Los Angeles Times
Obama strategist’s take on Harris, Newsom
Authenticity is a concern, presidential campaign mastermind David Axelrod says.
SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gavin Newsom is getting the David Axelrod treatment.
The Democratic strategist known for masterminding Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns paid a visit to Sacramento last week. Axelrod recorded an interview with Newsom for an upcoming episode of his “Axe Files” podcast and sat down for an interview with The Times at the California News Publishers Assn. conference Thursday.
Axelrod’s take on Newsom: The governor is an obvious contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2028.
“Gavin Newsom’s name will be on the top of any grouping of potential candidates, and properly so. When you govern a state of this size and deal with the issues as complex as you deal with as governor of California, that gets you into the discussion,” Axelrod said. “So I think he’ll be in the mix if he decides that that’s what
he wants to do.”
He called Newsom “bright,” “charismatic” and “passionate” and said he was impressed by Newsom’s story of overcoming severe dyslexia as a child to become a successful politician: “That’s a reflection of persistence and character. So it’s a great story to tell.”
But he had some words of advice for Newsom too: Cool it with the self-congratulatory criticism of national Democrats.
“I would dial down the moralizing about other people’s lack of courage and make the points you want to make, because when you do it the other way, the coded message is, ‘Why can’t they be more like me?’ And that’s an unappealing message,” Axelrod said. “Doesn’t exactly make friends either.”
Newsom should continue pushing the liberal worldview by trolling Republicans such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Axelrod said, but with a different spin: “He’s right to challenge the sort of bullying of DeSantis. But he’s wrong to suggest that he’s the only guy who’s willing to do it.”
His harshest assessment of Newsom was a word that came up several times in the conversation: authenticity.
“He’s a very talented performer and he’s got a powerful story in many ways. But the authenticity thing is important. And it’s TBD as to whether he communicates that.”
Authenticity is also a problem for Vice President Kamala Harris, Axelrod said in the interview, as she evaluates her political future.
“This is a question that both of them are going to have to confront,” he said. “The one thing that is nonnegotiable if you’re going to be successful at the national level in politics is authenticity. And if you don’t have that, you’re just not going to make it.”
The Washington Post reported this week that many Democratic leaders in pivotal states are concerned that Harris cannot win a presidential campaign. Axelrod shared an observation that served as a reminder of Harris’ tenure as California attorney general:
“One of the things that has plagued the vice president in her campaign and in the vice presidency is there always seems to be a sevensecond time delay as she tries to calculate what the right political answer is,” Axelrod said.
“And what it communicates is a sense that she doesn’t know, that she’s not comfortable with who she is, or that she doesn’t know what her core is. And I think that’s something that she needs to address.”
Another problem both Harris and Newsom would face in running for president is the California factor. Axelrod said Obama benefited greatly from his connections in Illinois and his mother’s roots in Kansas.
“California has connotations to people that I think could be challenging in parts of the country,” Axelrod said. “My advice to the Democratic Party is: Don’t be so coastal.”