Source: Thomas Buckley

The Golden Boy of the Golden State, politically propelled by Getty family gold, could very well come crashing down to earth like a hair gel slathered lead balloon come September 14th. As the impossible has become possible, Newsom still does not seem to understand why he, of all people, is being held responsible for the myriad list of woes plaguing California.

His factory-built career and factory-built personality simply have not prepared him psychologically for the possibility that maybe, just maybe, he really is an empty suit. Groomed from birth by an extremely wealthy coterie of San Francisco friends and family to be President of the United States, he clearly cannot grasp the fundamental reality that, while his persona and policies may seem “good in theory,” they are actually terrible in reality.

The impending recall wasn’t even supposed to happen. The Newsom team so utterly dismissed it that they even forgot to put the word “Democrat” next to his name on the ballot (a rather important omission in a state that has twice as many Democrats as Republicans).

Since the recall has become reality, the Newsom campaign has done everything in its power to make sure the vote is not about him. It’s the evil Trumplicans, the supremacists, the conspiracists, the reddest of the red trying to use an illegitimate process to succeed where it failed on January 6 to subvert democracy—that’s why Gavin is fighting and why everyone around the country must stand with him to strangle this evil baby in its crib before it can move beyond California, especially just in case Dianne Feinstein dies.

That’s his entire campaign message.

He is not campaigning on how he made sure the unemployment agency didn’t send $30 billion to fraudsters while millions of legitimate benefit claimants went hungry…because he didn’t.

He is not campaigning on how he managed to keep 25,000 small businesses from shuttering permanently during the pandemic by having reasonable COVID response policies…because he didn’t.

He is not campaigning on how he reduced the risk of forest fires by clearing millions of acres of underbrush as he claimed he did…because he didn’t.

He is not campaigning on how the billions of dollars the state has spent on the homelessness issue fixed the problem…because it hasn’t.

He is not campaigning on how releasing thousands of prisoners and eliminating the penalties for crimes like shoplifting have made California safer…because they haven’t.

He is not campaigning on how he reined in and re-directed infrastructure spending to make sure that power blackouts and water restrictions do not occur…because he didn’t.

He is not campaigning on how he kept hundreds of thousands of middle-class Californians and hundreds of large businesses from fleeing the state by creating a less burdensome tax and regulatory environment…because he couldn’t be bothered to.

In other words, his campaign strategy is not about himself or even California; it is a purely deflective exercise to protect him personally (not even the party, really, because he didn’t want to be upstaged by a “just-in-case” replacement Democrat on the ballot) to try to keep the dream of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue alive.

One of the odder aspects of his campaign is that the Newsom team seems to have missed the very, very big difference between a regular and a recall election. In fact, that difference is quite stark. In a regular election, just as occurs when you hire an employee, buy a car, or decide what to order in a restaurant you have options. Joe or Jane or Bill or Mary for the opening in accounting? A Buick or a Toyota? Steak or chicken? Frank or Judy for city council?

But a recall election is quite the opposite and quite personal because you must focus solely on whether to remove one single person from office. (Trust me on this.  I, personally, have been through—and prevailed in—both types of elections.)

Decisions of this kind, which involve passing judgment on specific individuals, go beyond party affiliation, ideological kinship, or other political considerations. The perception of Newsom personally is extremely important, and that perception is not good. He is widely—and relatively accurately—perceived as an elitist, entitled, arrogant, pampered, disconnected, narcissist who would never go out of his way to help anyone else unless he personally received some benefit for doing so.

In California, the Democrat brand is incredibly strong, and Newsom’s campaign is almost exclusively based on this fact as it tries to overcome Newsom’s personal brand weaknesses. But in a recall election that may simply not be enough. While most Democrats have the party’s back, they do not have Gavin’s back because he has never had theirs—nor even thought he needed to. Voters understand when they are being taken for granted and/or ignored. Therefore, they see no need to “do him a solid” and bother to vote “No” on the recall.

Unsurprisingly, the “nationalization” of the campaign has been amplified by a supportive media narrative, with a very large percentage of the coverage being devoted to how wacky, silly, and possibly unconstitutional (it isn’t, by the way) the recall process is and how shocking it is that the tinfoil hat brigade could unseat a popular governor. Stories are flooding the ether lamenting how a low turnout in such an “odd” election is both incredibly unfair and/or potentially damaging to Newsom. And, of course, the big worry is the unthinkable domino effect a recall could have nationally if Feinstein, for whatever reason, calls it a day and a paleolithic Republican gets to appoint her replacement.

Thankfully, for the Newsom campaign, the California-specific problems are being ignored so, in that sense, his strategy may be working, But of course, that discounts the possibility that maybe a bunch of people who do not have cable news on 24/7 might decide to vote, too.

If the recall fails, the media will be full of items on how it’s a great day for democracy, people really love the direction in which California is headed, and a new, battle-tested Newsom is now an even stronger candidate for national office. If the recall succeeds, there will be barrels of ink and zillions of pixels spent on telling the world that it was a COVID-related blip, that a disgusting abuse of the electoral system, that lazy and confused Californians messed up but really don’t support the outcome, and that it should serve as a wake-up call to Democrats nationwide that they must fight for the good and the right and the proper even harder.

Neither of those narratives will dwell on California’s real problems or Newsom’s indolent combination of incompetence and ego as having anything to do with the actual result.

Until September 14th, California voters will be deluged with $40 million dollars worth of ads, texts, door knockers, calls, and mailers telling them to make sure that a Democrat stays in the Governor’s mansion. But what they won’t be hearing much about is why, other than the fact he’s already there, that Democrat specifically must be Gavin Newsom.