One of Gavin Newsom’s greatest political skills is his ability to change the subject. That’s not a criticism: California’s governor understands that an effective politician reminds voters of issues on which they agree with their leader, which makes it much easier to maintain their support when they disagree. So Newsom frequently highlights his support for abortion rights, marriage equality and other progressive social and cultural issues and looks for opportunities to provoke prominent conservative politicians with whom he disagrees.
One of Newsom’s favorite targets is Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who combines an intense social conservatism with a noticeable interpersonal awkwardness. Given DeSantis’ high profile as the most visible challenger to Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination, he presented an ideal target for Newsom, who has regularly attacked his Florida counterpart through social media, news coverage and paid advertising. Knowing that he will need to maintain the support of California Democrats for upcoming fights on divisive housing, education, and energy policy, Newsom effectively reminds his supporters that he shares their values on the causes that are most important to them.
But as DeSantis has struggled on the campaign trail, beating up on him has become a less attractive proposition. DeSantis began last week in a controversy about Nazis and ended it in a debate over slavery. As a result, he’s been facing heated criticism from other Republicans, including members of his own state’s congressional delegation and several of his opponents in the presidential race. The disapproval of a Democratic governor is not going to attract nearly as much media coverage in this environment, and so Newsom has turned his attention elsewhere.
Newsom’s new target is not Republicans, but Hollywood. Last week, the governor’s savvy communications advisor Anthony York informed news organizations that Newsom had contacted the various stakeholders in the writers and actors’ strikes that have crippled the entertainment industry to offer to mediate their dispute, hoping to help them break their impasse and allow one of California’s most lucrative industries to return to work.
The last time the writers went on strike, the state’s economy took an estimated $2 billon hit. With the actors now hitting the picket line too, the economic toll is almost unimaginable, as the two unions have not struck simultaneously in more than 60 years. The governor recognizes the toll that a prolonged stoppage would take not only on actors and writers, but countless workers in both the film industry itself and immense number of other businesses that rely on the entertainment sector for their survival. Having just navigated a $32 billion deficit earlier this summer and facing the prospect of equally difficult budgetary challenges for the remainder of his term, Newsom knows that finding a way to end the strike sooner rather than later is of critical importance.
In addition to the economic imperatives of getting the actors and writers back to work, Newsom’s team must also realize the political benefits for their boss if he is able to bring the two sides to an agreement.
In addition to the economic imperatives of getting the actors and writers back to work, Newsom’s team must also realize the political benefits for their boss if he is able to bring the two sides to an agreement. He attracts widespread support for his defense of abortion rights and his attacks on conservative politicians, but restarting television and film production would turn Newsom into a hero not just for progressive Democrats but for a much broader swath of the electorate. Voters nationally are roughly evenly divided between the two parties, but the number of Americans who want to see the next Avengers movie or a new Ted Lasso spinoff is far greater. Newsom regularly emphasizes his disinterest in running for president — either next year or in 2028 — but Hollywood’s savior would be an extraordinarily popular draw in New Hampshire or South Carolina.
The initial reaction to Newsom’s offer from both the studios and the unions was lukewarm at best. But the strike is still only a few weeks old and the battle lines seem to be hardening, But if there is no apparent progress in the negotiations soon, the involvement of a high-profile governor with strong pro-labor credentials and deep relationships among movie and television executives might start looking much more attractive to them.
Dan Schnur is the U.S. Politics Editor for the Jewish Journal. He teaches courses in politics, communications, and leadership at UC Berkeley, USC and Pepperdine. He hosts the monthly webinar “The Dan Schnur Political Report” for the Los Angeles World Affairs Council & Town Hall. Follow Dan’s work at www.danschnurpolitics.com