Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @DeanObeidallah. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion on CNN.
California’s Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom marked the July Fourth holiday by unveiling a campaign ad set to air on Fox News in which he speaks about freedom, amid images of skyrocketing fireworks and the Statue of Liberty, with strains of “America the Beautiful” softly strumming on the guitar.
But if you think Newsom is serving up Independence Day platitudes in an effort to attract the support of Fox News’ audience, then you don’t know Newsom.
This new 2022 re-election commercial is about just one thing: crushing Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis. And Newsom does it in a way that other Democrats should emulate – by highlighting the threat that today’s extremist GOP poses to our freedoms.
The 54-year-old governor opens the ad declaring, “It’s Independence Day – so let’s talk about what’s going on in America.” He then adds ominously to Fox News’ viewers in Florida, “Freedom is under attack in your state.”
We then see images of DeSantis shaking the hand of Donald Trump, as the screen fills with quotes from news reports appearing to back up Newsom’s claim that “Republican leaders are banning books, making it harder to vote, restricting speech in classrooms and even criminalizing women and doctors.”
And as the visuals turn to picturesque vistas of California beaches and vineyards, the governor declares, “I urge all of you living in Florida to join the fight – or join us in California, where we still believe in freedom: Freedom of speech, freedom to choose, freedom from hate, and the freedom to love.” Newsom closes his appeal with the words, “Don’t let them take your freedom.”
Boom! That’s the message Democrats should embrace. Today’s Republican party is an extremist movement that is literally coming for our freedoms. DeSantis – who many political observers expect will run for president in 2024 – is one of the leaders of the GOP’s efforts across a number of states to ban everything from academic freedom to reproductive rights.
We saw the extent of this extremism when Roe v. Wade was overturned last week by the conservative majority on the Supreme Court, emboldening various states to usher in draconian abortion restrictions as well as outright abortion bans.
One of the most barbaric examples of this extreme new reality came to light on Friday, when it was reported that a 10-year-old girl in Ohio who became pregnant after being raped was not being permitted to have an abortion under that state’s newly-implemented law that forbade the termination of any pregnancy after six weeks.
The child – who had missed Ohio’s cut-off by just three days – was compelled to travel to a neighboring state to have the abortion, according to the Indianapolis Star in Indiana, where the abortion was ultimately performed.
In response to this news story, Newsom – once again taking the fight to the GOP – tweeted, “The Republican Party platform: Government mandated pregnancies for 10-year-olds.”
The most common complaint I’ve heard from left-leaning listeners to my SiriusXM show over the past year is that Democratic elected officials are not fighters. Obviously, there are exceptions to that criticism. But in his recent remarks Newsom acknowledged this sentiment, recently telling CNN: “The success of the right to define the terms of the debate, the success of the right to dominate the narrative … they’re winning in ways that are alarming to me.” He added, “You’ve got to take the fight to them.”
That explains the California governor’s fiery words to CNN in which he called DeSantis a bully, a fraud, an authoritarian and a fake conservative, among other things.
Newsom’s criticism of DeSantis is even more notable given recent reports that some Trump megadonors are now supporting DeSantis for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, following blockbuster revelations that have emerged during the January 6 committee hearings implicating Trump’s possible direct involvement in efforts to overturn the 2020 election and even his alleged actions enabling the violent January 6 attack.
Some speculate that Newsom might be eying a run himself in 2024 if President Biden doesn’t seek re-election, just as DeSantis is believed to be planning a White House bid. But Newsom has drawn a sharp contrast between himself and the Florida governor, declaring: “We’re as different as daylight and darkness.”
To that, my response is, yes and no. Yes, the progressive Newsom is very different from the far-right DeSantis on policy. But they share a common trait in that they both enjoy needling their political rivals.
For example, last year DeSantis signed legislation against Covid-19 mandates in Brandon, Florida. Why did he sign the bill in a mid-sized town that is nearly a four-hour drive from the state capital of Tallahassee? As many political observers noted at the time, DeSantis apparently chose the town as a way of trolling Joe Biden given the right-wing taunt of the president, “Let’s go Brandon.”
In similar fashion, Newsom joined Trump’s social media platform purely with the objective of trolling Trump. Newsom also uses Twitter deftly as a political weapon, as he did this weekend in response to a news report that Texas’s Attorney General is looking into fining corporations “over $100,000” any time they pay for an employee to obtain an out-of-state abortion.
In response, Newsom tweeted: “California is offering tax breaks to encourage businesses to move OUT of anti-choice, repressive states like Texas and to the real Freedom state of CA.”
Whether or not he seeks the White House, Newsom is showing Democratic leaders something the base wants to see: How to be an effective and fierce fighter who isn’t focused on “bipartisanship” but instead determined to call out the GOP’s extremism. That’s a playbook all Democrats should embrace.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the name of the Indianapolis Star.