Back in 2015, Caitlyn Jenner’s political career was a punchline: a deranged fantasy concocted by the creators of South Park (where Jenner played the role of Vice President to a Trumpian figure whose campaign slogan — and indeed, entire platform — was that he would dispense with America’s enemies by “f***ing them all to death.”)
But now, Jenner has emerged as a real-life contender for office, having announced her intention to run for Governor of California.
Jenner’s candidacy is an interesting wrinkle in what will already be an unusual race. The election itself is predicated on a recall to unseat current Governor Gavin Newsom, whose approval ratings took a nosedive during the coronavirus pandemic. Jenner is among those who criticised Newsom for his response to Covid, which included a mini-scandal in which the governor was caught flouting his own lockdown restrictions at a fancy restaurant while his constituents were trapped at home. But what kind of platform and promises can we expect when she hits the California campaign trail?
First, despite her Republican party affiliation and reality TV roots, Jenner is not the second coming of Donald Trump. (While she supported Trump in 2016, she denounced him midway through his presidency for his administration’s role in pursuing anti-trans policies, including a ban on allowing transgender Americans to serve in the military.) Instead, she describes her personal politics as “economically conservative, socially progressive,” and believes that California has been in thrall too long to corrupt Democratic politicians who control the state via one-party rule.
In practice, this is most likely to translate into a pretty average Republican platform, one that promises to reinvigorate the struggling state with tax cuts and other incentives to keep people living and doing business there, but minus the conservative and anti-LGBT rhetoric that alienates young voters (and particularly the ultra-liberal media and technology classes upon whom California’s economy depends.) Anyone who replaces Newsom will be hoping to reverse the exodus that has occurred within the past few years — which the state’s ultra-strict lockdown measures has only accelerated — as people frustrated by California’s notoriously high taxes and cost of living have fled to places like Nevada and Texas.
And while Jenner hasn’t yet invoked the historic nature of her candidacy (if elected, she’d be the first transgender governor ever to serve in the U.S.), she is leaning into her reputation for “disrupting” the status quo, invoking both her trans activism and her Olympic win as proof of her ability to be an unconventional, independent-minded leader.
In fact, the most interesting thing about Jenner probably won’t be her policies, but the colour she brings to the race — which gives her a better than average chance of winning. After all, the last time California recalled its governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger ended up taking office. And while Jenner doesn’t enjoy the same bipartisan popularity as Arnie did during his 2003 run, she’s got the time, money, and media savvy to make herself look similarly good to voters before they head to the polls in November.