Caitlyn Jenner’s punchy anti-Newsom ad is a preview of a big challenge for Dems

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In the California governor’s race, candidate Caitlyn (née Bruce) Jenner has landed the first blow, and it’s a telling one.

This week, the former Kardashian paterfamilias’ campaign released a three-minute ad that might as well have been titled “Make California Great Again.” It’s a killer ad because every Californian knows that under one-party Democratic rule, the Golden State isn’t so golden anymore.

Jenner’s ad juxtaposes the California of an earlier era, intercut with footage of Bruce at the Olympics, and sharply contrasts those evocations of sun, fun and vitality with images from today, featuring homeless encampments, discarded hypodermic needles and shuttered businesses.

“We had what everyone else wanted,” Jenner remarks in voiceover. “The American Dream grew up here. But career politicians and their policies have destroyed that dream. It’s been locked away. Closed. Shuttered. Left in the dark. Burned.”

Against footage of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s lockdown-defying French Laundry dinner, Jenner charges that “this past year has redefined our career politicians as elitists.”

The commercial has gotten rave reviews from people on the right and garnered predictably hateful responses from the left. Those who cheered Jenner as a pioneer for trans rights a few years ago now say she’s “horrible.”

It’s rare for a single ad to determine the outcome of an election. But this Jenner spot has one enormous strength: It’s true. 

Everyone who has been paying attention knows that Newsom has blown it. Despite his draconian lockdowns, California has done worse than Florida, where GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis has displayed a much lighter touch. And refugees from Newsom’s California are driving up real-estate prices all over Texas and the Southeast, as they flee a calamity caused not only by terrible COVID policy, but also by terrible economic policy, pooh-poohing of urban violence and mismanagement of forests and wildfires.

That Newsom faces a recall is itself an indication that Californians know it. But this ad drives it home. It will now set the terms of the debate. Democrats, of course, will try to change the terms and pretend that a vote against Newsom is a vote for racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia, with that last being a little more difficult where Jenner is concerned, but they’ll no doubt rise to the challenge. 

But it’s going to be an uphill battle, even with the prestige press doing its best to help blue pols, as it always does. No matter how you spin the discarded needles and human feces littering the street, they’re still there.

Jenner’s ad will also help set the tone for the 2022 elections nationally. The Democrats’ national program is basically just Newsom’s agenda writ large: continued lockdowns and masking rules; a national version of a disastrous California law that sought to turn gig workers into union employees; a massive runup in debt; abdication in crime-fighting; intrusive environmental regulation; and generally an approach that treats the middle class as disposable while catering to the poor and dysfunctional and the ultrarich (who are also often dysfunctional).

And in this, even the Californians who don’t return to vote for Jenner will play a role.  

In Florida in 2020, Democrats did much worse than expected, not least because refugees from socialist countries like Venezuela and Cuba voted Republican out of fear that Democrats would enact the kinds of policies they had fled from. Now, as refugees from California fan out across America, we may see the same effect.

The conventional wisdom, which I have largely shared until now, was that people moving to red states from California and other blue states like New York and New Jersey might take their voting habits with them and turn those red states blue. But I wonder about that now.

The lessons of Gavin Newsom’s California and, for that matter, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s New York are that these policies don’t work, creating poverty, disorder and disaster while enriching politicians who think they are above the law. Maybe the people fleeing them will have learned that lesson, which would be bad news for Democrats, in and out of California.

Glenn Harlan Reynolds is a professor of law at the University of Tennessee and founder of the ­ blog.

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