Bet on this: When Gavin Newsom is termed out of the governor’s office at the end of 2026, he will not go quietly into retirement, as Jerry Brown did when his fourth term as governor ended almost five years ago.
But what does Newsom want next?
That’s an open question, one that’s difficult to answer as he looks to his next big media event, a planned debate with Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, currently a flailing candidate for his party’s presidential nomination.
For sure, Newsom has not neglected his current job, even though after next year he will be the lamest of lame ducks, staring at a term limit with no set agenda for his future — unless he has already figured one out but is keeping it a deep secret.
Anyone who looked at the detail in his scores of veto messages during September and October, as he killed one fatuous idea after another, would realize Newsom has not neglected his duties.
But the moment he cleared his desk of bills passed by the Legislature, his attention turned elsewhere — overseas.
It wasn’t enough for Newsom to make a weeklong trip to China, where he discussed economic growth with academics in Hong Kong and converting to electric vehicles with the Chinese president, plus city and provincial officials in Guongdong.
He saw an offshore wind power farm in Jiangsu province and took a ride on high-speed rail between Beijing and Shanghai and a tour of a Tesla factory.
Newsom could have flown the usual direct route to China, crossing the Pacific Ocean. Instead, he added thousands of miles and a lot more greenhouse gases to his trip by stopping in Israel en route. That meant transcontinental and trans-Atlantic flying, plus a long trip across all of Asia.
The Israel stop allowed him photo-opportunities with local leaders, the chance to express sympathy to parents of Hamas-held hostages and visits to wounded who had California connections.
It did nothing to advance peace or any other cause, except perhaps establishing some foreign affairs credentials for the governor.
All of this was precisely the kind of thing folks do when prepping a run for president.
It’s easy to schedule these kinds of things, easy to get access to foreign leaders when you’re governor of a big state like California or New York or Florida or Texas.
But just try getting in to see prime ministers when you’re an ex-governor. That may be a reason Brown hasn’t done much foreign travel since 2018.
Newsom is stymied for now in his likely quest for the White House, acting as one of President Biden’s leading surrogates, and having pledged to support his longtime stablemate (they’ve shared campaign consultants), Vice President Kamala Harris, for president if anything happens to knock Biden out of his announced reelection campaign next year.
So he’s plainly trying to set himself up for 2028, a presidential year for which he could start campaigning openly the moment he’s termed out of Sacramento.
There’s plenty of precedent for this: One example is Ronald Reagan, another ex-California governor who traveled the nation extensively between leaving office in 1974 and winning the presidency in 1980.
Reagan campaigned indefatigably for Republicans during those years, doing political favors and piling up political credits. He also ventured abroad, but not very much or very visibly.
Newsom figures to do even more traveling in 2027, no matter who is president then. If it’s Biden, Newsom would be displaying no disloyalty by doing this; if it’s Donald Trump, Newsom would have the chance to establish himself as a major anti-Trumper.
It’s the same with his DeSantis debate. There has been some bitter rhetoric between the two over the last year or so, making this planned 90-minute exercise with Fox News host Sean Hannity as moderator a sure-fire ratings hit.
The show could set both men up for highly credible runs in 2028, by which time each would have been out of office awhile.
So that’s it: He may occasionally deny it, but Newsom is traveling and debating now to set himself up for his dream job, the top political one in America.
Only time will tell if it works.
Email Thomas Elias at [email protected].