability, with Biden (Pennsylvania) Klobuchar (Minnesota) and Buttigieg (Indiana) all arguing to voters that their midwestern roots would help in critical swing states in the region, and that their policy moderation would not turn off independent or conservative voters. Newsom is the embodiment of a coastal elite, and is already a prominent Fox News boogeyman.
In 2020, Buttigieg specifically went after Warren and Sanders for being vulnerable to Republican attacks that they are too far to the left, and similar attacks will likely be lobbed against Newsom when he runs.
Even if Newsom tries to make a heel-turn towards stylizing as a moderate, he’ll have a difficult time convincing centrist voters he’s for real after years of branding himself a trail-blazing progressive — a label that, again, progressives don’t agree with in the first place. Meanwhile, his high-profile inability to follow state and local COVID-19 rules cannot be written out of the public record, and it’s not hard to see moderate candidates such as Buttigieg, or perhaps Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, stating, “Our party is already accused of being out of touch with ordinary people, why in god’s name would we want to nominate the poster child of such criticism?”
When presidential candidates in the modern Democratic Party find themselves caught in no man’s land between the progressive lane and the establishment lane, bad things tend to happen. Booker never made it to the primaries. Warren never finished better than third place in any of the contests she ran in. Other candidates who straddled the line such as Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand also saw their campaigns quickly fizzle. Going back further in time to 2016, Hillary Clinton had a stranglehold on the establishment wing while Bernie Sanders had a stranglehold on the progressive wing, leaving no room for any other serious contenders.
Newsom, who is not progressive enough for the left wing of the party and not electable enough for the centrist wing, is likely to suffer a similar fate whenever he launches the presidential bid everyone knows is coming.