California has a lot of bad things, politically, but it does have term limits. That means Gov. Gavin Newsom can’t run again. And future gubernatorial candidates are already converging for the 2026 election.
2026 is a while away but a governor being out of office for a year amounts to an eternity.
If Gov. Newsom waits four years to run for president, he will by then be old news, a lame duck who transitions to being out of office and yesterday’s news. Newsom is not an inspiring candidate anyway. He only has two assets: a pipeline to California’s rich donors and the fact that he’s not Joe Biden.
Not being Joe Biden is a vital asset but it’s limited to 2024. (Barring an insane scenario in which Biden loses in 2024 and yet somehow convinces his party to let him become the default candidate in 2028. Highly unlikely, but these days nothing is entirely 100% off the table.)
Gov. Newsom waiting around for 2028 is a plan, but it’s not a great plan. By then he would be part of a crowd of candidates that no one especially cares about. The only thing that made Gov. Newsom a front-runner in 2024 was that he really seemed to want it in a race where no one dared to run against Biden. But Newsom didn’t want it badly enough and so he backed down. Maybe the donors told him they wouldn’t back a primary challenge, but I suspect that there are enough Democrat donors who would be happy to back an alternative.
The real trouble is that Newsom is a coward. When push came to shove, he didn’t feel ready to go up against the establishment. But fast forward a few months and Biden is being hammered by the media. Democrat consultants and public figures are coming out and warning that Biden could lose the election.
It ought to be Newsom’s moment and yet the underlying problem is that there isn’t a candidate.
After rebounding from a recall, Gov. Newsom launched his hypothetical candidacy by trying to go after Republicans in their home states. He kept picking fights with Gov. DeSantis (a debate is still coming), launched ads campaign, and tried a failed red state tour. He claimed that he was rebranding California as the land of real freedom. After a whole bunch of money was spent, none of it amounted to anything.
As a testbed for a presidential campaign, it failed. Gov. Newsom has money, but he doesn’t actually have a message or a brand. Even Biden is more clearly defined than Newsom is. He may campaign from a basement, but people have a handle on him. There’s no handle on Newsom who in some ways is like Kamala. He wants to move up, but he’s plastic, inauthentic, and has yet to develop a brand.
So Newsom can’t afford not to run, but he also can’t afford to run. It’s one thing to challenge a presidential incumbent when you know who you are, but how do you it when you still don’t know who you are?
A soft launch campaign to challenge your party’s incumbent would be a career-ending disaster. And that’s what Gov. Newsom is really afraid of. He’s afraid of making his announcement and then having people shrug. And shrug they would. With enough backing, he might beat Biden in the primaries. But no matter how much people don’t want Biden, and by people I mean even Democrats, they need to vote for something.
And Newsom isn’t a something, he’s a placeholder, an empty suit, a replacement no one asked for.