Bill Whalen

Gov. Newsom could run for president. Is it a question of if or when?

Governor-elect Gavin Newsom celebrates his win during his campaign party at The Exchange in Los Angeles.
Governor-elect Gavin Newsom celebrates his win during his campaign party at The Exchange in Los Angeles. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

Years ago, I treated my sister and her husband to an evening with Siegfried & Roy.

As it was their first time in Sin City, it seemed like the “Vegas” thing to do. And, I figured, they might not get a second chance to see the act. Not long after their visit, Roy Horn nearly died after being dragged offstage by one of the big cats.

Not that running for president is akin to modified mammalian behavior (or maybe it is), but the idea of “now or never” begs the question of Gov. Newsom’s presidential ambitions.

Personally, I don’t think a Newsom 2020 run is a good idea. California’s “Gavinor” has been on the job for less than 100 hours. He should honor November’s gentleman’s agreement and make good on his ambitious agenda before he tries to take the show on the road. The man was elected to solve problems in California, not play head games with President Donald Trump.

Another argument for waiting: Think of what a stronger candidate Newsom would be in the summer of 2023, coming off of what could be a landslide reelection and selling America on four years of California grandeur (presuming the anticipated recession doesn’t arrive before then and ruin his grand plans) – as opposed to a 2019 recitation of mostly what-ifs and hypotheticals.

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But there’s a pesky matter of just how long the window is open for a Democrat who wants to play the long game and wait until 2024. It requires President Trump winning a second term. Should a Democrat prevail, Newsom would have to wait another eight years for his party’s nomination to free up. Maybe he didn’t mind waiting out Jerry Brown this decade, but my guess is Newsom won’t like doing it again.

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Bill Whalen

Besides, ask yourself: Is there a Democrat in the 2020 field that Gov. Newsom should fear?

Let’s start at the top of the pyramid. Joe Biden may struggle to connect with younger, more progressive Democrats (the 76-year-old Biden getting a thumbs-up from an 85-year-old Dianne Feinstein doesn’t help much). Bernie Sanders’ last presidential campaign was a mosh pit of sexual harassment. Elizabeth Warren’s sipping Michelob Ultra on an Instagram chat may have been the preview of a longer struggle to seem everyday normal (remember when a sunglass-clad Hillary Clinton ordered a Chipotle burrito bowl?).

Looking at the second tier, two Democrats would complicate a Newsom run. Fellow Californian Kamala Harris offers stiff competition for in-state money. Beto O’Rourke threatens Newsom’s curbside appeal as the field’s “cool Dad”/hip Gen-Xer (the Tesla-driving former mayor who brought you same-sex marriage versus the former congressman who skateboards and listens to The Clash).

History shows that sitting California governors and presidential runs mix like beer and milk. But that may not apply to Newsom. There’s a glut of money in the state’s coffers, so getting a budget in place by July 1 should be easy enough. And maybe in 2020 as well.

How then to transition to a national campaign? The Democratic National Committee has monthly candidates’ debates planned for the second half of 2019, with the exception of August. Newsom could enter during that lull.

Yes, Newsom would be double-booked -- running for president and September-to-October bill signing. But if the new governor is as astute as his predecessor, he’ll recognize the value of pre-negotiating legislation before it reaches his desk.

Finally, since the media can’t get enough of California’s youngest First Son, why not a “California Camelot” hard sell? Picture Dutch Newsom crawling out from under the resolute desk in the Oval Office, a la JFK Jr.

Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask if your governor should run for president.

Bill Whalen is a Hoover Institution research fellow and former speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson. Whalen can be reached at whalenoped@gmail.com.
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