“The enemy of my enemy is my friend” is an ancient proverb thought to date from a 4th century BC Sanskrit writing on statecraft.
The most graphic example of its application occurred in World War II, when Soviet Russia, which had a “nonagression” pact with Nazi Germany, was suddenly attacked by its erstwhile ally.
Overnight, the Soviet Union’s dictator, Joseph Stalin, was transformed from enemy to a partner of the U.S. and Great Britain in their war against Germany and its dictator, Adolf Hitler. Militarily, it was the best thing that could have happened for the Western allies because had it not happened, Hitler might easily have triumphed.
Something like that is happening in California as Gov. Gavin Newsom fights off a campaign to oust him from office via a September 14 recall election.
Newsom’s Campaign Shifts From Defense to Offense
With voting underway, Newsom’s campaign has shifted from defending his gubernatorial record to attacking the leading Republican candidate to succeed him, talk show host Larry Elder. Pro-Newsom editorialists and the second place Republican, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, have joined Newsom’s assault on Elder.
The overall theme of the attacks is that Elder’s extreme right-wing views make him unacceptable as an officeholder, and the drumbeat quickened last week when Elder’s former girlfriend accused him of being verbally abusive and even, at one point, waving a gun at her.
“I, for one brief moment, believed that he intended to shoot me. I was in fear for my life,” Alexandra Datig said, adding: “At the same time, I’m also very fearless and, having grown up around guns, I didn’t take it seriously.”
Critics Demand Elder Drop Out Amid Allegations
Elder, of course, denied the gun allegation, but immediately, his critics turned from saying he shouldn’t be governor to demanding that he drop out of the contest.
The Sacramento Bee declared that Elder’s “misogynistic attitudes toward women and the damning allegations revealed this week about how he treated his ex-fiancee Alexandra Datig are disqualifying, and make him wholly unfit to be California governor. Elder must drop out of the race immediately.”
“Elder’s backwards positions harm women’s rights and the livelihoods of California families,” Faulconer said in a late Friday afternoon statement. “Elder’s lack of judgement and character flaws threaten the success and credibility of this historic recall movement — Californians will not vote to recall one dysfunctional governor if it means replacing him with another.”
So what effect will this barrage of criticism from Newsom, Faulconer and pro-Newsom media have on Elder and the recall drive?
Extra Attention Could Play in Elder’s Favor
Newsom obviously hopes that focusing on Elder and the supposedly terrible fate that would befall California should he become governor will not only change the subject but motivate Democrats to vote against the recall. Democratic voter apathy is, polls indicate, the prime reason Newsom is in danger of losing his office.
However, the focus on Elder could also make it more likely that he would, in fact, become governor should the recall succeed. Voters who favor the recall could easily conclude that if Newsom, the media and Faulconer are ganging up on Elder, perhaps he’s just the man to lead the revolt against the political status quo.
That’s what happened in 2016 when Donald Trump emerged from the Republican pack to become the GOP’s presidential nominee. The more Trump was attacked for his many personal shortcomings, the more attractive he became to angry Republican voters. The rest, as they say, is history.
Elder may be, as his critics say, unfit to be governor. However, like Trump, he probably loves the attention because his enemies are making him more friends.
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.