It’s still not clear yet if California’s Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsom will even face a recall election this year, but if he does, allies of former President Donald Trump are abuzz about one potential candidate: former acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell.
All eyes in Trump-world are on Grenell, who served as U.S. ambassador to Germany before Trump appointed him the first-ever openly gay cabinet member in U.S. history when he ran the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).
“I think what you just pointed out with leadership in Texas and what Matt Gaetz has pointed out about leadership in Florida, that’s what California needs,” Grenell said in an appearance alongside Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program this week. “We are dying to have somebody who listens to the science. We have Gov. Gavin Newsom who shut down the beaches. Now, this is not part of science. We have a governor who plays politics. But we also have a state that is completely run by one party. If you want to have the insiders from one political party, and the well-connected constantly get what they want, then you have to keep electing the same people over and over and that’s what we have in California. I think Gov. Abbott is exactly right. We need more freedom and we certainly shouldn’t be shutting down churches or beaches.”
In response to those comments, Hannity asked Grenell if he was announcing running for governor of California — noting that if he did run, he would have “mine and Matt Gaetz’s endorsement.”
“That’ll kill him,” Gaetz joked, because California is such a deep blue state, to which Hannity said, “that’s probably true — I’ll oppose you if needed, I’ll do whatever you want.”
Grenell laughed and then didn’t give a clear answer on if he is looking at it, instead saying that any Republican who runs for governor in California would have a “tough time.” Gaetz then compared such an uphill battle to Grenell’s quest during the Trump administration against “Spygate,” the scandal whereby officials from former President Barack Obama’s administration spied on President Trump’s 2016 campaign setting up what became the Russia scandal, on which Grenell declassified documents. Gaetz said he believes if Grenell ran, he could win. Hannity said he “seconds the notion” that Grenell could win, but as the music came on and the segment was ending, Hannity did not press him further on whether he would run.
Gaetz later tweeted the slightly-longer-than-two-minute video, with text accompanying it pushing Grenell again to run for governor:
— Rep. Matt Gaetz (@RepMattGaetz) February 3, 2021
While this made-for-TV moment did not answer the ultimate question, sources familiar with the matter say Grenell is definitely considering a run for the governor’s mansion if a recall election is triggered this year — and that a recall fight could be the best way for a Republican, especially one this close to Trump, to get into the governor’s mansion in California with just a plurality of the vote. What’s more, some of the hardest core backers of Trump told Breitbart News that they are all waiting on Grenell to figure out how to handle the future of California, one of the most deeply blue states in the last several years, which has not elected a Republican statewide in a very long time.
First and foremost, to even make this a possibility, the recall effort of Newsom would need to actually happen. Petitioners need to, by March 17, gather nearly 1.5 million verified signatures. Currently, a month and a half out, they are very close, with the latest reports this week putting the number of signatures at more than 1.4 million already.
And just like that, we’re at 1.4 million signatures.
— Kevin Kiley (@KevinKileyCA) February 4, 2021
Then, after that, assuming it happens, authorities in California would schedule a two-question ballot. The first question would be on whether voters want to recall Newsom. For that to succeed, it would need to garner a majority — 50 percent plus one vote — backing recalling Newsom. After that, if the first question on the recall ballot succeeds, it would set up the second question on the ballot: which candidate people want to replace Newsom.
The complicated process has played out in recent history in California before, and it led to the last time a Republican — actor Arnold Schwarzenegger — was elected governor. Schwarzenegger would of course go on to win reelection, but it was the recall of Democrat Gov. Gray Davis that cleared the way for him into the governor’s mansion.
Sal Russo, a GOP strategist who worked on the Davis recall effort and previously served as an aide to then-Gov. Ronald Reagan in the 1970s before later founding the Tea Party Express, told Breitbart News that the conditions for recalling Newsom — and replacing him with a Republican — are certainly there.
Russo compared the successful Davis recall to an unsuccessful effort to recall Democrat Gov. Jerry Brown in his first stint in the governor’s mansion in the late 1970s early 1980s. “What we found out was that before people would support a recall, they needed some evidence of misfeasance as well as malfeasance and that policy disagreements are not enough — you couldn’t get over the hump just because you disagreed with a governor,” Russo said in a phone interview. “You had to find some kind of wrongdoing, either malicious wrongdoing like some evidence of malfeasance or something where you really just screwed something up not just because you disagreed on their policy but because they just were not a competent manager of the state of California.”
In the failed Brown recall effort, the Democrat known as “Moonbeam” and who would later come back after Schwarzenegger had a disagreement with California farmers over whether to spray a certain chemical. That was not enough to get the job done. But in the case of Davis, there were sufficient political conditions to remove him because of his mishandling of California’s energy crisis.
“The Public Utilities Commission which was dominated by Gray Davis appointments at the time, they went to Gray and said, ‘we have to raise utility rates, that’s the only way you will beat this spike in prices,’” Russo said. “Gray said, ‘I know you’re right, but I don’t want to do that until I’m reelected so keep prices low and we’ll have to weather the storm.’ Well, that turned out worse. It was a disaster and there was clear malfeasance on his part where he knew the right thing to do and chose not to do it for his own political advancement. The second thing he did, which created some ire among the public, was when he was running for reelection, he campaigned up and down the state saying we needed to spend more money on this or that — he promised more money to everybody. Gray, I knew he had been briefed by his own Department of Finance that the state was in dire financial straits and we were going to have a huge budget deficit next year, and we had to cut and there was no place you could increase spending. Gray knew that, ignored that for the campaign, and promised everybody these increases in spending on everything he couldn’t deliver. So you have another great misfeasance example to go with Gray Davis. Those are essential elements to be successful.”
Newsom’s severe mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic may fit the bill of what Russo is talking about. He has locked the state down more so perhaps than any other state save New York, the nation’s original epicenter, closing churches, schools, restaurants, and more. But then Newsom was pictured eating at French Laundry, an upscale restaurant and one of the most expensive in the state, in close proximity to other elite guests dining with him. Russo said the optics of that moment — him pushing crushing restrictions from Sacramento on everyone else statewide and resisting for whatever reason scientific data supporting reopening schools and the economy all while not following his own guidelines — could be enough to drive Californians of all political stripes to oppose him in a recall effort.
What’s more, Newsom’s approval rating has now dipped below 50 percent — down to just 46 percent who approve of his performance while a plurality of 48 percent disapprove of him — according to the latest survey from Berkeley IGS. That poll, conducted from Jan. 23 to Jan. 29, surveyed 10,357 registered voters in California and has a margin of error of two percent. But it represents what the pollsters say is a significant shift against Newsom in just a year when in early 2020, he was enjoying majority approval. “These results should provide a strong warning to the Governor,” Berkeley IGS co-director Eric Shickler said in a release. “If the recall election does go forward, the state’s response to the pandemic needs to be seen as more successful for the Governor than it is now for him to be confident of the election outcome.”
The tricky part for Democrats in California is if the recall goes forward as it appears it probably will, and then Newsom falters and does not win a majority, is that on that second question on the ballot, if a majority elects to recall Newsom only a plurality is necessary to replace him. So, barring clear discipline from highly ambitious California Democrats — many of whom believe they are the rightful candidate next in line for the governor’s mansion should Newsom fall — a split ticket is likely and someone could theoretically win the governor’s mansion on the recall with a strong plurality perhaps as low as 30 percent.
That is where the Republicans, especially Trump supporters, are excited about the potential of a surprise Grenell candidate. The erstwhile and energetic former Trump aide, who has a commanding national profile, would be able to fundraise aggressively both in state and from national donors connected to Trump. Sources familiar with the matter told Breitbart News that should Grenell pull the trigger on a campaign, expect former President Trump to be personally involved in an aggressive way helping Grenell’s bid including but not limited to campaign appearances in California for him and fundraising for him.
That notion is backed by the many former Trump aides who spoke with Breitbart News, some on record and some on background, confirming the hype in Trump-world about the possibility of a perfect storm of a Democrat mess in California tilting perhaps the bluest state in the union into the GOP column for at least the rest of Newsom’s term. Some, like former Trump White House and campaign official Steven Cheung — who was part of the 2003 Davis recall effort — were less specific about Grenell but nonetheless optimistic about the possibilities in the Golden State.
“We have seen how failed leadership can lead to economic catastrophe and Californians leaving every single day,” Cheung told Breitbart News. “In a recall election, the candidate with America First bonafides and the breadth of experience to stand up to the establishment will ultimately win. In 2020, over six million Californians voted Republican and that level of intensity cannot be overstated as they will play a huge role in recalling Gov. Newsom.”
But others are very upfront about the excitement around Grenell in particular. “California’s problems are no longer about politics or policies,” Katrina Pierson, a former Trump campaign senior adviser, told Breitbart News. “When Gavin Newsom is not breaking his own rules at fancy restaurants, he has been asleep at the wheel and has failed at his basic duty: governing. He deserves to be recalled, but California can’t afford another career politician. Like many supporters of President Trump, if there is a recall election, I am holding out hope that Ric Grenell takes on this challenge. He is someone who will get the job done and stand true to his conservative principles.”
Andy Surabian, another former Trump White House and campaign adviser who is also the spokesman for the former president’s eldest son Donald Trump Jr., added praise for Grenell in a statement to Breitbart News.
“Ric is uniquely positioned to run and win should the recall of Gavin Newsom be successful as it appears it will be,” Surabian, who’s also a close ally of Grenell, said. “He’s the only potential candidate on the Republican side with the ability to raise the funds necessary to be competitive, galvanize former President Trump’s conservative-populist base and also be able to appeal to socially moderate Republicans and independents across the Golden State.”
A former adviser to the Trump Victory Finance Committee added that Grenell would be “the only person” who could pull off a statewide campaign in California as a Republican, making clear that the party — at least the dominant Trump lane — would unify behind him.
“It’s a Herculean task to run as a Republican statewide in California — it’s not just a large state, but a very expensive state to advertise in,” the former Trump Victory Finance Committee adviser told Breitbart News. “Ric Grenell is the only person who can both galvanize President Trump’s MAGA movement and raise the money necessary to win in a recall scenario. I am getting calls daily asking if Ric will run. There’s millions of dollars on the sidelines right now, ready for Ric to get in.”
The Rubin Report‘s Dave Rubin also spoke highly of Grenell in a recent NewsMax interview on the matter:
.@RubinReport says "if they recall the guy, I will consider it, if Newsom did it, I do the reverse." However, he hopes "we get a guy like @RichardGrenell" referring to a potential recall election run against Gavin Newsom in California. https://t.co/VlT7z8drtO pic.twitter.com/7lhjoHP8mf
— Newsmax (@newsmax) February 5, 2021
Grenell would likely have big Second Amendment community support in California, too. Daniel Genter, the co-chair of Sportsmen for Trump in 2020 and a Los Angeles resident who donated more than $500,000 to the Trump reelection effort in 2020 per Federal Election Commission records, sang Grenell’s praises too saying that everyone in Trump-world is waiting on the former president’s spy chief to decide what he is going to do.
“As a Co-Chair of Sportsmen for Trump, I have campaigned and invested in advancing the America First agenda here in California and across the nation,” Genter told Breitbart News. “With this recall closing in, I am waiting to see what Ric Grenell decides. I hope he runs because California would benefit from someone who is willing to tackle tough challenges, which Ric has done throughout his career.”
Chuck Michel, the president of the California Rifle & Pistol Association, which is very active in the state, told Breitbart News he hopes Grenell runs too.
“Ric Grenell would be great for California,” Michel said. “I don’t know what he’s doing or planning, but I do know the MAGA crowd is waiting on the sidelines, hoping he runs. It would be a complete game changer if he stepped into this race.”
While it remains to be seen at this stage what happens next, if Grenell runs he could end up just getting the people who voted for Trump in the 2020 presidential election in California to vote for him and winning the race depending on how the field shakes out. Democrats may have multiple candidates on that second ballot question that could seriously split their coalition, and without Trump in the White House to unify them, the ambition from different elements of the party from the establishment to the hard left to moderates and special interest type candidates likely to run too, Russo says the conditions for that perfect storm that could lead to a Trump-like Republican wining could happen.
“This is going to be a bitter thing with the Democrats,” Russo told Breitbart News. “First of all, there are multiple people — Democratic officeholders — that need a path to go someplace. So, ‘why should Joe get to go when I wanted to go?’ You have the prospect of having multiple Democrats and that’s the killer. It could be a killer for Republicans too if there’s too many serious candidates in the race. But clearly, it’s an opportunity for a Republican to win with 30 percent of the vote. That would not be an unheard of alternative. So, can Republicans win? Of course they can. The dynamics would need to continue to improve, as they have, and they have a path to get there but it’s not there yet. We don’t know who’s going to actually file as a Republican or who’s actually going to file as a Democrat. The Democrat question may be the bigger one because if you have a viable Democrat, it makes it a lot easier for Democrats who are fed up with Newsom — although the poll numbers show not that many Democrats are — you give them a safe haven. But without that candidate, you don’t have a safe haven and you encourage people in the Democrat Party to stick with the incumbent and not venture out with candidates none of whom they find appealing.”