Skelton: Newsom’s smart attack on fellow Democrats is good politics

Gov. Gavin Newsom was smart to attack fellow Democrats for being wimps in the culture wars, including the fight over abortion rights — whether he was all wet or not. It was good party politics.

That harsh rhetoric and a lot more like it can propel him onto the national political stage, appeal to progressive Democrats who are impatient with the Biden administration and Congress — and begin to position himself for a future White House run.

Newsom and his advisors, of course, insist there hasn’t been a whisper of discussion about him running for president and he isn’t even thinking about it.

OK, but come on: For a California governor to look in the mirror and not see a future president wouldn’t be human.

Never mind that a California Democrat has never been nominated for president and the odds of one getting elected are steeper than Rich Strike winning the Kentucky Derby at 80 to 1. But that doesn’t mean Newsom wouldn’t be tempted to try given half an opportunity. Like if President Biden didn’t run for reelection in 2024.

More likely, he could wait while holding down another top office, such as U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s seat. She’ll surely retire when her term expires in 2024, if not before. Newsom’s only 54.

When Newsom asked rhetorically at a news conference last week, “Where the hell’s my party?” on culture wars, he was probably opening the ears and eyes of rank-and-file liberal voters across the country. “Why aren’t we standing up more firmly?” he declared.

“[Republicans] always do these culture wars. Where is the counteroffensive in the Democratic Party? Why aren’t we waking up to that?”

Newsom was referring not only to the Supreme Court being on track to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 decision that has allowed women nationwide to terminate a pregnancy. He was speaking about all the states that have passed laws to tightly restrict — if not practically outlaw — abortions pending the court ruling.

And he was alluding to “all these other bills that are just cookie-cutter bills that are being spun out in the states … across a spectrum of issues. Where is the Democratic Party?”

Nice touch. Newsom is trying to be viewed as a national warrior in the culture wars, particularly on abortion rights. But he shouldn’t stop there.

I’ve got a further suggestion for him: Launch a campaign to impose term limits for U.S. Supreme Court justices — actually, all federal judges. They’re now appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate to lifetime jobs. No accountability to voters or anyone.

That would probably require a constitutional amendment, although some legal scholars think Congress could accomplish it by passing a bill. The Constitution doesn’t specify “lifetime.” It has only been interpreted that way. It merely says judges “shall hold their offices during good behavior.”

Either way — constitutional amendment or statute — it’s not going to happen. An amendment would require a two-thirds vote by each house of Congress and ratification by three-fourths of the states. And any bill would need to survive a Senate filibuster in an institution that fears term limits for itself.

But that doesn’t mean the idea shouldn’t be promoted. I’m guessing the concept would appeal to many voters, particularly as the court quashes national abortion rights.

If there was currently an 18-year limit, conservative Clarence Thomas would be long gone. He has been on the court for 30 years and is the poster justice for term limits. No other member would be affected.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. — who wrote the draft opinion overturning Roe — would need to leave in two years.

Newsom might find an attentive Democratic audience for that prospect.

George Skelton is a Los Angeles Times columnist.

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