Gov. Gavin Newsom punctuated his inaugural address this week with several jabs at President Donald Trump, referring at one point to “the corruption and incompetence in the White House.”
However, while neither man would admit it, they share a similar political problem. Having made extravagant promises to gain support from partisan bases, they now must deliver or somehow wriggle out of them.
The New York Times revealed recently 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.
When the wall promise galvanized voters in key industrial states, Trump was stuck with it. But with Congress balking, it led to a partial shutdown of the federal government.
In seeking the governorship last year, Newsom also made extravagant promises aimed at the ascendant Berniecrat wing of his Democratic Party. He told those on the left 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 in November, however, Newsom began to step back, cognizant that delivering on his promises would cost many tens of billions of dollars.
Newsom’s ‘Big Beautiful Wall’
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.
Tellingly, during a pre-inaugural event on 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. You just 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-plus-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 the fervent advocates of universal health care will be placated by such a vague statement or even his initial actions to extend Medi-Cal coverage to a few more undocumented immigrants and offer health insurance subsidies to middle-class families. The advocates, led by the California Nurses Association, want nothing short of universal, single-payer coverage.
Universal Health Care and Other Specific Promises
Nor will California political media forget about universal health care and the other specific promises that Newsom made last year, 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 on delivery. Politifact, which specializes in separating fact from political fiction, has set up a “Newsom-Meter” for that same purpose.
Newsom’s predecessor, Jerry Brown, stumbled badly in his first stint as governor 40 years ago by doing 180-degree flips of position. He was more cautious during his second governorship, making few specific promises, delivering on those he made and avoiding battles he thought he couldn’t win.
Newsom talks about having “being audacious hairy goals,” but promising too much and reneging would make him appear flaky. He could ask Brown about the corrosive effect of that image on one’s political career.
CALmatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary.