Talking Points

How Gavin Newsom ran away with the recall

Well that was anti-climactic. California's recall election was called for incumbent Democrat Gavin Newsom shortly after the polls closed last night, a sharp reversal of fortune from a month ago, when it seemed like the long-shot GOP-effort to depose a sitting governor for no particular reason in a Democratic landslide state might actually succeed. Instead, Newsom won a decisive, double-digit victory.

In the end, the absurd recall election accomplished little other than forcing taxpayers to light hundreds of millions of dollars on fire. It was, from beginning to end, a colossal waste of resources and the government's time in the midst of an ongoing public health crisis. The whole affair was such a fiasco that it finally has Democrats looking to amend the state constitution to avoid another pointless recall effort, perhaps by substantially raising the number of signatures to force one. Democrats will also look to change the procedures around choosing a replacement if the governor is recalled, requiring a runoff election if no replacement candidate gets a majority.

How did Newsom not only survive but win handily, when he was in serious trouble just last month? The leading candidate to replace Newsom definitely did not help. Larry Elder, a veteran right-wing columnist and talk show host, emerged as the most likely governor if Newsom lost, and the more Californians thought about that possibility, the less they seemed to like it. Elder is a vocal opponent of mask and vaccine mandates and has a long and rich history of saying things that are far out of step with the California electorate.

But Elder also ran headlong into the increasing nationalization of American politics. Once the recall became less about Newsom's infamous French Laundry incident and more about how a far right media personality might upend the state's pandemic policies and align them with the priorities of Donald Trump and his minions, hardened partisanship kicked in, Democrats roused themselves out of their disbelief that this was happening at all, raised the alarm with their voters, and won going away.