When President Donald Trump last month called Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom a “clown” at a “Make America Great Again” rally in Nevada, the Democratic gubernatorial frontrunner shot back, comparing Trump to the evil clown from Stephen King’s 1990 horror film “It.”
Ten days later at a rally in Tennessee, Trump again blasted Newsom for supporting sanctuary policies to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation, and for his universal health care pitch to expand coverage to everyone regardless of immigration status or ability to pay.
Newsom responded, saying “Hi (again), @realDonaldTrump. Heard you called me out at your rally tonight (again). Might I suggest you focus your limited attention span, on say…your Supreme Court nominee who may have committed perjury…or the hundreds of kids STILL separated from their families. Thx.”
The political back-biting between Newsom and the president has intensified as Newsom pushes his ambitious agenda to expand health care, advance clean energy policies and create a statewide universal preschool program.
The feud raises questions about whether Trump would take more aggressive aim at California if Newsom is elected governor next week, potentially jeopardizing federal funding for health care, public safety, disaster relief, wildfire suppression and more.
California vs. Trump
“Trump has launched a full-frontal attack on the state of California,” said Garry South, a Democratic political strategist.
The president issued a threat as late as last week to withhold federal fire assistance from the state. He’s engaged in an onslaught of political attacks on Democratic candidates running against Republicans he’s endorsed in gubernatorial and congressional races across the country ahead of the midterm elections next Tuesday. Trump is supporting Newsom’s Republican rival, San Diego businessman John Cox.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Newsom said he feels a “responsibility” to push back on Trump and his administration.
“I don’t wake up every morning trying to find a crowbar to put in the spokes of the president’s front wheel. That said, if he attacks the diverse communities of this state, if he attacks our clean air (and) clean water, (if he) attacks health care of millions of Californians, I’m going to push back,” Newsom said. “Millions of Californians, I think, expect that.”
Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown at times has been a vocal critic of Trump, in September saying the president could be remembered as a “liar,” a ”criminal,” or a “fool.” He’s criticized actions Trump has taken to deregulate the energy industry and roll back California’s vehicle efficiency standards as “insane” and “stupid.”
But he has been relatively judicious with his attacks since Trump was elected, offering calculated criticism on Trump’s actions to loosen California’s strong environmental policies and his misleading claims about sanctuary policies protecting criminals.
Trump said Brown has done a “terrible” job of running California, but called him “a nice guy.” In August, Brown credited Trump for helping California, saying he “has been pretty good about helping us out in disasters.”
California disaster relief
Nine federal disaster declaration requests, submitted by Brown in 2017 and 2018 as deadly wildfires and storms ravaged the state, were granted quickly, according to a review of such declarations by The Sacramento Bee.
Brown sought federal assistance on October 9 last year, as wildfires tore through Sonoma and Napa counties, destroying thousands of homes and more than three-dozen lives. Trump granted it the next day, according to records from the state Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.
This past August, when wildfires again tore through Northern California, Brown requested help from federal emergency officials. His request was granted the same day it was issued, on Aug. 4. The disaster declarations unlock federal assistance for state and local government agencies, as well as residents seeking short-term housing assistance and long-term financial help to rebuild homes and businesses, for example.
“When you look at some of the disaster declarations under Trump, from the fires and floods in Santa Rosa and Santa Barbara last year, the record will show that there has been a quick turnaround of federal assistance,” said H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the state Department of Finance. “Those have been outside the political back-and-forth.”
The Trump administration has filed two high-profile lawsuits against the state — one seeking to invalidate its 2017 “sanctuary state” law and the other to strike down its “net neutrality” law signed into law by Brown this year.
Lawsuits against Trump administration
But those brought by the state Department of Justice against the federal government far out-number the legal attacks brought by the Trump administration. California has filed more than 40 lawsuits since Trump took office. It’s possible the relatively cordial relationship when it comes to federal assistance could worsen, and the feud between Newsom and Trump could escalate, should Newsom be elected.
Newsom can’t afford to play it safe, said South, the Democratic strategist.
“Because we are such a deep-blue state, a Democrat running for governor doesn’t really have much a choice but to take on Trump,” South said. “He has to defend California, and he has to defend himself against these vitriolic attacks — that’s what most Democrats, and most Californians would expect him to do.”
Newsom said he won’t back down from a fight over what he calls “Trump and Trumpism,” but discounted the idea that Trump would single out California, should he be elected governor. He said he hopes to work with Trump in some areas.
“I would like…to engage more constructively in apprenticeship conversations,” Newsom said, adding that Trump “campaigned on some very interesting and I thought novel ideas on apprenticeships… We’d hope to do the same with infrastructure investment.”
Fights loom next year over health care for undocumented immigrants, fuel efficiency standards and sanctuary policies.
For now, Republican strategist Rob Stutzman said, the attacks help Trump motivate his Republican base, and Newsom in his quest for the governor’s office.
“I think it’s largely political theater that they both benefit from,” Stutzman said. “I’m sure Newsom was quite pleased when Trump singled him out by name. It helps him with fundraising, and it elevates Newsom’s stature nationally now that he’s one of the Democrats, nationally, that Trump wants to take on directly.”