Capitol Alert

Trump and California keep clashing. Will it help him fight impeachment and win in 2020?

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday he has “no doubt” President Donald Trump will be impeached.

“God’s delays are not God’s denials,” Newsom told “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah. “But here’s the stubborn question: The question is will he be removed from office?”

That, Newsom said, will depend on core Republican voters. If they turn on him, he thinks Republican representatives in Congress will, too.

“That base is getting stronger, but it is small, and I argue with this impeachment inquiry it will begin to decline and thaw,” Newsom said.

The Trump base, however, isn’t particularly impressed with the state Newsom represents, where the president lost to Hillary Clinton by more than 30 percentage points in 2016.

Newsom’s comments come as a feud between California and Trump escalates. Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker from San Francisco, announced Tuesday the House would proceed with an impeachment inquiry.

California recently filed its 62nd lawsuit against the Trump administration, on issues ranging from gun control to forest management. The state recently lost a legal round in its pursuit of Trump’s taxes. The president just made a fundraising swing highlighted by harsh critiques of California’s homelessness problem. California struck a deal with automakers on emissions standards and sued the Trump administration over its clean car rules. Then the Trump administration threatened on Monday to cut federal highway funding — a move Newsom called an act of “pure retaliation.”

For a Republican president seeking re-election and a Democratic governor looking to boost his national profile, the constant bickering has been a political boon with their bases.

“Every single thing you hear Donald Trump say, every single thing you see Donald Trump do, aside from being impulsive, is designed to try to stoke up his base, ” Democratic strategist Garry South said.

“A lot of it is just playacting, basically to send the message to his high-school educated white supporters that he’s taking it out on a state they love to hate,” he said. “(And) the more he attacks Newsom, particularly in very personal terms, the more it helps Newsom in California.”

Trump has seized on homelessness in California, where roughly a quarter of the country’s homeless people live. He used a fundraising trip to California earlier this month to blast Newsom and other Democratic officials for letting the issue continue.

He and Newsom released counter-proposals, each daring the other to solve the problem. Trump’s administration released a report suggesting with limited evidence that San Francisco could reduce its homeless population by half by cutting regulations. In turn, Newsom sent Trump a letter asking him to solve the problem by approving federal housing vouchers.

“The President is highlighting the failure of liberal leadership in major cities, in California and elsewhere, to show a contrast with the success of his own policies,” said a statement from Tim Murtaugh, director of communications for Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign.

That can only help with his base as the impeachment inquiry progresses, said Mike Madrid, a California Republican consultant who does not support the president.

“He’s speaking to rural America. When you’re talking about feces, needles and homelessness in San Francisco, you’re trying to highlight the (blue state) failures for your own constituencies in red rural areas. That contrast is every thing to the (Trump) campaign. They’re just going to have to keep drawing it out.”

Even the state’s Republican Party is joining in, mentioning California Wednesday in its talking points on impeachment.

An email from the CA GOP says, “Just like Governor Newsom and the Democrats in the California state legislature, Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats in Congress are trying everything to divert attention away from their failures in leadership and addressing problems that matter most to their constituents.”

Harmeet Dhillon, a Republican National Committee member and attorney who met with Trump during the president’s trip to the Golden State last week, said Trump’s attacks on Democratic leaders are driven by genuine concern for Californians.

“I reject the idea this is some sort of political calculation,” Dhillon said.

But Trump has certainly used California as a foil during stump speeches. During an August rally in Ohio, Trump went after California on homelessness, saying that “the conditions in Nancy Pelosi’s once great city of San Francisco are deplorable.”

Kelly Sadler, communications director for America First Action, the pro-Trump Super PAC supporting his re-election in 2020, said homelessness also ties to the illegal immigration issue the president has pressed.

“The President is trying to highlight Republican versus Democratic policies and how they work on the local level,” she said. “The top 10 American cities for homelessness are sanctuary cities. Of the top 10 most dangerous cities in America, all have Democratic mayors. All of these cities have a higher unemployment rate than the national average. Why is this? Why can’t these communities do better and take a chance on a Republican?”

On one level, Madrid said, Trump is succeeding simply by getting California Democratic leaders to consistently respond to him.

“The best way to beat Trump is to actually make things work, and California is failing if that’s the standard,” Madrid said. “California is literally playing into his hands and playing his game. The more we try to highlight our successes, he highlights our failures, and they are significant and consequential.”

Newsom claimed on “The Daily Show” that on the auto emission issue, Trump is reacting because “we trumped Trump.”

“Four automobile companies basically gave him the middle finger and walked away from his desire to roll back vehicle emissions standards. He is beyond frustrated, so now he’s threatening to take away our waiter, which goes back to Ronald Reagan when he was president of California. This guy is petulant, but he’s also losing. California is too big, and we are not a small isolated state that he can ignore.”

The Democratic governor also acknowledged, however, that the state has air quality and housing problems.

“I’m not making any excuses,” he said. “We own this... (But) at the end of the day we need partners, we don’t need sparring partners.”

Emily Cadei of McClatchy contributed to this report.

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Sophia Bollag covers California politics and government. Before joining The Bee, she reported in Sacramento for the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times. She grew up in California and is a graduate of Northwestern University.
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Bryan Anderson is a political reporter for The Bee. He covers the California Legislature and reports on wildfires and transportation. He also hosts The Bee’s “California Nation” podcast.