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Tim Miller on WTF Is Going on with the California Recall

Here are just some of the freaks and geeks who might replace Gavin Newsom in a recall.
September 9, 2021
Tim Miller on WTF Is Going On With The California Recall

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Tim Miller: WTF is going on with this California recall?

This is Not My Party. Brought to you by The Bulwark.

So, California is having a wild recall election that might just end up with a wacko, conspiracy-minded conservative from the entertainment world shocking the country.

Here’s the state of play. The current governor is a pretty-boy neoliberal Democrat named Gavin Newsom. He’s a little slick.

When he was the mayor of San Francisco, he was one of the first in the country to marry gays.

Later, he was one of the first politicians to support decriminalizing marijuana.

And he was also married to Donald Trump Jr.’s current girlfriend [Kimberly Guilfoyle] from 2001 to 2005.

As governor, Gavin’s biggest fail has been not doing enough on the housing crisis.

But the premise of the recall isn’t even about that.

The Republicans trying to overthrow him launched this recall because Gavin was fighting Trump’s nativist immigration agenda.

It caught momentum later when people became upset about COVID restrictions. So these right-wing jabronis stumbled into a recall over a totally different issue because California has one of the stupidest electoral systems in the country.

Here’s how the recall got started.

Right-wing interest groups paid to amass signatures from regular folks walking in and out of their Walmart or Ralphs.

Once they got 1.5 million signatures, an election was called. And now the whole state votes Yes or No on whether the sitting governor should be called. If more than 50 percent say yes, there’s a second question on the same ballot where Californians choose from a massive slate of weirdos and whoever gets the most votes becomes the next governor. So in theory, Gavin could get, like, 49 percent of the vote and still be recalled while some freak show gets only 19 percent of the vote on the second question and they become the next governor.

Here are just some of the freaks and geeks who might replace him in a recall. The favorite is Larry Elder, a conservative talk-radio show host who is basically a walking boomer Facebook meme. This guy has made countless crazy statements, but just watch this one.

Larry Elder: You could make an argument that the people that are owed reparations, are not only just black people, but also the people whose “property” was taken away after the end of the Civil War.

Miller: Whoa. In addition to being possibly interested in reparations for slave owners, Elder has supported rolling back Gavin’s vaccine mandates. And the Democrats have been trashing him for it.

Among the other contenders, you have John Cox. The dude with the bear. He lost to Gavin in 2018.

Then, of course, Caitlin Jenner, whose campaign tanked when it turned out that Republicans didn’t actually want a trans woman to be the governor.

The Democratic establishment decided not to put up anyone so that Democrats wouldn’t vote yes on the recall because they were thirsty for a better Gavin. But that didn’t stop this young lib, Kevin Paffrath, a meet-cute YouTuber with 1.7 million subscribers.

So it’s the YouTuber in a sea of right-wing freaks.

But there is one vaguely normal alternative.

Kevin Faulconer. He’s a moderate Republican former mayor of San Diego. He wants to address climate change and supports citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Sounds like my kinda guy. But of course, he also voted for Trump.

Full disclosure, I’m gonna vote No on the recall and hold my nose and go with Faulconer on question two. As for whose actually gonna win: Close polls had the Democrats really nervous a few weeks ago. If a Republican wins the recall, and then God forbid something happens to 88-year-old Senator Dianne Feinstein, they would get to appoint a Republican to the Senate and make Mitch McConnell the majority leader. But based on recent polling—and my source inside Newsom’s campaign—it’s still California and it looks like he’s gonna win.

But it ain’t over till it’s over so always vote. And if you’re in California, return your mail-in ballot by this Tuesday, September 14th. See you next week for more “Not My Party.”

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is The Bulwark’s writer-at-large and the author of the best-selling book Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell. He was previously political director for Republican Voters Against Trump and communications director for Jeb Bush 2016.