The State of California: The State's Relationship With The White House

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By KCBS All News 106.9FM and 740AM
KCBS Radio’s Doug Sovern is off this week. Filling in for him as co-host with Patti Reising and Jeff Bell is Sonoma State University Political Scientist Dr. David McCuan.

Will the continued nationwide protests put a strain on the relatively cordial relationship between California Governor Gavin Newsom and President Donald Trump?

As the debate on the path forward continues, how will the dynamic change between California and the White House. 

Dr. McCuan, how do you expect the relationship to evolve? 

Dr. David McCuan: Well, we’ve had very different messages this week, from the White House to the State House. Earlier this week, Gov. Newsom argued he didn’t want to go tit for tat through the news cycle with Pres. Trump. What he did was he called on all of us to be better moral leaders from churches, to public officials to our own households and that signal sent a dramatic shift in the “bromance” that’s been going on between Newsom and Trump.

On Wednesday’s “The State of California,” we were joined by Bill Whalen, Hoover Institute’s Virginia Hobbs Carpenter Fellow in Journalism.

Give us your best characterization of the response, so far, from the federal government vis-à-vis with what’s happening here in the state.

Bill Whalen: Well I think you’ve seen that President Trump has made it on no uncertain terms that he is the law and order candidate in this race, he is not pleased by the visuals he sees in California and he is prepared to send in military force if need be. Now, I think we’re very far away from that happening, but it’s an obvious Antigone between he and Gov. Newsom.

I’d like to clarify one thing: David called it a “bromance,” I’d call it a “showmance,” which is a phrase on reality TV, a staged romance between two people that you see on many of these dating shows like “The Bachelor.” The relationship is still strained, it always has been, it always will be. I gave Gov. Newsom a lot of credit in his news conference the other day for not taking the bait when he just came off a call with the president, who had just thoroughly trashed the governors, essentially calling them all weak and stupid, kind of like Doug Neidermeyer in Animal House talking to his troupes.

The governor didn’t take the bait, but I do think this moving forward: it’s five months left until the election. At some point, we’re going to resume normal programming—meaning the political campaign takes over from whereas the rioting and pandemic have dominated the news—for probably a two month stretch from September until election day, at which point I think you’ll see much more resumption of the usual hostilities between the president and California, and vice versa.

As we look at this moving forward, does the governor need Washington D.C. and President Trump? Not only in the sense of being foils for each other, but also in the terms of federal funding to help California get out of the mess. You talked about the five month run up to the election, but you also have a state budget that’s coming to very shortly and California’s definitely going to fall short in that regard.

They are, and sure the governor would love to get money out of Washington, but I think you and I would agree that would be unrealistic at best. I think at some point in the Chronicle you’ll see a headline that says “Trump to California: Drop Dead.” Why? I just think the President’s going to look at California, and look at Illinois, and look at New York and say that these are not just so much blue states, but states that have been fiscally mismanaged, and he’ll say no. And there are ways to get around this by the way. Jim Wunderman, who runs the Bay Area Economic Council for example, suggests that California issue recovery bonds, somewhat Arnold Schwarzenegger did in the last recession that tied California over, but it would just be very much out of character for Donald Trump to want to give California $15 billion.

Think of the strings he would attach to $15 billion: “Fine, I’ll give you $15 billion, but no sanctuary cities, or you need to change some of your gun laws,” so I’m just not sure how that kind of deal could be struck.

So, no more “Mister Nice Guy” from Governor Newsom? Should that occur? Do you see a public change in tone from the governor?

I think if Washington doesn’t come through on the money, you’ll probably see a change in tone from the governor, but again we’re going to get back to election before long and Gov. Newsom, who represents a very blue state and will be in the business of promoting Joe Biden’s candidacy will hit the trail to campaign, and he’s not going to pull any punches when it comes to Donald Trump.

So, yea I think you’ll see a renewed hostility. One of the things to think about in California, and yes you mentioned California’s a very convenient foil for Pres. Trump, not just because of policy but because it becomes a convenient foil if Sen. Kamala Harris ends up the number two spot on the ticket because she, by default, brings California onto the ticket with her.

As we look at this moving forward, and you paid a lot of attention to  the calendar here, does the governor need to call a special session?

I don’t think he needs to call a special session because if you look at the calendar right now, the budget has to be constitutionally solved by the 15th of this month, it has to be enacted by July 1. So I think nature kind of takes it course by then. 

So I don’t think a special session is warranted necessarily, but I do think he needs to raise the heat on Washington if he wants any hopes of getting any money. I’m not sure if you could go to Washington or not by just trying to flag this issue, deploy Nancy Pelosi, deploy Joe Biden, but just try to raise the temperature on the president.  

Does the governor risk the possibility of backlash for being too soft in the eyes of his constituents in his dealings with Pres. Trump? 

I don’t think so in that regard. This is the “showmance”, not the “bromance.” This is not going to last long, this cool off between the two. Trump will certainly give him many occasions to return to old form if he will, and I think he probably will. Gov. Newsom is a very smart politician and I think as David would agree, is a very ambitious politician. And I think he has an internal mechanism that tells him when enough is enough in terms of being polite or differential toward the president.

So again maybe I’m being an optimist because I want to see us get back to a more normal state, finally a normal state is those two gentlemen being at decided odds against each other.

That sounds like a good place to wrap it up in the sense that we’re going to see these two go “Mano y Mano” moving past the election and even into next year regardless of what happens, certainly for Gov. Newsom in his upward trajectory, also with the future of Donald Trump for whatever November brings.

Exactly, so we will see. And keep in mind, if things were normal and in normal conventions I would almost guarantee for Gov. Newsom to get a very good speaking spot at which he relates to the Trump administration in no uncertain terms. But at some point I think Gov. Newsom will be out on the trail at some swing state in America, perhaps somewhere at which point that relates to Donald Trump. But this is politics, Gov. Newsom has serious policy disagreements with Donald Trump, and there’s also stylistic disagreements as we saw Gov. Newsom this week calling for calm and so forth. So, I just hate to say it but they’re natural antagonists.