California Takes Privileged Newsom Over Extremist Elder

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Fred Greaves/Reuters
Fred Greaves/Reuters

SAN DIEGO—California Republicans, and the leading Republican challenger in Tuesday’s gubernatorial recall election, Larry Elder, showed the country a neat trick. One can be a sore loser before one actually loses.

No point in waiting until the last minute, I guess.

The Elder campaign and the GOP started claiming that the gubernatorial recall election had been stolen and the whole process was rigged on Monday, one day ahead of the polls actually opening.

One accusation was that the estimated 8 million mail-in ballots turned in to election officials before Election Day were rife for fraud.

No evidence of malfeasance was presented. But the accusation was out there as millions more California voters went to the polls on Tuesday.

With 65 percent of the vote counted, 66.4 percent of Californians voted “no” on the recall. Only 33.6 percent voted “yes.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom gets to remain governor.

The Republicans were half-right, which is 50 percent more than they tend to be correct about most things in my home state. The recall election was rigged. But not because of mail-in votes, or stuffed ballot boxes, or Election Day shenanigans.

The contest was rigged by the media. And the rigging began shortly after Elder entered the race.

That’s when media executives, newspaper editorial boards, TV assignment editors and frontline reporters started waking up to the possibility that Newsom could lose in an election that many Californians didn’t take seriously at first.

Once Elder declared his candidacy in July, the media meddlers decided that it was up to them to save the state. After all, someone had to beat back the scary and defiant Black conservative with the controversial and extreme views on everything from abortion to immigration to how best to combat COVID-19, and the media stepped up and took on the task themselves.

Not that Elder didn’t give his critics plenty to work with. In nearly 30 years of doing talk radio, the host had uttered hours’ worth of comments that were unkind, unsound, untrue, and uncouth. All the media had to do was dig them up. The same comments that helped him get attention kept him from getting elected.

Larry Elder Said Six Months Ago He Lacks ‘Temperament’ to Be Governor

That’s what most people really mean when they yell “foul.” When Republicans say the election was fixed, I would imagine that most of them are not talking about outright thievery. California isn’t Venezuela.

What Republicans, and other critics of Newsom, are angry about is that the media—largely in California, and to a lesser degree nationally—went out of their way to give Newsom a helping hand so he could keep his job.

The liberal, pro-Democratic media wasn’t watching from the bleachers. They were on the field. They put on a headset, and started calling plays.

The pile-on effect was embarrassing. Los Angeles Times columnist Erika D. Smith, who is African American, called Elder “the black face of white supremacy.” Her colleague, Times columnist Frank Shyong—who is Asian—described Elder as the “embodiment” of the compliant “model minority” that lets white people off the hook for centuries of mistreating people of color.

As a syndicated columnist for 20 years, I’m quite familiar with the practice of throwing elbows. That part doesn’t bother me. What does bother me is that, while journalism is by its nature about simplifying the complicated, it shouldn’t result in oversimplifying the complex.

I would like to have seen more criticism of Newsom, for instance. Not to mention some acknowledgement that when a Democratic governor of a dark blue state who won election less than three years ago by a 2-to-1 margin is facing a recall something is amiss.

And honesty is always a good thing, too. CNN totally bungled the story about what Elder said a few weeks ago concerning vaccines and children. The network reported, and tweeted, that Elder had said children could not get COVID-19. What he had actually said was that it was rare that children get the virus, and that, when they do, the cases tend to be mild.

On election night, CNN anchor Jake Tapper repeated the lie, telling a panel of pundits that Elder was “someone who has voiced opposition to kids getting vaccinated.” Again, not true.

Still in spite of all that, it was dreadfully unappealing to hear Republicans whine for months about how they were victims of an unfair media and, eventually, victimized by a rigged election.

After all, consider the source. In California, and around the country, the GOP is the political party that has long told people of color not to play the victim or complain about mistreatment. Now Republicans were doing that very thing.

Meanwhile, in California, it’s Latinos who are most victimized—and by both political parties. Scapegoated and demagogued by Republicans but ignored and taken for granted by Democrats, Latinos are 42 percent of the population but still invisible in terms of amassing political power.

Ten days ago, the storyline was that Latinos were going to abandon Newsom by not showing up for a rich white male embodiment of privilege that has rarely shown up for them. But that story changed in the closing days, and Latinos did a 180-degree turn. They went from ousting Newsom to saving him.

Why Gavin Newsom’s Big Latino Problem Could Bring Him Down

According to a CNN exit poll, 25 percent of voters in the recall were Latino. And it’s a good bet that more than two-thirds of them voted “no” and helped keep the governor in office.

Meanwhile, if Newsom’s smartest move was zeroing in on Elder, then Elder’s biggest mistake was not taking seriously enough just how much Latinos hate Republicans for constantly making them the party’s piñata.

Every time the conservative talked about eliminating birthright citizenship for U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants, or denying education and hospital care to the undocumented, or requiring that local police hand over to federal immigration agents undocumented motorists, it sent a clear and ugly message to Latinos: This state is not your state.

On Election Day, Latinos sent an even louder message back to the California Republican Party. One full of expletives.

Elder was always the one person who could beat Newsom but also the one person who could save Newsom’s job.

At first, Newsom tried to make former President Donald Trump his foil. In March, just two months after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, the California governor appeared on ABC’s The View. His message was clear: Trump supporters in California were going to try to stage a similar revolt in the Golden State. But voters didn’t bite, because Trump is so yesterday.

Around May, the argument became: “Stop the Republican Recall.” But the trouble with this approach was that, like New York Republicans, most California Republicans are weak and neutered. They don’t breathe fire. They sip chardonnay and complain about how expensive their kids’ private school has become. Again, not enough voters got riled up.

The Newsom campaign needed a bogeyman. Elder delivered. The Black conservative instantly became the symbol of extremism. He represented all those ruffians who color outside the lines and preach the importance of following the rules before they break them. These are the folks who—on guns, or abortion, or masks, or vaccines—push the envelope so far beyond the boundaries of the mainstream that they fall clear off the map.

In the end, Newsom won the right to keep doing his job, however imperfectly he’s been doing it for the last two and a half years.

“We may have lost the battle, but we are going to win the war,” Elder told supporters as he conceded defeat Tuesday night.

In Newsom’s remarks on election night, once victory was in hand, he claimed he was “humbled.”

As a lifelong Californian, I seriously doubt it. Our governor is way too arrogant to get his head around the concept of humility.

I doubt the Prince of Privilege learned much from this recall election except how to deflect from his failures and demonize the competition. Once that is done, you get to choose what you’re really running against.

In this election, Newsom saw to it that extremism was on the ballot. And extremism lost.

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