Newsom Recall, Part 2: Is There Any Fair Basis For It?

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Same photo of Chef Thomas Keller in the French Kitchen’s kitchen as used in Part 1, this time adding an apparently real (though maybe facetious? definitely hilarious!) Q&A from the FAQs on restaurant’s website.

[Ed. Note: Read Part 1 of this series at this link.  (Especially if you’re a friend of mine or are Democratic Party affiliated, you should really read the Prologue there.)  Part 3 (and whatever else may follow) will be linked here when it’s published.

Repeating the End of Part 1

Here’s what I said at the end of Part 1:

Substantively, he’d lose because, at perhaps the most critical point in the battle against Covid, he showed himself to be the worst kind of privileged elitist hypocrite – willing to sell out his declared principles to show up and boost the clout of a perfidious lobbying — and he gutted the public health message he’d worked hard and well to support and just about the worst possible moment.

(Yes, I do have receipts.  They’re in Part 2., appearing tomorrow.)

That grievous error is all on him!  And yes, he made his halfhearted and unconvincing apology over the his attending the French Laundry event — while really not seeming, or at least willing,  to grasp the horror of his action.

It’s not absurd for a voter to consider that a firing offense.  I think that that’s a big part of what’s motivating the voters who will make the difference in the recall vote: the ones who that aren’t that partisan, who are not that against his policies and overall track record, but who hate that he did something so craven, arrogant, stupid, and deadly — and then quickly declared “lesson learned!” and forgave himself over it.

I’m not committed to voting to recall him, but that sure as hell makes me want to.  And I am very much not alone in that.  Some of you may be thinking “but oh, what he did is not that bad!”  Check in tomorrow — and you too will be sorry that we’re  stupidly crossing this tightrope without a safety net.

Now it’s time to answer the question of whether a reasonable voter can view what he did as a “firing offense.”

7.  Introduction to Part 2

Eventually, in part 3, I’m going to get to what one might best do in response to the recall.  Starting at a position of voting only in Part 2 — the replacement section of the race — I’ve covered various topics that incline me one was or the other.  But I’ve missed one big one, which I will get to shortly.

Here’s the current set of reasons inclining me one war or the other on the recall:

A. Reasons to Oppose the Recall

  1. Republicans may be doing it simply because a  smaller election with lower turnout gives them their best chance to elect a Governor, rather than because Newsom warrants it, and that should not be rewarded.
  2. With two glaring exceptions, Newsom has been doing a decent job as Governor, especially with appointments, though not anything unexpected for a Democrat.
  3. The campaign against Newsom holds him responsible for all sorts of things that he’s not responsible for (such as housing prices) and for things he’s done right (such as his policies on vaccinations and most Covid policies.

B. Reasons to Support the Recall

  1. His blocking any decent Democrats from running to replace him — essentially trying to extort support from voters by ensuring that the sole alternative is electing a Republican — is not only extremely stupid but also deeply immoral, self-serving, and infuriating given the power of this office — and that should not be rewarded.
  2. Some of his policies, such as smoothing the path for Poseidon and helping pressure other politicians togo along with it, are actively harmful to Orange County (towards which he seems antagonistic), especially its poorest.
  3. He’s letting his Presidential aspirations get the better of him.
  4. His greatest error — attending the event at the French Laundry restaurant for a corporate lobbyist Peter Kinney in Covid-unsafe circumstances. shortly after he himself had issued a ban on such gatherings. not only showed bad character and terrible judgment, but actively discredited the public health efforts he was taking just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday — which was followed one viral gestation period later by the most significant sudden increase in the states Covid cases and deaths; this is a legitimate “firing offense.”

To be honest, I’m discounting reasons 2 and 3 here: while they may affect my own emotional reaction to him, I consider them irritants rather than true grounds for supporting a recall.  It’s the last one that I haven’t covered; it’s the subject of this post.

8. Moral Judgments

You may notice that two of my reasons, for and against, boil down to moral judgments about actions of both sides: if Republicans are doing this for anti-majoritarian reasons, I don’t want to reward that sort of political gambit.  But Newsom’s extorting voters to oppose the recall by foreclosing the opportunity for other Democrats to run to replace him in case he loses the recall — a serious possibility, and why I don’t favor a protest vote — that is as bad, if not worse; I don’t want to reward him for it either.

I’m pretty certain that Newsom’s doing exactly what I think he is — but while some Republicans are probably cynically gaming the system, I’m not sure that that’s most of what’s going on.  I think we need to grapple with it. Is there a really good reason, one that transcends partisanship, that Newsom should be recalled?

The recall probably won’t succeed — just as Brexit and Trump  probably wouldn’t win in 2016 — but it can.  (We haven’t even seen the attack ads yet!)  If it does, it won’t be because the voting public is fed up with Democrats; it’s because the public has a specific grievance about Newsom — and telling voters just to forgive and forget and move on only serves to further alienate the Democratic party from its potential electorate.

So let’s deeply examine the French Laundry scandal — something that Newsom himself shows little sign of having done — and see if it could reasonably induce fair-minded and politically uncommitted voter to support the recall.  If there is, then maybe we shouldn’t alienate them by calling them knaves and dupes!

9. Airing Our Dirty (French)
Laundry in Public

Is trying to slip a Republicans into office really what this recall is all about?  If so, it has little or no prospect of success: it needs far more than even a united Republican vote to succeed.)  For non-Republicans, it’s about whether Newsom has been a bad leader — probably not in most ways, because the public thinks he’s done a good job overall — but in one specific way. He was a shameless hypocrite about public health policy at a moment when such hypocrisy was unforgivable. He banned indoor public gatherings, then promptly attended a big political event, celebrating the birthday of a top lobbyist (!), Peter Kinney, at the famed restaurant The French Laundry.

The fault lines in Newsom’s public image were etched deeply in November of 2020.  They aren’t that visible right now — but starting next week they’re likely to become so, as the field is set and Republicans compete on who best can slag him.  He may not see it coming — “in denial,” perhaps — but that’s no excuse for us.

I’ll use some publicly available data (admittedly only suggestive) to support the proposition that Newsom has an enormous latent vulnerability.  I used Google Analytics (which charts public interest in a topic based on search results) for two search terms: “Gavin Newsom” and “French Laundry” (the restaurant where he attended a lobbyist’s birthday party of a type that he himself had just banned.)

The free version of Google Analytics doesn’t tell you how many hits a search term got during a time span, but it does tell you the week when searches on the term peaked during any given time span. It scores other weeks by the percentage of searches each received compared to that peak week.  (E.g., “half as many” is 50.)

Let’s look back at searches (our presumed indicator of public interest) on “Gavin Newsom” over the past 4-5 years (in red, with the green identification of events as my addition) as well as the term “French Laundry” (specified as the restaurant) in blue:

Remember what big news it was when Newson won the primary?  Searches on him when he announced the Covid lockdown were four times as big — and more than twice as big as when he won the 2018 election itself!  (That week’s score was 47.)   Searches when he announced the indoor dining ban were more than three times that of the primary and close to twice that of the election.  What’s most shocking is that the peak for the week that the French Laundry story leaked out — followed by a dip during the Thanksgiving holiday and then a second peak, almost as high as the first, the following week — was almost three times as big as the primary win and one and a half times the peak of interest when he was elected.

To review: Newsom’s biggest haul of Google searches came when he issued his (excellent!) Covid lockdown order in March 2020.  Things settled down for a while, then three months later his (critical!) further ban on indoor dining shot them up nearly as high.  (And why wouldn’t they?  Both were big news!)

But in November 2020, interest in Newsom shot up again, nearly as high as the second peak — and half again as large as the peak number of searches on him when he won the gubernatorial election 47% of his highest point.)  The French Laundry event was clear enough for the least informed (perhaps most disgruntled?) voter to understand: it not only made Newsom look like a rank hypocritenormal people were barred from going to crowded restaurants, but he and those like him could! — but it undercut confidence in and the seriousness of his (fantastic!) Covid public health orders that many people hated.  These figures show that what voters are most likely to recall (i.e., remember) when they vote on recalling Newsom:

(1) He enacted significant anti-Covid public health policies.

(2) He raised those policies to ban crowded indoor dining.

(3) Shortly thereafter, he chose to violate those policies for a big political event.

Boom, boom, boom! THAT is the public’s memory of Newsom!

“OK, maybe,” you might say, “but were people really paying attention then?  Let’s turn up the granularity of the Google Analytics reports and look more closely at the figures in blue, which track search interest in the French Laundry restaurant:

That slope you see to the left is the end of the second spike over the indoor dining ban.  The obvious spike in blue — the 100% point for searches of the French Laundry — shows you exactly when the third spike in interest in him came: during the week of Nov. 15-21, before Thanksgiving.  When interest in Newsom  spiked to 69% of its peak week, searches on the French Laundry were at 19% of that highest point for Newsom, which is huge.  They dropped during Thanksgiving week itself, then had a small bounce the week after.  Since that time, they’ve remained a little over their pre-Newsom baseline levels.

That whole third peak (and its echo a month or so later) was all about the French Laundry.  It’s now mostly a memory resting on  latent mental fault lines — but Republicans will set off deep bombs over these next two months to try to provoke earthquakes that raise it to consciousness once again.

We’ll never know, but I doubt that Newsom’s recall would have qualified for the ballot if it were motivated by his Covid policies alone.  (They’re pretty popular!)  It’s the French Laundry incident that repelled those who favored his anti-Covid policies, adding them to the already repelled minority who opposed them.

The French Laundry incident is literally why Newsom could lose; it’s literally why he thinks he needs to extort voters to survive.

But still you may say: isn’t this all just “inside politics”?  “OK, he made a mistake.  He’s since admitted that he should have set a better example.  Should be ‘case closed,’ right?  He’s not as bad as Trump, right?”

True, he’s not nearly as bad as Trump on Covid policy — for a time, he was brilliant — but there’s an unfortunate resemblance.  What Trump did to the U.S. public intentionally, for his own political benefit, to retain his re-election story line of economic recovery, Newsom did to California through exhibiting hypocrisy at the most inopportune moment, justifying widespread flouting of his own good policies.  And lots and lots of people died.

But is there cause and effect here?  It’s arguable — but largely also irrelevant. Republicans already know what I’m about to show you, and their public relations barrage will tell non-Republican voters that he caused the state’s worst wave starting in late November 2020.

(N.b.: We don’t know with certainty, that this was the state’s worst wave. Covid tests were rare for much of 2020 so we missed some cases; we can’t use death figures because treatments were much worse and people who died early on might have been saved later.  Hospitalization figures would offer the best comparison across time, but so far I haven’t found state-level ones.)

10. The Firing Offense

Newsom’s cynicism and hypocrisy, which came to public light last November 16, had two dismal effects: they weakened the brilliant case he’d previously made for good state public health policy and they strengthened the credibility of the cynics, dolts, and yahoos who opposed public health restrictions.

I don’t say this to gouge the Governor’s eyes — I disagree with the guy on some things, but I don’t hate him, after all — his bungle very likely cost a great number of lives.

He was not nearly as bad as Trump — but his blunder came at exactly the wrong time.  A Republican like Trump might have blustered their way through this.  But for a Democrat — whose supporters have scruples and whose opponents have the best PR professionals in the business — this was a career-killing blunder.

And yet: Newsom has had “career-killing” blunders before this one, though — he had an affair with his campaign manager’s wife, remember? — and so far they’ve never killed him!

Yeah, but do you know what his arrant hypocrisy probably — completely unintentionally! — has killed?

A whole lot of Californians, that’s who.

Newsom’s flouting his own wonderful — but grating and hard to accept! — rules on November 6 surely induced many to minimize the risks of Covid.  I remember it being a big topic at our own, not entirely socially distanced, family Thanksgiving dinner: “If it’s really so bad, how come the Governor himself ignored his rule?”

It was too easy and vivid a rejoinder to the principle that public health had to be taken seriously to ward off another big wave.  It was too good of an excuse for people who didn’t want to follow his order in the first place to justify it.

Being a personal role model is probably well down on the list of job requirements for a Governor: but at that moment, it was literally the most important requirement — and Newsom failed.

With what result?

Here’s a New York Times graph of newly reported Covid cases in California.  You’ll note where there’s a big (and lasting) spike that, if you cover everything after early November, could have been (I’d say probably was) a mere fluctuation.  It looked like it might be tailing off around Thanksgiving, which fell on November 26.  But starting a week after Thanksgiving — the mean Covid incubation period, bearing in mind that each data point is a seven day average — it takes off like a rocket.

The vast majority of California’s Covid cases occurred in from the start of December to mid-February.  Newsom had attended the French Laundry tribute to Axiom Advisors super-lobbyist Jason Kinney — whose clients, I hate to say, include the investment group behind the Poseidon ripoff — on November 6.  The San Francisco Chronicle first reported it on November 16.  Covid usually takes around 7 days to incubate.  Thanksgiving fell on the 26th last November.  But the first post-story rise in Covid — which facilitated its holiday spread — came before Thanksgiving– though roughly in the wake of the Chronicle’s reporting.

With one bullet, had shot down his own anti-Covid policy twice:

1.  He gave many people license to ignore his order.

2. He completely undercut the credibility he would need to get them to stop ignoring his order.

Unlike Trump, who deliberately gaslighted the public to protect his hold on power, Newsom is not a monster.  He didn’t mean for this to happen — any more than the proverbial Mrs. O’Leary meant to start the Great Chicago Fire when she set down her lantern within kicking range of the cow she intended to milk.

But damn — O’Leary’s fire did spread!  And so did Newsom’s.

11. So Why Equivocate about Recalling Him?

The point of this analysis has not been to show that Newsom  should be recalled: in terms of culpability, I’m more upset about his intentionally preventing any Democrat from running to replace him if he loses then about his having violated his own order to lend some extra juice to lobbyist Peter Kinney’s reputation.  (“Look, he’s so powerful that even the Governor came to honor him, despite his own public health order!”)  Must’ve been nice.  Even more bothersome is that bolstering Kinney’s reputation was likely part of at least an implicit quid pro quo: this favor Newsom did for Kinney was something that would make Kinney — and more importantly, his clients — more likely to help Newsom in his future political endeavors.  Maybe less than illegal, but rank enough to turn off all but highly partisan voters.

The point of this analysis has been to ask whether there’s any  valid possible reason for the recall.  Does one have to be a sneaky and cynical Republican operative or a honking Trumpian idiot to think that what Newsom did was legitimately a firing offense?  Or do at least some recall proponents have a serious point?

On this “character issue” — here. one much like Bill Clinton’s, but a thirst for power rather than for sex —  proponents do have a point.  I can’t tar them all with a broad brush, as Newsom wishes.

I may disagree with someone who wants to recall Newsom, but I can’t claim convincingly that their motives are purely political.  Newsom’s has largely earned some serious consequences for his actions — and as usual he’s not contrite and not at all disposed to punish himself.  “I should have been a better role model.”  YA THINK?  And do you think then you then get to say, “That said, let’s move on”?

I don’t know, at this moment, how I will vote on the first part of the recall ballot.  I have objections to both sides of the argument, and I may (uncharacteristically) sit that question out.  (I’ve already decided that all of my effort will go to the second part of the ballot — what non-Democrat (Newsom’s preference, definitely not mine) will replace him if he leaves.

I do already know how I’d strongly prefer all this to end, though.  That — and what else progressive voters should be doing between now and the September 14 election — are the topics of Part 3.


About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)