Of the 46 names on the ballot in the recall election against California Governor Gavin Newsom, Larry Elder ended up having the best chance of succeeding the first-term governor if voters recalled him. It’s a bizarre turn of events because there were other candidates with longer, more serious records. Elder’s most formidable “record” is his history of bizarre, controversial, and fringe statements throughout his campaign and before that as a bombastic conservative radio host.
Elder has a penchant for the explosive on par with Donald Trump’s. Just days before the recall vote, Elder, in something of a Hail Mary, did an event in Los Angeles alongside Rose McGowan, who has accused California first lady Jennifer Siebel Newsom of trying to convince her not to publicize allegations of sexual misconduct by Harvey Weinstein. Newsom’s office has denied the allegations.
In any other campaign, a final-weekend event with a movie star widely known for her advocacy for female victims of sexual harassment would be the singular all-consuming event of the entire contest.
Not with Elder in the race, though. In warning about the potential security holes in the recall election, he said the 2020 election was “full of shenanigans.” He did say that President Biden won the presidential election “fair and square,” before asking for a “mulligan” in the face of conservative criticism and indulging in false claims about the results of the election. In the final days of the recall, he’s also readied a voter fraud website and organized recall lawyers in the event of a loss.
Maybe McGowan should have checked Elder’s record on women’s issues a little more carefully. Elder has said that “women know less than men about political issues, economics, and current events,” pointing to a University of Pennsylvania study. He has written in his book, Showdown: Confronting Bias, Lies and the Special Interests That Divide America: “Are there legitimate business reasons for a venture capitalist to ask a female entrepreneur whether she intends to have children? Hell, yes.” He also argued in that book that women aren’t “dedicated” to their work if they have children. He’s also complained about the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Elder doesn’t believe that women face a “glass ceiling” in employment. He’s suggested that some “women were too unattractive to be sexually assaulted,” according to the Los Angeles Times. He’s criticized Roe v. Wade as “one of the worst decisions that the Supreme Court ever handed down.”
Women are hardly his only target. Elder, who is Black, has argued that slave owners should get reparations. He’s described how he introduced Snoop Dogg to the “evil weed” (marijuana). He’s said that “Blacks are more racist than whites.” He’s argued that “systemic racism is not the problem, and critical race theory and reparations are not the answer.”
Elder denies there’s any real problem with police and racial profiling and instead insists that “the police are not engaging in systemic racism against Black people. If anything, the studies show the police are more hesitant or reluctant to pull the trigger on the Black suspect than the white suspect.”
He’s argued that when there was slavery in the United States, “a Black kid was more likely to be born under a roof with his biological mother and biological father than today. That’s the problem, let’s deal with that.”
Elder has said that the minimum wage should be $0, before backtracking and saying he had no plans to get rid of the minimum wage.
On the environment, Elder has described global warming as “a crock” and criticized Republicans who disagreed, like the late Senator John McCain. Once upon a time, part of his website was devoted to “debunking the Gore-Bull warming myth.”
Elder has painted a picture of how he would run the state very differently from Newsom if he were to become governor. On the surface, that’s not surprising. Campaigns are all about making a contrast with your opponent. But Elder has questioned whether children should be vaccinated. He’s promised to repeal mask and vaccine mandates if elected (in contrast to Newsom, who has been fairly successful with mandates and fighting the spread of the pandemic). And in the event that Senator Dianne Feinstein’s Senate seat became available, Elder has promised to select a Republican to succeed her, a move that would have huge implications for the course of Joe Biden’s presidency and the country.
All of which is a reminder that even in a contest all about contrasts, the Republican with the best chance of becoming governor in this recall election would move one of the biggest economies in the world in a dramatically different direction. California has a $2.6 trillion economy—bigger than most countries across the planet. The state has enjoyed a $75.5 billion surplus under Newsom’s tenure. Newsom brings this up often and giddily highlighted distributing a “historic $12 billion state tax rebate,” the largest in history. It’s also a state that has instituted strict vaccine mandates for teachers and school staff. It’s a state that’s in the top 15 of vaccinations but has recently seen an unemployment claims jump as the pandemic continues. All of that is to say, the person in charge of the state is incredibly influential, not just for California but for the country.
Democrats don’t see Newsom as perfect. He’s often described as unnecessarily aloof or tone deaf, and his decision to go maskless at one of the most expensive restaurants in the country will haunt him for years. But Newsom also has built a competitive governing record, while Elder’s résumé is undeniably thin in that regard.
The recall election is about more than Newsom. It’s allowed Republicans to focus on a reliably Democratic state and paint it as one rife with homelessness, high taxes, undocumented immigrants, wildfires, and government largesse. The most recent polls show Newsom surviving the recall election safely, but the contest has given Republicans a blueprint for elevating even unprepared first-time candidates to an unusually high level of competitiveness in a large, Democratic state.