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Political blowhards: When to take Trump, DeSantis and Newsom seriously

This story appeared on Calmatters

Gov. Gavin Newsom stands offstage during a press conference on Feb. 1, 2023. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

In summary

Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis and Gavin Newsom typify the pervasive syndrome of politicians saying things just to attract attention to themselves.

There’s always been a performative aspect to American politics. Politicians say or do things to seek attention, rather than contribute to governance. But it has become pervasive in recent years.

Former President Donald Trump personifies the bombastic approach, saying anything to get his supporters riled up – even to the point of violence – and draw media attention, no matter how detached from reality.

Unfortunately, however, Trump is not alone. Politicians of all ideological stripes now see attention-grabbing verbiage as an end unto itself, making declarations and issuing promises with little or no grounding in reality – but can fool the unwary.

California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, is a particularly active performer, scarcely letting a day pass without uttering – or tweeting – something that draws the attention that he apparently craves, particularly from national political media.

Newsom regularly exchanges incendiary rhetoric and cheesy stunts with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and says he would debate his partisan rival. Verbal conflict serves their equal yearning for national prominence.

However, Newsom will insert himself into just about any headline-grabbing issue, such as the Walgreens announcement that it would not sell abortion drugs in 21 states that outlaw them.

“California won’t be doing business with @Walgreens – or any other company that cowers to the extremists and puts women’s lives at risk. We’re done,” Newsom tweeted in March.

California reporters took him seriously and began asking administration officials how they were going to cancel Walgreens’ state contracts. Officials quickly said there were no cancellation plans because under federal law, those with Medi-Cal health care can get prescriptions from any licensed pharmacy.

Newsom spokesperson Anthony York then said, “Tweeting is not policy,” adding, that the governor will not “take any action that hurts people who need access to care.”

If a governor’s tweets are not policy, then what is? Does it mean no one should take seriously anything Newsom says?

One wonders, for example, about his off-the-cuff statement to a television interviewer that he would appoint a Black woman to the U.S. Senate if Sen. Dianne Feinstein resigns. Is that to be taken literally or does it fall into the “tweeting is not policy” category of meaninglessness?

We know that Newsom has reneged on seemingly firm commitments in the past, such as his pledge while running for governor in 2018 to make single-payer health care a reality in California.

A couple of other examples come to mind.

Newsom signed legislation creating a commission to study reparations for Black Californians stemming from the residual effects they experience from slavery, saying it would correct the “structural racism and bias built into and permeating throughout our democratic and economic institutions.”

The commission is now on the verge of recommending some very costly reparations and Newsom is in no rush to embrace them.

“Dealing with that legacy is about much more than cash payments,” the governor said in an initial reaction, while praising the commission’s work as “a milestone in our bipartisan effort to advance justice and promote healing.”

So was Newsom’s signature on the original bill just virtue signaling? He had to know that creating the commission could raise expectations for benefits that would be expensive, and perhaps impossible, to implement.

Newsom’s latest bid for attention is proposing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would legalize California-style controls on guns. He garnered national media attention but once again advocates for something disconnected from reality.

Jurors in criminal trials are instructed that if they find a witness to be untruthful in one response they should be skeptical of other statements. It should be applied to politicians like Trump, DeSantis and Newsom who, like naughty children, say provocative things just to say them.

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