When it comes to potential Republican challengers for Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom in a recall, Ric Grenell, the former acting director of national intelligence under then-President Donald Trump, is a name that gets mentioned frequently.
Whether or not he runs is still up in the air, although he’s reportedly been laying the groundwork. However, talking to Fox News this week, Grenell detailed a more ambitious goal: He wants to “Fix California.”
That’s at least the name of his new group, which he’s launching to bring “permanent” change to the Golden State after the Democratic Party there has lurched to the left.
“What I’m consistently hearing from activists and donors is that after a year of our economy being shut down for political reasons and Zoom school, that people in California want permanent change,” Grenell said.
“We’re going to go after the frustrated ‘decline to state’ voters,” he added. “People who recognize that the pendulum has swung too far left and needs to come back.”
Fix California will be modeled after Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight, the Georgia organization that many Democrats credit in part with delivering the state to Joe Biden and winning two Senate runoffs.
Grenell said the organization would have three main focuses: voter registration, suing counties to force them to clean up voter rolls and advocating for expanded school choice. And while most Republicans are focused on a potential recall of Newsom this November — the effort to force a vote on the matter appears to have enough signatures to appear on the ballot — Grenell warned winning that race wouldn’t accomplish much.
That’s because any new governor would only be in office for a year before 2022, when the next election proper is scheduled to take place. Grenell said the issue that will drive voters to the Republican side will be school choice, given that California has been slow to reopen its schools after shuttering them due to the pandemic. However, it can’t be done overnight.
“I’m telling our donors when I meet with them that this is not a sexy, quick fix like one hyped-up statewide race,” Grenell said. “This is a four-year campaign to fix California and to do the long-term reforms that we know we need.”
That said, the Democrats’ mismanagement of COVID-19 offered a point of entry for California Republicans, who largely gave up on statewide office after Arnold Schwarzenegger left the governor’s mansion in 2011, Grenell said. (The last Republican to represent California in the Senate, meanwhile, goes further back; John F. Seymour left office in 1992.)
“We’ve been waiting for the last 10 years for that moment to show the electorate that progressive policies are bad for the largest state in the union, and what COVID has done is sped up the ability for Republicans to point to the disastrous policies and blame the one-party control of the state — the Democrats,” Grenell said.
School choice, he said, is an issue that hits home.
“We see so many parents who have watched in horror as their kids have been forced into Zoom school the last year. Gavin Newsom has lied about dealing with the impact of Zoom school. He hasn’t dealt with it because his kids have been in in-person learning since last year,” Grenell said.
“He also said we are not going back to normal. We can’t go back to normal because normal isn’t good. … He said the quiet part out loud.”
Grenell wouldn’t tell Fox News if he was going to be a candidate for a recall, which looks increasingly likely. However, he hasn’t exactly been subtle about the fact he’s exploring the option:
If I were governor I would immediately and temporarily suspend collective bargaining agreements that stood in the way of opening our schools. The mental and economic health of our State must also be considered. https://t.co/JoSsOiAEEB
— Richard Grenell (@RichardGrenell) March 6, 2021
Grenell, a resident of Palm Springs who served as Trump’s ambassador to Germany as well as his acting director of national intelligence, also dropped an unsubtle hint at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February.
“In my three decades in American politics, I have never seen a better case for a recall than there is right now in California,” Grenell said, according to the Tribune News Service.
“And of course, if a public official is still failing to deliver on their promises and you can’t limit their term, or recall them in time, there’s always another option: You can run against them yourself.”
Earlier in February, Politico reported Grenell was interviewing potential campaign staffers.
A Grenell candidacy would be a double-edged sword. On one hand, he has the highest national profile of any of the big-name candidates. San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who has already announced a 2022 bid against Newsom should Newsom still be in office by then, and Republican businessman John Cox, who lost to Newsom in 2018, have been the two other GOP possibilities most frequently mentioned. Neither holds anywhere near the name cachet that Grenell does, particularly among conservatives.
On the other hand, Grenell’s ties to the Trump presidency could be a difficult sell in California, where Trump won only 34.3 percent of the vote in 2020. Part of Newsom’s strategy has been to use alleged ties between some recall organizers and organizations like the Proud Boys to link the recall effort with the Capitol incursion on Jan. 6.
“We’re just concerned about violence moving into the future as we move farther and farther away from the January insurrection and we put down our guard. We must remain vigilant about these groups and how serious they are,” Newsom said during a March television appearance, according to The Associated Press. “All you need is about a quarter of the people who supported Trump to just sign a petition and it appears they’ve done that.”
It’s a bit difficult to call 2 million of your own people far-right bigots and insurrectionists, but that’s apparently the tack he’s taking — and unfair though it may be, it could represent a serious hurdle for Grenell to jump. Rob Stutzman, a Republican strategist, told Politico that Grenell’s candidacy would be “a huge gift to Newsom to be able to frame the recall as Trumpists versus him.”
However, the recall election, if it happens, will be a referendum on how Newsom and the Democrats have handled the pandemic, and no one issue illustrates their failings so much as the fact so many California students haven’t returned to the classroom. If Grenell can harness that energy, whether or not he runs, Fix California could go a long way to fixing California.
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