Gov. Gavin Newsom‘s (D-CA) political ambitions are once again at the forefront after he vetoed at least 143 bills last weekend, a disappointment to many progressives in the deep blue Golden State and beyond.
Newsom’s vetoing of scores of legislation, including proposals making insulin more affordable, free condoms for high schoolers, banning caste discrimination, decriminalizing the use of psychedelic drugs, unemployment benefits for striking workers, and cannabis cafes, has caused some on the Left to wonder if the governor is more interested in seeking the White House as a centrist Democrat in the future than attending to constituent concerns.
One Democratic consultant said that Newsom is simply preparing himself for a general electorate should he launch a presidential bid in the future, likely in 2028.
“I think Gov. Newsom recognizes that the secret to winning a Democratic nomination is to be liberal but not too liberal,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon about a potential White House run. “And I think that reflects his performance as governor recently. I think he’s just trying to show that he’s not a stereotypical lefty. And I think he understands that the sweet spot in the Democratic Party is not on the Left but it’s on the center-Left.”
Bannon pointed to President Joe Biden‘s 2020 run in which he, a centrist politician, bested several liberal presidential candidates in the Democratic primary, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) for the nominee.
However, not all are convinced Newsom’s actions will pan out.
“This playbook — liberal governor of a liberal state moves toward the middle in an effort to appeal to voters nationwide — isn’t exactly novel,” wrote journalist and attorney Jill Filipovic in a CNN op-ed piece. “It is disappointing, though. And it’s unclear if it will actually work in today’s unpredictable political climate.”
The California governor has also signed into law measures that those on the Left have championed, including allowing religious institutions and nonprofit colleges to use their parking lots to help with the state’s homeless crisis and signing two new bills that require companies to disclose their carbon footprint and financial risks of their climate change policies. Newsom also approved of an “Ebony Alert” system to help find missing black women and children, along with another bill that bans more than two dozen potentially toxic cosmetic ingredients and another bill to go before voters in 2024 that will help transform California’s mental health system by overhauling how counties pay for mental and behavioral health programs.
“Today, again, is about holding ourselves to a higher level of accountability and a higher level of expectation,” Newsom said during a Thursday news conference where he signed the mental health legislation into law. “And it’s about creating a framework where we can actually deliver.”
During last month’s second GOP primary debate in Simi Valley, California, Newsom appeared in the spin room both before and after the debate and then joined Fox News host Sean Hannity’s show, where he dodged questioning on running for president in 2024. “Of course not. It’s a hypothetical,” Newsom told Hannity about a possible run.
“It’s ridiculous. Joe Biden is our president,” he added.
Newsom has emerged as a top campaign surrogate for Biden’s reelection bid and has emphatically declared Biden would be on the ticket in 2024 — not Newsom. He’s also sought to tamp down tensions between Vice President Kamala Harris, another California Democrat, and Biden’s likely successor. During an interview with NBC News’s Chuck Todd last month, Newsom claimed he and Harris would not run against each other. “Of course not. By definition. Won’t happen,” he said. “We privately continue to maintain a very good relationship.”
However, Bannon disagrees with that assessment. “They’re due for a head-on collision sometime in 2027 because they’re both going to run for president,” he said. “The most important primary in 2028 may be the California Democratic primary, and one of them knocks the other out.”
Harris, unlike Newsom, has been constrained in her role as vice president and faced harsh critiques about her ability to step up in case anything catastrophic happens to Biden. “Newsom has got a very good head start because he’s been running a shadow presidential campaign for most of this year,” said Bannon. “Newsom has a lot more running room. Harris has the advantage of being vice president. But being Vice President also has restraints on it.”
Newsom raised eyebrows when he agreed to a 90-minute debate with GOP presidential candidate Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) next month in Georgia, a perennial battleground state, moderated by Hannity. But he claims it’s DeSantis who has more to lose than he does.
“I don’t know why he’s debating a governor of California. I mean, again, that is so disqualifying on his behalf,” Newsom said last month about DeSantis’s decision to debate with him. “This guy’s eye is so off the ball that it really makes you wonder … oh wait, it doesn’t make you wonder why he’s belly-flopped in the polls. It actually makes sense.”
Still, critics of Newsom claim he’s concerned with higher office to the detriment of Californians. “People keep saying Gavin Newsom is vetoing all these objectively good bills because his only concern is running for president,” said Adam H. Johnson, a media analyst and co-host of the Citations Needed podcast. “This is true but needs specificity: The bills are wildly popular; he’s vetoing them not for votes but to win the all-important billionaire donor primary.”