Uh, why is Gavin Newsom running ads in Florida?

Santiago Mejia/San Francisco Chronicle via AP, Pool, File

My God. He’s moving to Miami and preparing to challenge DeSantis for governor.

Well, no. At least, he’s not moving to Miami.

But he is aiming to challenge DeSantis, in a manner of speaking.

How interesting that it’s the audience for the conservative cable news network, not its more liberal competition, that’s being targeted by Newsom. Nominally targeted, I should say.

His real audience is a nation of Democratic voters who’ll be eager for new blood in 2024 given that the current guy is too old and his heir apparent is too, too … too Kamala Harris.

Reporters are pressing his campaign on what the ad is about but mum’s the word for now. It’s not hard to guess, though, particularly in light of the date it’s set to air: Newsom is going to salute liberal cultural priorities on Independence Day and he’s going to do it in Ron DeSantis’s backyard for good measure. Maybe he’ll attack the “don’t say gay” bill as prejudiced given his history of championing gay rights as mayor of San Francisco. Maybe he’ll invite pregnant women in Florida to visit his state if they’re seeking an abortion, knowing that DeSantis recently signed a bill banning terminations after 15 weeks and is promising to do more.

Or maybe he’ll warn Florida’s Republicans that if they insist on punishing businesses like Disney for supporting the other party’s policies, two can — and will — play at that game:

Newsom told me that at a recent dinner, he had pressed a group of 30 to 40 business leaders on their tepid responses to the red-state moves, particularly DeSantis’s punishment of Disney for opposing his policies. “I said, ‘Beware of what you wish for … Don’t think for a second [California] can’t play that same game.’” Newsom said he told the business leaders that he could just as easily demand that they “shut up on any piece of legislation” or else face rollbacks on “tax credits across the board, permits, zoning” and via his “bully pulpit.” His point wasn’t that he actually wanted to do such things; it was to confront the business leaders with the implications of their reticence. What DeSantis and other red-state governors are doing, Newsom said flatly, is “authoritarianism.”

Is Newsom going to change any minds doing this? Of course not. The “don’t say gay” bill is popular in Florida, for one thing.

But the point isn’t to change minds. The point is to impress Democrats across the country who are eager for a chamption willing to brawl with DeSantis and other right-wing culture warriors in defense of lefty values. Newsom is building a brand, for lack of a better word. And his brand is “I’ll take the fight to the right, on their own home turf.”

Essentially he’s aiming to be to the left what DeSantis has become to the right, the governor who’ll aggressively advance his base’s agenda, make no apologies for it, and then happily throw punches at critics. It’s not just Republicans who appreciate a politician who fights, after all.

And who better for him to brawl with in the name of raising his profile and dazzling the left with his pugnacity than his right-wing counterpart, the left’s second-least favorite Republican? They exchanged rhetorical blows in April:

“He tweets all the time about my boss,” DeSantis’s spokesman recently told the Times. “Newsom seems to be trying to start some kind of feud.” Indeed. The more he can bait DeSantis into engaging, the more secure he’ll become in his new status as “the Democrats’ new spokesman in the culture wars.” He recently signed up for Trump’s new social media platform so that he could try to own the cons behind enemy lines there too; the Florida ad buy is an obvious extension of the same logic.

After the Dobbs draft opinion leaked in early May, he turned his fire on his own side. “I felt this enormous sense of frustration, like where the hell’s my party? Where’s the Democratic Party?” he said at the time. “These culture wars, where is the counteroffensive in the Democratic Party?” He exempted Biden and Pelosi from his criticism, complaining instead that he “can’t take anymore Manchins,” but the sense among lefties that the Democratic establishment hasn’t done enough to prevent the end of Roe is real, bitter, and seemingly growing more intense. Newsom was channeling the progressive id with his criticism, as he tends to do. And he’s wagering that, if there’s a battle for the nomination in 2024, a loud-and-proud lefty who’s eager to go on offense culturally will make the Democratic base swoon.

He might collect on that wager.

They’re not going to win a national election by nominating the physical embodiment of modern limousine liberalism, whose state has become a national byword for social dysfunction, but it’s not as if Dems have better options at the moment.

Or do they?

Nah, Manchin is a total non-starter in a Democratic primary, maybe even more so than he would be in a GOP primary. But the fact that some donors are leaning on him to run is evidence of what a complete, dispiriting sh*tshow a second Biden-Trump election — or, worse, a first Harris-Trump election — would be to Americans.

Read this Times piece in lieu of an exit question for a glimpse at how annoyed Biden is at the whispers in his own party that he shouldn’t run again. Not only does he intend to do so, he’s making moves already to prepare for the next campaign. Newsom’s name comes up too, as the White House has noticed his effort to elbow his way to the front of the Democratic pack by battling with Republicans. Sources “dismissed the California governor’s critiques as those of a politician feeling his oats after easily thwarting a recall and said Mr. Newsom was in frequent contact with the West Wing,” the NYT reports. Yeah, Newsom’s not going to primary Biden. But if the old guy can’t or won’t run again, the left’s DeSantis is a natural possibility as a successor.