It’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that Gavin Newsom is shifting toward the middle in preparation for a national campaign. The only question is how soon that campaign will emerge — and whether his decisions will lead to animosity from the cultural left that could bar him from the Democratic nomination, or help him find success with more mainstream voters found in states outside of California.
The most prominent recent decision was Newsom’s decision to veto a bill requiring parental affirmation of trans identification in the context of child custody disputes — one that was passed by a party line vote of 57-16 in the Democrat-dominated California Assembly. Newsom urged caution in his veto message, implying that this bill could be misused or that it could lead other states to pass similar bills from the opposite direction.
This certainly runs against the current leftward bias toward authoritarian requirements of parents in affirming whatever gender their child claims to be, and San Francisco state senator Scott Wiener blasted the veto as a “tragedy for trans kids here & around the country. These kids are living in fear, with right wing politicians working to out them, deny them health care, ban them from sports & restrooms & erase their humanity.”
That type of reaction might hurt Newsom’s standing with California leftists, but it’s unlikely to be anything but helpful for him on the national stage. A similar effect could follow on his push to restore the rights of cities to clean up homeless encampments, pushing the Supreme Court to take up the Ninth Circuit ruling that has led to a mess of squalor across many cities in California. “It’s time for the courts to stop these confusing, impractical and costly rulings that only serve to worsen this humanitarian crisis,” Newsom said in a statement.
Newsom plans to be the face of the Democratic Party in the coming months in places Joe Biden can’t and Kamala Harris won’t go, including in a planned debate on Fox News in November with Florida governor Ron DeSantis on “red versus blue states.”
As a shadow presidential debate goes, this could be an example of an also-ran situation for two people who will never make it to the White House thanks to all the blockades in their way. Or it could showcase two people who both face the challenges of adjusting their very red and very blue policy histories for audiences that don’t share in the more hardcore views found in their states.
It’s obvious at this point that Newsom remains the “in case of Joe’s broken hip” candidate for the Democratic neoliberal elite. But he’s waited a long time to be in this position, and he doesn’t want to screw it up now. So it’s interesting that he’s taking this moment to put himself in a more centrist place on a handful of issues, and take the opportunity to appeal to audiences like Fox News viewers — risks he doesn’t have to take if he just plans to stay in California.