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Did Trump Praise or Attack Gavin Newsom in His Interview With Tucker Carlson?

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The short answer is: Yes. Let's unpack that a little. In a lengthy sit-down interview with Tucker Carlson, former President Donald Trump said – among many other things, on a wide range of topics – that he's often refrained from criticizing California Gov. Gavin Newsom because Newsom had said "the greatest things" about him. "I could never hit him because he was so nice to me," he said.  

Our social media team clipped that newsworthy part of the exchange, interest in which was accentuated by Carlson's expressed incredulity that Trump was talking about Newsom in such terms:


The Trump campaign fired back, accusing people sharing the clip and knocking Trump over it of circulating a "deceptively edited" clip. The president's eldest son called it "fake news." Team Trump called these critiques "DeSperate," an obvious reference to Trump's yet-unannounced closest rival for the 2024 GOP nomination. They offered another clip from that portion of the interview, in which Trump mentioned that Newsom has done a "terrible" job in California, which is certainly true. That soundbite, which they evidently believe is a better expression of the full context, lasts a whopping...two seconds:


I'm not sure that a blink-and-you-missed-it throwaway line offers better or more context than the lengthier and more substantive Townhall Twitter post. Here's the more complete context

“You have a very ambitious guy in California, but he’s done a terrible job with the state,” Trump said of the governor, who was elected in 2018, won a recall election in September 2021, and secured a second term last fall.  “I used to get along great with him, you know, when I was president. Got along really good,” Trump said to a wide-eyed Carlson. “He was always very nice to me. Said the greatest things. He would say things like, ‘He’s doing a great job.’” “About you?” Carlson asked in disbelief. “About me. That’s why I could never hit him because he was so nice to me. Just laying in wait, right? But he was very nice to me—relatively speaking. Some of them weren’t. We did a good job for the governors. But they talk about him.”

The truth is that Trump did make a fleeting, negative reference to Newsom, while spending a great deal more time waxing nostalgic about the two leaders' relationship – relatively warm feelings that Trump openly admits were driven by the California Democrat's previous flattery of him. It's fair to point out the "terrible" comment, as well as the "laying in wait" observation, which were part of Trump's answer. It's also fair to note that Trump has been a Newsom political donor (Kamala Harris, too), that he has a long history of praising people who stroke his ego (even if they're awful people, or have done so in a clearly manipulative way), and that he may have an added incentive to play nice with Newsom these days, at least for now. That's because Newsom may be the only human being on earth who is currently as fixated on tearing down Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as Trump is. Like many leftists in the Democratic Party and media, Newsom would prefer Trump as the Republican standard-bearer, so he's making a big show of assailing DeSantis at every opportunity. One can imagine both Trump and Newsom muttering about "Meatball Ron" in their sleep. They each have powerful political incentives to torpedo DeSantis' chances, for similar but ultimately different reasons.  

It's also worth noting that Trump has a history of attacking Republicans he sees as a threat or against whom he holds a grudge – musing, for instance, that Stacey Abrams might be a better governor than Brian Kemp in Georgia, and praising Charlie Crist (while publicly regretting his last-minute, bandwagon endorsement of DeSantis last year, en route to DeSantis' runaway romp, absolutely dwarfing even Trump's best Florida margin). He's spent much of his recent energy on Truth Social trashing a long and seemingly growing list of Republicans he's personally endorsed and hired. But does any of that matter? I'm not convinced that it does because this is who he is and what he always does. Trump had donated to every Democrat under the sun by 2015, and his base voters didn't care at all, shrugging the issue off as the necessary pandering of a businessman. Core Trump supporters also don't seem to mind Trump habitually parroting on explicitly statist points against conservatives, or turning on so many of his own former confidantes and appointees – from his sleazy fixer/lawyer to members of his presidential cabinet. Loyalty is a one-way street with Trump, and they're fine with that.

Some GOP voters seem to grow intermittently irked and exhausted by the constant sniping and drama and personal attacks, especially as he praises Democrats and uses their attack lines against fellow Republicans. But will enough of them stick with that feeling? If and when DeSantis gets into the race, it will be interesting to see how he and his team respond to the constant barbs on a daily basis. They're largely disengaged for now, as DeSantis is still rumored to be a month-plus away from rolling out his campaign. That said, quite a few other Republican politicians have tried to crack the code on drawing political blood, and then support, from Trump. They've all either fallen short or failed spectacularly. Will this be more of the same, or might it be different? The DeSantis/non-Trump challenge won't be winning over hardened MAGA loyalists. They're not budging. It'll be nudging previous-but-now-reluctant Trump voters and soft supporters in a different direction. A, or the, key question must be: Given what happened in 2018, 2020, and 2022, can this man win the next general election?


One retort might involve pointing out how non-formidable Joe Biden is, and how unpopular he is. Fair enough. But he was quite unimpressive as a 2020 candidate, happily opting to let Trump suck up the attention and make the election a referendum on the incumbent. And he was also strikingly unpopular leading into the midterms, which should have been a wipeout but wasn't. The badness of Biden and the other side isn't enough to ensure victory in an absolutely critical, high-stakes national election.

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