No matter what turns the journey takes, there will be a train wreck at the station.
Don’t be fooled by the governor’s margin of victory this year (59-41) and in 2018 (62-38). He has done nothing in his public life that recommends him for the presidency. Popular, yes, competent, no.
Before he was elected governor, Newsom was San Francisco’s mayor. In 2004, his first year in office, he said he would end homelessness there within a decade. Either the promise was broken, or it was empty. Homelessness grew worse during Newsom’s tenure, rising from 5,404 in 2005 to 5,669 in 2011.
His failure to eliminate homelessness wasn’t due to bad luck. It was a case of poor judgment. Newsom leaned heavily on the government responses of the past that have never been successful. As evidenced by the state homeless crisis that has grown exponentially worse under his governorship, heaping more money into failed programs doesn’t make them work better.
It’s not just his failure to resolve homelessness that renders Newsom unfit to lead. The totality of his policy portfolio strongly suggests he’s ill-equipped. His record is one of mismanagement and neglect (at best), supporting energy policies that are flawless for virtue-signaling but disastrous as a matter of reality and practicality; refusing to ease the taxpayers’ burden or lift the heavy yoke of regulation on business; doing little to relieve the state’s housing crisis, improve its failing public education system, or promote economic freedom.
Add on California’s crime binge, the state’s perpetual man-made drought and raging wildfires, a growing public-employee pension liability, an embarrassing poverty problem (the highest rate in the country), a broken and outdated tax system, and an unemployment department that paid out more than $30 billion in fraudulent claims yet had difficulty in processing payments to legitimate recipients, and you have nothing short of a disaster.
Policy failures are one thing, but Newsom doesn’t inspire much confidence in his ability (or willingness) to lead by example. While he held the state under his boot of emergency powers (which he will not surrender until 2023), he attended an unmasked dinner with cronies at a glitzy Napa Valley restaurant. He showed a lack of “backbone” needed to stand up to teachers unions, who prevented schools reopening for far too long and resulted in a massive learning loss for students – even as the governor sent his children to private schools that had already reopened to some degree.
When Newsom is challenged, he tends to become flustered. During 2021’s recall campaign, he became defensive, almost belligerent, during a virtual meeting with the editorial and opinion writers from the McClatchy chain’s California newspapers. His responses to questions that were more routine than provocative were described variously as “unhinged,” “odd,” “testy,” and “angry.” Some called it his “damn interview” because he kept repeating the word, which came out laced with bile.
Had Donald Trump responded to standard questions the same way Newsom did, doubts about his leadership abilities would have filled news pages and airtime. Yet the California governor suffered neither politically nor personally. With only a few exceptions, the editorial boards came out against his recall, and voters strongly supported him at the polls. Only 38% of voters wanted to throw him out.
Because he’s been groomed and underwritten by wealthy patrons, and because he deftly uses a language understood only in blue states and preens like a Hollywood star, Newsom not only enjoys historic support in California – he can count on nearly half of the state’s independents, and he didn’t even have to campaign for reelection – he has a following of zealots that extends beyond California. Because he can so easily whip up resentment against his political opposition that confirms his supporters’ biases, he’s their man. Overall, Newsom appears more like a demagogue pandering to the fringe sections of the American Left rather than to his constituents, who are more diverse than he thinks they are.
Despite his ability to raise the populist blood pressure, Newsom should stay in California the next four years and try to at least make some progress fixing the state he swears he loves. If he has some success, then he’ll have something to run on. As it is now, his record is one of failure and hypocrisy that only appeals to fringe elements of the American electorate. Americans don’t need another representative of the Hollywood elite and their friends in Washington.
Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.