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Gavin Newsom weighs in on Trumpism and the stakes of the recall

Less than 24 hours after California voters overwhelmingly rejected a recall effort against him, Governor Gavin Newsom was gratified by his big victory but doesn't think it dealt a mortal blow to Trumpism. Newsom told CBS News chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett in an exclusive interview that the stakes of the recall effort were defined before conservative radio host Larry Elder emerged as the frontrunner against him. 

Newsom, a Democrat, said Elder had "extreme points of view that make even Donald Trump blush," and President Biden referred to him this week as a "Trump clone."  

He suggested that the recall highlighted a contrast between conservative and liberal views on issues emerging across the country. There was, Newsom said, a "connection issue" between Texas' sweeping new abortion law and the California recall election, in that voters had a preview of what it would be like to live in a state with an extremely conservative governor. The idea that California might have a governor who would sign on with other governors to support Mississippi's law to ban abortions after 15 weeks — "I couldn't let that happen."

For Newsom, the recall campaign was an unnecessary distraction, and he believes reforming the process should garner bipartisan support in the state legislature. While he recognizes his is not the most objective voice when it comes to whether California's recall law should change, he says Democrats and Republicans agree: "This doesn't work for any of us."

The recall effort has not discouraged Newsom from his plans to run for another term in 2022: he didn't go through a recall election just to bow out in 14 months, he told Garrett.

CBS News chief Washignton correspondent Major Garrett interviews California Governor Gavin Newsom. CBS News

But Newsom said running for president has never been on his radar. He has no ambitions to seek the highest office, he said. "None."

Although the COVID restrictions Newsom imposed galvanized the recall effort against him, ultimately, he defended his and even campaigned on his response to the pandemic, while Elder made his opposition to vaccine and mask mandates a cornerstone of his campaign. Several other Republicans vying to replace Newsom also voiced their opposition to COVID-19 vaccine and mask mandates. 

The recall effort really gained momentum after Newsom was photographed dining inside of the upscale Napa Valley restaurant The French Laundry with a maskless group of people while his indoor dining shutdowns were still in effect.  

Newsom told Garrett that the dinner was a "mistake" — he was too close to maskless people and should have gotten up from the table. "I own it," he said.

Garrett asked whether that photo cost California taxpayers $200 million, the price of administering the recall election. No, Newsom replied, it was broader and more complicated than that. It was about the pandemic and following the science. 

Californians backed him on the pandemic. CBS News exit polling showed 55% of Californians approved of the job Newsom is doing as governor and those who said that the coronavirus was their top issue were overwhelmingly against the recall.

Newsom's Latino support lagged behind Democrats' previous statewide shares. He said there's more work to do and theorized that COVID-19 hit the Latino community harder than most and Latino voters felt left out of the recovery.

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