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Former Trump Ambassador Suggests California Candidacy Amid Effort To Recall Democratic Governor

Ric Grenell dropped a hint at the Conservative Political Action Conference, but said a month ago that he had “no plan” to run.

ORLANDO, Fla. — An unwavering ally of former President Donald J. Trump suggested Saturday that he may launch a campaign for governor in California, directly challenging Gov. Gavin C. Newsom if Republicans succeed in forcing a recall election this year. But just one month ago he leaned in the opposite direction, saying he had “no plan” to run.

The Rescue California PAC said this month that it had collected enough signatures to force state officials to schedule an election, possibly as soon as mid-May. Democrats there could find their broad political majority challenged by Ric A. Grenell, the former acting director of national intelligence. Grenell is the first openly gay person to serve in a Cabinet-level position. He and his partner Matt Lashey are longtime residents of the California town of Palm Springs.

Grenell said Newsom has presided over a state that makes Americans think of “out of control wildfires, of rolling blackouts, of schools still closed, of shuttered businesses, of bans on fracking and wealthy people jumping the vaccine line.”

“In my three decades in American politics, I have never seen a better case for a recall than there is right now in California,” he said. “And of course, if a public official is still failing to deliver on their promises, and if you can’t limit their term, or recall them in time, there’s always one other option. You can run against them yourself.”

California Governor Gavin Newsom speaks at a press conference following the opening of a new large scale COVID-19 vaccination site at Cal State Los Angeles on February 16, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Grenell’s thinking appears to have evolved in recent weeks. He told Zenger News on Jan. 23 that he was focused on the need for a review of California’s election security protocols, and thoughts of a candidacy would wait “until” afterward.

“I have no plan. Here is — the reality is that California needs a four-to-five-year fix-it plan on elections and voter integrity,” he said then. Grenell told Zenger that “[w]e have a fundamental problem in California with voter rolls. It’s a mess. And until those are fixed — and I would like to do something about that, I’m working on a plan to fix the voter problems in California. That’s a very long-term plan.”

In that interview Grenell also dismissed the possibility of leading the statewide GOP. “Running the California Republican Party is not something that I want to do,” he said.

Saturday’s hint at a run for office was a drop-the-mic moment at the end of Grenell’s nine-minute speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference. This year’s event, held in central Florida, has seen some backers of Trump position themselves for future public office while other Republicans watch from the sidelines.

Andrew Reeder, a political strategist from Los Angeles, told Zenger News that Grenell could nudge some lesser-known Republicans to the sidelines if he jumps into the race.

“I think a lot of our other candidates would drop out if Ric got in. Not kidding. … Ric might be the strongest contender,” said Reeder.

“We have new faces jumping in the race right now too,” he said. “So we’ll see. All I can say is we need someone who’s a little more on the unconventional side.”

Grenell spent a short time in that wing of the GOP in 2012 as a foreign policy adviser to then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney. He resigned two weeks into the posting.

A gold statue of former President Donald Trump is on display at the Conservative Political Action Conference being held in the Hyatt Regency on February 26, 2021 in Orlando, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Former acting Director of National Intelligence Ric Grenell spoke with Zenger News via video from Palm Springs, Calif. on January 23, 2021, saying he had “no plan” to run for governor in California. (Claire Swift/Zenger News)

Trump embraced Grenell five years later, naming him ambassador to Germany, and then special envoy for Serbia and Kosovo peace negotiations. Grenell finished his time in the Trump administration as the president’s top intelligence official. Earlier in his career he was the chief spokesperson for John R. Bolton, then the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Bolton was Trump’s fourth national security adviser before publicly breaking with him and becoming a vocal critic.

Newsom was married from 2003 to 2006 to Kimberly Guilfoyle, a former San Francisco prosecutor who is now the girlfriend of Donald Trump Jr.

A California Republican Party spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Reeder said Grenell’s sexual orientation wouldn’t be a barrier to his success in the California GOP. “Well, he’s appealing, you know.” he said. “We like diversity, right? We like gays. We like all that stuff, you know.”

(Reporting contributed by Virginia Van Zandt. Edited by Kristen Butler and Carlin Becker.)