California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s main vulnerabilities in the upcoming recall have nothing to do with his political party.

Governor Gavin Newsom speaking with attendees at the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention at the George R. Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco, California. June 1, 2019. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

When deep-blue California overwhelmingly elected Governor Gavin Newsom in 2018, he received almost 62% of the vote. His victory was classified as a landslide by no less a historical authority than Wikipedia itself.

That was 2018; furthest antiquity for California residents who feel as if they’ve endured a lifetime of trials in the scant three years since.

Many Californians are asking one question, and those who aren’t will soon be giving their answer anyway:

What has Gavin Newsom done for California lately?

Gavin Newsom- once popular Governor, prominent face of the Democratic Party, prominent force in the California Democratic Party- is now a facing a serious recall effort.

Initially written-off as Republican wish-casting, the Newsom recall effort- and the growing likelihood of its success- have become a matter of gravest concern for Democratic Party officials at the highest level in California and beyond.

Newsom’s situation has become so dire, the L.A. Times contorted itself into a rhetorical pretzel over the weekend calling Newsom’s main challenger- African-American conservative radio personality Larry Elder, who hails from Compton- the “Black Face of White Supremacy”.

Democratic Party leaders are, to their credit, standing behind Gavin Newsom. But the fact that Newsom is facing a serious recall effort at all seems like reason enough for some Democrats to start panicking about 2022. In California, registered Republicans comprise only about 24% of the population.

Considering this, moderate Democrats and Independents certainly seem to be turning on Gavin Newsom. But are they really turning on the wider Democratic Party he represents?

If Newsom loses, it may indeed have far-reaching consequences for the whole Democratic Party, including the policy goals of the Biden Administrtion. Newsom himself certainly thinks so, and he is anxious to convince party leaders of the likelihood of this outcome.

However, if Newsom loses, it could also be a one-off; a referendum on Gavin Newsom himself, with few wider implications for the party at all.

It could be argued that Newsom has been his own worst enemy during the recall, and invoking the specter of Donald Trump may not help him very much.

Four factors will have played an outsize role in the outcome if Newsom loses, and none of them is Donald Trump.

Ne French Laundry Pas

Newsom’s attendance at an ill-timed and maskless indoor birthday dinner celebration at the swanky French Laundry restaurant during the height of the pandemic was a major faux pas.

Newsom had just ordered other Californians to forego such pleasures and the optics were terrible. Though Newsom admitted his mistake and apologized, the episode continues to dog him.

As plenty of news outlets have pointed out, Newsom may have dined on the future of his political career that night, albeit unknowingly. After French Laundry-gate, the Newsom recall effort grew from an annoying gnat buzzing about the head of the California Democratic Party to a great white shark circling a floundering masthead.

Gavin Newsom- Democrat?

The second Newsom own-goal was a mistake made by Newsom’s staff when they filed his recall paperwork: Gavin Newsom’s political affiliation was not included in the filing.

Though Newsom attempted a legal proceeding to fix the error, the judge ruled against him and he was not allowed to correct it. As a result, a “D” will not follow the name of Gavin Newsom on the ballot.

Newsom or Bust

In the third arguably unforced error, Newsom may prove to be the California Democratic Party’s worst enemy, as well as his own.

Because California’s recall laws are set up as they are, if Newsom loses his recall, no other prominent Democrat will be offered as a choice either.

California Democrats really should have someone prepped and ready, filed and waiting in the wings to take on Larry Elder if the recall doesn’t go Gavin Newsom’s way.

Only Gavin Newsom hasn’t allowed this.

Worrying it would weaken him ahead of the recall to have such a backup plan in place, Newsom demanded California Democrats stand down, and instead put all their efforts behind keeping him in office.

It is good plan- from Newsom’s standpoint. He might even have a good point about a second Democrat detracting from his own campaign efforts. On the other hand, it’s a huge gamble.

It leaves the California Democratic Party, and California’s Democratic voters, high and dry if Newsom fails. Something, incidentally, they may have noticed.

Newsom failing to put California, and his political party, above his own career might not convince many Californians to keep him as Governor.

Upper (Mis)Management

The fourth major headache for Newsom is a report which was recently released detailing just how much of California’s pandemic aid has been paid out to fraudulent claims.

Early estimates which put the grand total stolen at around $4 billion were bad enough. The next estimates doubled that. The most recent figure is a scandalous $11 billion for which California Republicans are now eagerly demanding answers from Newsom’s Administration.

Mostly responsible for the thefts were organized crime rings from overseas.

“California had the resources to combat rampant fraud in these unemployment assistance programs, and appears to have been warned repeatedly about the possibility of fraudulent unemployment assistance payments being made,” wrote Republican lawmakers in a letter demanding answers about how Newsom intends to recover stolen funds and prevent additional losses.

“Without any accountability mechanisms in place or plan to recover fraudulent COVID-related unemployment assistance payments, we fear that there will be a continued decline in taxpayers’ faith in California’s ability to administer other critical pandemic relief programs, such as vaccine distribution.”

Not to mention a decline in faith in Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Add to these four issues the fact that California is dealing with a serious water crisis, a widespread energy crisis, a homelessness crisis, skyrocketing crime and stratospheric taxes and it looks worse and worse for Gavin Newsom.

Though not, necessarily, for the whole Democratic Party.

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)