As Donald Trump and Joe Biden continue dominating the top spots of their respective parties, there's a jockeying beneath that level for control over the future of each party. In the case of Trump, Ron DeSantis is running directly for the office and the man. With Biden, Gavin Newsom is attempting to become the second most powerful Democrat in the country.
DeSantis has a straightforward path with his strategy. He either defeats Trump in the primary and marches into the general as the top Republican, or he sets himself up for 2028. John McCain lost to Bush in 2000 but used that to win in 2008. Romney lost to McCain in 2008 but was able to win in 2012. There are many other examples in Republican politics.
With Kamala Harris lagging in the polls on a favorability level, Newsom is trying to maneuver into the next most obvious choice. Without challenging the White House, Newsom is running around challenging Republicans in any way he can. The LA Times called his new role as the "top attack dog" for Democrats.
Aside from sending out tweets and other social media posts targeting Republicans, Newsom is proving a secondary punching bag to Biden. After the Republican debates, Newsom has jumped into the spin rooms to offer left-wing perspectives on conservative issues. And he's slated to debate Florida governor Ron DeSantis in November. That could be one of those early 2028 sneak peeks, and both men know it.
Newsom's strategy is two-fold, though. While DeSantis has substance to back himself up, Newsom needs distractions. The death of Diane Feinstein comes at the worst possible time for Newsom. Everyone in California politics wants a shot at that seat.
Representatives Barbara Lee, Adam Schiff, and Katie Porter all want it. All three represent different factions of California politics, who all want the upper hand over the other. The list doesn't end there, with even Megan Markle dropping rumors she's interested in the seat. Newsom did promise to give the seat to a black woman, but he never specified who.
Newsom never wanted to be in this spot because he does not want to "pick sides." His choice of EMILY's List President Laphonza Butler in that spot is an attempt to split the baby. Whether that will work remains to be seen. And while Newsom's left flank is at war with him and each other, he's equally dealing with the compounding problems of California's shrinking population and economic impact.
To be sure, California is still a massive state. But Newsom oversaw the first time California ever lost a Congressional seat due to population loss. The bad news doesn't end there because early forecasts anticipate California losing another five Congressional seats because of even more population loss under Newsom's term time.
It should go without saying, but if your pandemic response and overall business climate is so bad it leads to your state losing potentially six or more Congressional seats, you've failed miserably. So that's why we have Gavin Newsom running around everywhere but California these days, because he understands the more Republicans attack him, the better he'll seem to his left flank.
Newsom needs this more than most because he has no substantial policy accomplishments when compared to virtually any other governor in the country. It's an especially pale comparison when Ron DeSantis is on stage, and we only have to use his first term as a comparison.
These are not just biased observations of a partisan outsider. California is shrinking, and major cities like San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, and others face serious issues that emanate from the governor's desk. Newsom needs distractions from that record and reality, so he's going anywhere where he can land a cable hit.
Neither Trump nor Biden are making cases like this to the people in any meaningful way. Trump is focused on himself, and Biden isn't concentrated on anything from what the average observer can see. We may be stuck with them both in 2024, but there's activity below that level trying to chart a course for the future.
Newsom has a large state and depends heavily on Republican attacks on him, boosting his national profile. He's doing that while California shrinks and troubles mount. DeSantis leads a growing state with a bevy of legislative proposals advancing a conservative agenda.
Both parties are trying to chart a vision for the future from this perspective. Blue states, led by Democrats like Newsom, are struggling and shrinking. California's excesses are squandering the vast resources it has. In states like Florida, led by DeSantis, it's a vision of rapid growth and expanding liberty.
Whatever happens in 2024 doesn't change the trajectory of this fight. It's only the first of many salvos where we chart a course for the country.