Beware language and the art of manipulation
Press: Can Caitlin Jenner dethrone Gavin Newsom?
If you're looking for an example of a progressive reform that turned out to be a big mistake, look no further than California, where two progressive initiatives created in 1911 by Gov. Hiram Johnson - the initiative and the recall - have backfired. Originally intended to help citizens thwart the power of Southern Pacific, they're now primarily deployed by corporations and political outcasts to thwart the power of average citizens.
There's no worse example of that than today's ridiculous recall against Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom. Backers have collected enough signatures, which means that sometime in September or October, Californians will face a multimillion-dollar special election on whether to recall the sitting governor.
Here's how it works. Voters get a long ballot, on which they must answer two questions: Should Newsom be tossed out of office, yes or no? And, if a majority vote "yes" on #1, who among a long list of alternatives - almost anybody who breathes can file as candidate - should replace him?
Other than being totally insane, there are only three things you need to know about the California recall: It's undemocratic. It's totally partisan. And it's bound to fail.
As The Atlantic's Ron Brownstein argues, the recall's undemocratic by its very nature. Only 1.5 million signatures, or 12 percent of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election (most other recall states require 25 percent), were needed to qualify for the ballot. In 2018, almost 12.5 million Californians voted for governor. Gavin Newsom won with 7.7 million, 3 million more than Republican challenger John Cox. Which means that, thanks to the recall, only 1.5 million people can cancel the democratic decision made by almost 8 million. By no standard is that fair.
This year's recall has nothing to do with policy. Newson's not accused of corruption, malfeasance or misconduct. He's simply accused of being a Democrat by Republicans who are frustrated by not having elected a Republican to statewide office since 2006 and seized on the recall as a way to get back in power. The head of RescueCalifornia.org, sponsor of the recall, is Tom Del Beccarro, former chairman of the California Republican Party. Funding for the signature-gathering included $250,000 from the Republican National Committee and $125,000 from the California Republican Party. The Republican Governors Association has established a special PAC to raise funds for the recall. And, so far, only Republicans have filed to run against Newsom.
Which is why the recall will fail. Democrats may fear a rerun of 2003, when Democratic Gov. Gray Davis was booted from office. But that's not going to happen, for a number of reasons. One, voter registration. In 2003, Republicans accounted for 34 percent of California voters; today, they're down to 24 percent. Two, the governor's popularity. Newsom won his race by over 3 million votes; Davis won by only 400,000. Three, Trump's unpopularity. In the latest Morning Consult poll, Donald Trump has only a 34 percent approval rating in California, 49th out of 50 states (only Vermont is lower). And all four leading Republican candidates so far - John Cox, Doug Ose, Kevin Faulconer, and Caitlin Jenner - are Trump supporters. In California, that's the kiss of death.
As if that's not enough, Newsom announced last week his plan to use a $75 billion surplus to send $600 checks to middle-income people and $500 checks to families with dependents. With exquisite political timing, those checks will arrive just before recall ballots do.
The 2021 recall of Gavin Newsom will fail. Then, if they're smart, Californians will recall the recall - so they never have to go through this charade again.
Press is host of "The Bill Press Pod." He is author of "From the Left: A Life in the Crossfire."