Opinion

Trump, Newsom have something in common – a problem

Eleni Kounalakis, right, jokes with Gov. Gavin Newsom, left, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, center, cheers them on after Kounalakis was sworn in as lieutenant governor at the Tsakopoulos Library Galleria on Jan. 7.
Eleni Kounalakis, right, jokes with Gov. Gavin Newsom, left, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, center, cheers them on after Kounalakis was sworn in as lieutenant governor at the Tsakopoulos Library Galleria on Jan. 7. rbyer@sacbee.com

Gov. Gavin Newsom punctuated his inaugural address with several jabs at President Donald Trump, referring at one point to “the corruption and incompetence in the White House.”

Neither man will admit it, but they share a very similar political problem. Having made extravagant promises to their partisan bases, they now must deliver or somehow wriggle out of those promises.

The New York Times revealed that Trump’s pledge to build “a big beautiful wall” along the U.S.-Mexico border to deter immigration was never a fully vetted proposal, but a throwaway line in his stump speech. Something to remind him to talk about immigration.

When the promise galvanized voters in key industrial states, Trump was stuck with it. Now, that throw-away one-liner has led to a partial shutdown of the federal government.

In seeking the governorship, Newsom made some extravagant promises aimed at the ascendant Berniecrat wing of his Democratic Party. He told them what they wanted to hear and on primary election night in June, promised “Guaranteed health care for all. A ‘Marshall Plan’ for affordable housing. A master plan for aging with dignity. A middle-class workforce strategy. A cradle-to-college promise for the next generation. An all-hands approach to ending child poverty.”

After winning the governorship, Newsom began to step back, cognizant that delivering on all those promises would cost many tens of billions of dollars.

While some of those promises might be feasible, “Guaranteed health care for all” is Newsom’s “big beautiful wall” – something that draws cheers from the faithful but would be virtually impossible to deliver.

During a pre-inaugural event Sunday, Newsom said, “Anyone who suggests that you can create universal this or universal that, even if you wanted to in six months to a year, our capacity to deliver on that is limited, so we’re going to create the architecture, the framework, we’ll set the goals.”

Setting a goal is easy. Say it, send out a press release or even write it into law. Reaching the goal is something else entirely.

Newsom kissed off universal health care in a few words during his 2,700-word inaugural address, saying, “In our home (of California), every person should have access to quality, affordable health care,” while pledging, “we will never waver in our pursuit of guaranteed health care for all Californians.”

It’s doubtful that fervent advocates of universal health care will be placated by his initial actions to extend Medi-Cal coverage to a few more undocumented immigrants and offer health insurance subsidies to middle-class families. Advocates such as the California Nurses Association want nothing short of universal, single-payer coverage.

Nor will California political media forget about universal healthcare and other promises Newsom made, such as building 3.5 million new homes in six years.

CALmatters and The Sacramento Bee have already documented those promises and will chart his progress. Politifact, which specializes in separating fact from political fiction, has set up a “Newsom-Meter” for that same purpose.

Gov. Jerry Brown stumbled badly in his first stint as governor 40 years ago by doing 180-degree flips. He was more cautious in his second go-round, making very few specific promises, delivering on those he made and avoiding battles he couldn’t win.

Newsom talks about having “big audacious hairy goals,” but promising too much and reneging will make him appear flaky. He should ask Brown about the effect of such an image on one’s political career.

Dan Walters writes on matters of statewide significance for CALmatters, a public interest journalism organization. Email: dan@calmatters.org.

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