Gavin Newsom, citing frustration with how right-wing misinformation has run amok, is trying to make a progressive case in Donald Trump’s digital backyard. “I just joined Trump’s Truth Social,” the California governor announced last week. “Going to be on there calling out Republican lies.” In his first “truth”—the Truth Social equivalent of a tweet—Newsom stated that out of the top 10 states with the highest murder rates, the vast majority are Republican-leaning.
“I know we’re all on this platform in search for the truth, but the truth is, I’ve not been able to find a simple explanation for the fact that we have a red state murder problem,” Newsom said in a video post. “Eight of the top ten states with the highest murder rates happen to be red states.” The next day Newsom boasted of “a HUGE amount of engagement” on his first post and returned to the platform to ask why there “are more people dying of COVID-19 in Republican states.”
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“Governor Newsom is fed up with Trump, Republican leaders, and right-wing media embracing misinformation and conspiracy theories to further divide the nation,” Newsom spokesperson Nathan Click told Vanity Fair in a statement explaining the Democratic governor’s use of Truth Social, a Twitter clone launched by the Trump Media & Technology Group (TMTG). A number of liberal media figures have praised Newsom’s Truth Social strategy, with some even citing the stunt to hail him as a top presidential prospect. “No joke but this kind of ‘owning the cons’ could parachute Newsom to the front of the 2024 Dem primary race if Biden doesn’t run again,” tweeted MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan. “How many other top elected Dems are going after GOP propaganda on GOP turf in this pretty blunt and mocking way?”
But one prominent progressive group—a watchdog that combats conservative media narratives on a daily basis—believes Newsom’s use of the platform does more harm than good. “The only thing I see are downsides,” Media Matters president Angelo Carusone told Vanity Fair, adding that Newsom’s novel use of the platform “implicitly makes the case that Truth Social is one of the big platforms, so politicians and influential public officials just can’t avoid being on it.”
Carusone also said that Newsom is lending a legitimacy to Truth Social that TMTG CEO Devin Nunes can parlay into a sales pitch. “They will now go to investors or advertisers and make the case that ‘You see, even Gavin Newsom joined, so we’re brand-safe and safe for major ad money,’” he explained. “‘We’re so important that even the governor of California—one of the largest economies in the world, a Democrat—had to join Truth Social, so how long can you avoid us?’” (In a Fox Business segment last week, Nunes flaunted Newsom’s presence on the app, saying that having “a prominent Democrat like Governor Newsom” is good for business.)
When presented with Carusone’s criticisms, the governor’s camp countered by portraying Newsom as a frontline soldier in a critical information war. “Facts matter, and the governor strongly believes our party has to take our fight—and the truth—to the other side,” Click said. “Democrats can’t just hide in our corner. We have to disrupt the lies that consistently flow from the other side.”