California’s Newsom Tries a New Approach: Draw on Liberal Rage

“Where the hell’s my party?” Gavin Newsom asked in May, incensed at what he saw as a tepid Democratic response to the leaked Supreme Court opinion that would eventually overturn Roe.

Newsom’s public indignation has been growing, and it’s led to speculation that, despite his self-professed “sub-zero” interest in a presidential run, California’s Governor appears to be positioning himself for just that. As described by The Washington Post, “His combativeness, including a direct confrontation of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), and policy countermeasures, such as using Republican antiabortion tactics to tighten state gun laws, have stoked speculation about a possible run for president as soon as 2024.”

(California’s Gavin Newsom is NOT having it anymore)

Newsom himself has thrown cold water on the idea. He recently told CNN, ““We need to unify the Democratic Party and not destroy ourselves from within. We need to have our president’s back. But we also have to get on the field. He needs troops.” And while there are some in Democratic leadership who believe Newsom’s newfound voice-of-grievance is counterproductive–that it shines an unnecessarily harsh light on Biden at a time when his approval numbers have fallen and he can use all the Democratic allies he can get–for rank and file Democrats, Newsom’s rage strikes a raw, real note that has been sorely lacking.

Picking a Supreme Court Fight?

Newsom’s announcement yesterday via Twitter that California would begin allowing the victims of gun violence to sue gun manufacturers for damages falls directly into that category. As mainstream Republicans have veered sharply toward extremism, and a Republican appointed Supreme Court majority seems poised to dismantle rights that many Americans have taken for granted, Democratic voters have wondered aloud: “Where is our fighter? Where is the leadership that’s willing to take drastic steps to protect us?”

Enter Gavin Newsom. Perfectly willing to be the lightning rod that Biden can’t–because, let’s be honest, it’s just anathema to Biden’s “bi-partisan” character, which, say what you will, won him the 2020 election–Newsom has staked out positions that may just be the blueprint for future Democratic Governors. Positions that might be too extreme coming from a sitting US President, (or, someday, might not?), but are perfect coming from the president’s “troops,” as he referred to himself.

After the Supreme Court struck down Roe, Newsom announced that California would become a safe haven for women seeking abortions in that it was committed even to protecting them from legal liability if their home state had an abortion ban. And he recently announced California would begin producing insulin and provide it to Californians with diabetes “at close to cost,” even as gridlock in Washington has prevented Congress from enacting a similar measure nationwide.

Taking on the Gun Lobby

Yesterday’s news about holding gun manufacturers liable falls into the same category. Especially in that it appears to be a direct challenge to the Supreme Court. As FiveThirtyEight‘s Amelia Thomson-Deveaux noted in Monday’s podcast, “What will Democrats Do About the Supreme Court,” when given a court-body serving a lifetime appointment, sometimes the best offense is simply to pass popular legislation and dare them to strike it down.

Again, enter Gavin Newsom.

“If you’ve been hurt or a family member is a victim of gun violence, you can now go to court and hold these makers of deadly weapons accountable,” Newsom said as he signed the bill in a tweeted video message. (This Politico article discusses the new legislation in more depth.)

Additionally, “Newsom is expected to soon sign a similar bill allowing Californians to sue people or companies that distribute banned firearms like assault weapons. That measure, modeled specifically on a Texas law allowing individuals to sue abortion providers, has already cleared the Legislature and gone to Newsom.”

Taking on DeSantis

But perhaps Newsom’s funniest, and most popular approach is simply to stick it to high profile Republicans. Most recently, he’s taken his ire out on Florida’s Ron “Glass Jaw” DeSantis. Over the 4th of July, Newsom’s re-election campaign spent $100K on an ad which ran on Fox News not in California, but in Florida (!!), in which a punchy Newsom tells viewers that their freedoms are under attack, and that they should fight back, or move to California and be truly free.

“Republican leaders – they’re banning books, making it harder to vote, restricting speech in classrooms, even criminalizing women and doctors. I urge all of you to join the fight, or join us in California, where we still believe in freedom.”

As put by the New York Post, Newsom just likes needling DeSantis. (Which, if you’ll permit us to editorialize a bit here, is awesome.) “I do not look for inspiration from that particular governor,” Newsom said of his Florida counterpart in March while belittling his outspoken manner as theater.

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