Once considered a golden boy for the progressive Left, California Governor Gavin Newsom has had a few bad months. Not only has his response to the Covid-19 crisis been inconsistent and exceedingly draconian, he was caught violating his own pandemic orders at the ultra-expensive, ultra-chic French Laundry in Napa.
This angered people in a state that has suffered the third highest economic losses of any state. Only tourism-dependent Nevada and Hawaii are higher. California, according to the state’s own outlook, is not supposed to get back to 2019 levels until 2025.
At the same time, the state has also mishandled unemployment claims, hitting more than a million Californians whose unemployment cheques were delayed or claims frozen. Worse yet, the state last year was handing fraudsters as much as $11 billion to various scammers — including people in jail and criminals from Nigeria and Russia.
In light of this situation, will Newsom be forced out in a recall, as occurred with former Governor Gray Davis? The odds are not good. Newsom is not widely popular — his poll rating has fallen since September from 64% to 46% — but a new Berkeley poll suggests a recall is now supported by barely one-third of voters and has been losing ground.
The move is damaged further by the fact that the Republicans lack a strong candidate to place on the ballot to replace him; in 2003, they had Arnold Schwarzenegger, a muscular movie star with wide appeal. The prospect of John Cox, a nondescript wealthy investor from Illinois who was trounced by 23 points Newsom in 2018, running again should brighten Newsom’s already gleaming smile. In contrast to Gray Davis in 2003, whose own Lt. Governor ran to replace him, no prominent Democrat has stepped forward to oppose Newsom.
Perhaps more importantly, California is a far more Democratic state today than in 2003, with the percentage of Republicans down from 35% to 24% since that time, roughly half the percentage identifying as Democrats. To make matters worse, the state continues to lose middle class families, the very group that might favour recall. A large and growing poor population — California has the nation’s highest cost-adjusted poverty rate — expands the constituency of those dependent on the state’s largesse.
At the same time, the state’s famously fractious GOP continues to fight among themselves, divided between moderates and highly vocal Trumpistas. Newsom and the Democrats see a great opening there, in a state where Trump lost by almost two to one. He is already linking the recall effort to the “insurrection” carried out by insane Trump-supporters last month in Washington. Attacking the Orange Man is usually good politics in California.
Thanks to these realities, Newsom, despite his record of failure, is likely to survive the recall. The better question, perhaps, is whether the state will survive too.