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A conversation with Gavin Newsom: Part 4

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[In Part 3, Lieutenant-Governor Newsom disagreed with me on the need for immediate resistance to a Trump regime. He was in favor of a cautious, wait-and-see approach, in which Democrats hope for the best. At the same time, he added:]

GN: Look, if Trump moves forward with internment camps and registries for Muslims, then we go into a deep and aggressive mode, not just of resistance, but pro-active, aggressive counter-measures.

SH: I’m glad to hear you say it!

GN: Yeah. Unquestionably. If he doesn’t do those things, and he’s focusing on infrastructure and re-evaluating our trade pacts and economic development and job creation, bringing manufacturing back to the country, I’ll celebrate that, if he actually follows through. So, you know what? We need to focus on paid family leave, and childcare, and if he comes up with interesting and innovative policies, we have to embrace that.

SH: What’s your hunch?

GN: Uhh [laughs], I think he’s got a real problem with this Republican Congress, and I don’t think he has a clue about how big a problem he’s about to have, with his Vice-President [Mike Pence] and this Republican Congress.

SH: Starting with the intelligence community?

GN: Well, there’s that, and his own self-imposed problem with the intelligence community. But I think he’s going—I’ll give you an example of the problems I think he’s going to have, very early. And I’ll excuse the obvious, which is this “repeal and replace” [of Obamacare], where the “replace” they have no idea; they have rhetoric and talking points, but no idea. So that’s an obvious one. But I think the ones that will be outsized—things like Planned Parenthood. He’ll have a bill on his desk to defund Planned Parenthood. Remember, he was an outlier at those Republican Presidential debates on Planned Parenthood, and that’s going to be a gut-check moment. [EDITOR’S NOTE: As with other issues, Trump has had multiple positions on Planned Parenthood. During the campaign he demanded defunding. More recently has has said Planned Parenthood “does very good work.”] So does he want to go there, or not? And if he does go there, the reaction to that—I think these are the small sparks that become big fires. Therein lie some real traps for him, and those traps will be set, not by Democrats, but by Republicans in Congress.

SH: Another meme out there is that impeachment will be launched by his own party.

GN: Yeah. Impeachment scares me more than anything, because Pence scares me more than Trump. I’m sorry.

SH: My feeling is, let’s deal with Trump. Take care of him. One fight at a time.

SH: That said, I’m a little disconcerted with your—you just seem so accepting of this. “We lost, let’s get over it—”

GN: Unlike Donald Trump, I want to deal with reality. It’s not theoretical that he’s President. It’s real. It’s not fake news, it actually happened.

SH: So—

GN: It doesn’t matter. It exists. The point is, you have to—it’s like a 12-step program, where you have to acknowledge the problem. He is a problem, and I—

SH: I mean—

GN: And I’m not accepting just rolling over.

SH: A lot of Democrats are saying—I think I heard [L.A. Congresswoman] Maxine Waters say it the other day—Democrats have just been too nice, historically. The Republicans play really hard ball, and Democrats are always so—

GN: Yeah, we try to intellectualize—

SH: –Kumbaya.

GN: I agree with that.

SH: And we lose. So why not start getting nasty, the way they do?

GN: I think, you know, I would like to think that Michelle Obama resonated with the vast majority of Americans for a reason in this campaign, and came off as the shining star of the 2016 Presidential election because she inspired America to a higher value. “When they go low, we go high.” And, you know what? That doesn’t mean you don’t play rough.

SH: I hope you’re right.

GN: And that doesn’t mean you don’t—Look, we took on the National Rifle Association, and we beat ‘em! [EDITOR’s NOTE: Newsom sponsored California Proposition 63, a tough anti-gun measure fiercely opposed by the NRA. It passed.] They tried to punch us and we punched ‘em back five times as hard.

SH: Congratulations on that.

SH: And we went after all the arbiters of the status quo, including my entire party, on legalization of marijuana; we did the same thing. [EDITOR’s NOTE: Newsom also sponsored Proposition 64, legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. It, too, passed.] Same thing on marriage equality. My entire party unanimously opposed it. So I have no problem playing rough and playing tough and going after folks. But there’s a way of doing it, and that’s my approach. So, you know, Donald Trump wants to take us on? We’re not just going to play defense, it’s not just resistance; there’s a pro-active and aggressive counter-strategy. It’s not about navel-gazing, it’s about stepping up and recognizing [that] we have agency, we have a voice. This is California! This is not some small, rural, isolated, weak state. We have more engineers, more researchers, more scientists, more professors of higher education, sixth-largest economy [in the world], we look more like America’s about to look in the next twenty years. This is the economic engine of the United States, it is what people identify as uniquely American in terms of entertainment, agriculture, technology, natural beauty and wonders, its coastal beauty. So all those things give me a little more sense of calm and confidence.

SH: Okay. Back to politics. How about SCOTUS?

GN: That scares me.

SH: Do we block it?

GN: That scares me.

SH: Or do we play along?

GN: Now we’re having a conversation that scares me, beyond—

SH:  Why should Chuck Schumer—

GN: That was only for one-quarter of an actual term. [EDITOR’s NOTE: Newsom is referring to Republican Senators blocking Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, from even having hearings last year.]

SH: But why should we not give tit-for-tat and say, Forget about it, we’ll have eight SCOTUSes—

GN: Because there is something called the Constitution of the United States.

SH: There was for Republicans, too.

GN: Yeah, and—

SH: They didn’t give Obama anything.

GN: They didn’t—

SH: So why should we?

GN: Because—

SH: Or am I being immature again?

GN: I think you get to a point, it’s advise and consent. And we have the right to reject. But it’s just—just—it basically diminishes every argument we just made, if we play by the same rules. You lose your moral authority. And if you don’t have moral authority, then you only have—

SH: Moral authority? That and two bucks will get you on the subway.

GN: Well, I’ll tell you, there’s two kinds of authority, moral and formal. We don’t have formal authority right now. So the only authority we have is moral authority. And if we give up the moral authority, then you’re left with nothing.

TOMORROW: The final part of my conversation with Gavin Newsom.

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