Fox News on Friday quoted some grumblings that California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is undermining President Joe Biden’s China policy, and perhaps even running his own “shadow campaign” for the presidency, by meeting with dictator Xi Jinping and other Chinese Communist officials during his trip to Beijing.
“The track record is not good for him to be gallivanting around the world doing basically a shadow campaign for president, just waiting for the moment when they finally decide to throw Biden under the bus,” said Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA).
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LaMalfa compared Newsom to the “backup quarterback” at a football game and suggested the governor would better serve his constituents by attending to the many problems in his state.
LaMalfa was especially critical of Newsom for spending time talking about “climate change” with the mandarins of China — the world’s worst polluter — instead of addressing issues of immediate concern to Californians, such as soaring taxes, business flight, and deteriorating infrastructure.
“I remind folks that carbon dioxide is only 0.04% of our atmosphere and that the contribution by the US is a tiny percentage of that. And the transportation sector and others is a tiny percentage of that. So chasing this carbon thing is just a means with which the government can further take over our economy and our choices,” he said.
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According to LaMalfa, some California Democrats are disgruntled that Newsom is spending so much time on a phantom presidential campaign, although LaMalfa himself felt it was likely the Democrats would end up calling their “backup quarterback” in for the big game in 2024.
“With Trump looking more and more like a likely nominee pulling ahead in most places from what I’ve seen then the Dems are, I think I saw in our notes here, that they would need to break the glass and reach in for the Newsom fire extinguisher,” he said.
LaMalfa was among those who criticized Newsom for fawning over a Chinese electric vehicle this week. “Governor Newsom is more interested in promoting Chinese companies than American,” he said on Wednesday.
“To promote China’s polluting industry while destroying California jobs and making everything more expensive, is a textbook example of Democrat priorities. A bit of a tip to him: his shadow Presidential campaign should be focused on supporting American exceptionalism, not pandering to the Chinese Communist Party,” he said.
LaMalfa and other California Republicans criticized Newsom for not pointing out that Chinese products are often tainted with “slave labor,” as Rep. Michelle Steel (R-CA) put it. Rep. Jay Obernolte (R-CA) might have landed the best jab on Newsom by pointing out that the Chinese EV he was slobbering over was actually a hybrid — and Newsom is trying to restrict hybrid sales in California.
President Joe Biden and California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on September 13, 2021, in Long Beach, California. (David McNew/Getty Images)
Even if Newsom is not tapped to replace the unpopular and aging Biden in 2024, it is not unreasonable for the Democrat party to develop a higher profile for some of its most likely candidates for the years beyond.
The problem with Newsom’s current strategy is that he risks upstaging Biden while the incumbent president “see crises piling up on his watch, including the border crisis, inflation, skyrocketing crime in major cities, and major foreign policy failures, including the botched Afghanistan withdrawal,” as Fox News put it.
Fox quoted various pundits hitting the “shadow campaign” theme and speculating that Newsom might be overplaying his hand as “backup” candidate by making himself look like a more active and internationally respected diplomat than Biden. Some even thought Newsom’s domestic campaigning for Biden over the past few months looked suspiciously like the California governor laying the groundwork for his own run.
Politico offered a different take on Thursday, suggesting Newsom’s public embrace of Xi Jinping on climate change issues was cover for him to engage in “high level governmental discussions on forced labor in Xinjiang, the repression of democracy in Hong Kong and fentanyl exports” as a surrogate for President Biden.
This photo taken on June 2, 2019, shows a facility believed to be a re-education camp where mostly Muslim ethnic minorities are detained, in Artux, north of Kashgar in China’s western Xinjiang region. (GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images)
This theory was based largely on Newsom’s own account of his meetings with Xi and other Chinese officials, which he claimed included “animated” discussions on all of those hot-button topics, plus China’s oppression of Tibet and its bullying of Taiwan, and China’s position on the Israel-Hamas war.
There is very little evidence that Xi was swayed by anything Newsom had to say, or intends to change even the most odious of China’s policies. If anything, Chinese state media has been reporting the encounter as Xi finding Newsom more amenable to China’s existing policies than Biden, as though Newsom might return to Washington as Xi’s emissary to the sitting administration.
Politico nevertheless celebrated Newsom’s meeting with the autocratic Chinese ruler as a “major win” for Newsom, a resume enhancement if he decides to “launch his own presidential bid in 2028,” and a milestone for “U.S.-China relations that have been at a low point.”
Perhaps unwittingly, Politico undermined its own thesis by noting that even on his precious climate change issues, Newsom was easily rolled by Xi, who extracted concessions from the California governor that Biden’s “climate envoy” John Kerry was unwilling to make:
In discussions with local and national leaders in China this week, Newsom has focused on “low-carbon green growth.” It’s an area of climate action that’s less likely to be met with resistance than pushing China on coal and methane reductions, which have been points of contention in discussions with U.S. climate envoy John Kerry and at recent UN climate conferences.
Politico noted Kerry told China the Biden administration “would not trade climate for other issues, such as anti-democracy crackdowns in Hong Kong or China’s military tactics to stake out territory in the South China Sea.” Newsom apparently has no such scruples.
A bulldozer pushes coal onto a conveyor belt at the Jiangyou Power Station on January 28, 2022, in Jiangyou, Mianyang City, Sichuan Province of China. (Liu Zhongjun/China News Service via Getty Images)
China is still burning mountains of coal and pumping out billowing clouds of greenhouse gas emissions, so it is unclear if even the modest percentage of the American electorate that regards climate change as a top issue would be favorably impressed by Newsom going softer on Beijing than John Kerry. Presumably, the theory is that if Newsom can help prod China to sign any sort of climate agreement, even one that places absurdly few restrictions on rapacious Chinese industry, it can be touted as a major achievement.
“Whether Newsom’s visit will help advance the broader climate agenda between the U.S. and China isn’t yet clear,” Politico admitted. “But it will likely help pave the way for Xi to meet with Biden at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco next month.”