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Larry Elder speaks to Newsweek on why he lost to Gavin Newsom and what he may do next

It was a landslide victory for Governor Gavin Newsom on Tuesday when a large majority of Californians voted against his recall. Had that not been the case, conservative talk-show host Larry Elder would have been elected the first Black governor in the state’s history, as he easily beat the more than three dozen others on the ballot seeking to replace Newsom.

In a 32-minute post-election interview, Newsweek got Elder’s thoughts on what went wrong, what went right and what comes next, and the media-savvy former candidate didn’t pull any punches.

Newsweek: Are you still a Libertarian or are you now a Republican?

Larry Elder: I was always both. I was always a small “L” libertarian and registered Republican, just like Milton Friedman.

Newsweek: Has the Republican party made you an offer to head the RNC in California or nationally?

Elder: Has anybody called me and said, ‘Hey, do you want a job?’ No. But have I gotten support from Republicans up and down the state and nationally? Yes. I haven’t gotten an offer to head the RNC, nor would I expect one.

Newsweek: So you’ll be getting your own TV show?

Elder: I have no idea. I was not running to get a TV show. I’ve been on television many, many times. By the way, I started out in television, even though people call me a radio host. When offers come, I’ll consider them. But right now, I’m just chilling, figuring out what to do with my new-found footprint that I didn’t have before.

Newsweek: But you said you’re not going back to your radio show.

Elder: I didn’t say that.

Newsweek: At your election party you referred to yourself as a ‘former radio host.’

Elder: That was tongue in cheek. My goodness. I wasn’t hosting radio during my campaign, but I didn’t mean I’d never go back to radio. Really, Paul, look into my baby brown libertarian eyeballs — I honestly don’t know what I’ll do next.

Newsweek: Why did you lose to Gavin Newsom?

Elder: Because he outspent me five to one and we’re outnumbered two-to-one Democrat compared to Republican. Even independents outnumber Republicans in California, and Newsom was successfully able to scare people into thinking I’d do everything but reenact slavery. The only actual issue he discussed was that I am anti-vax, which I’m not. I would have had a very different approach to coronavirus, and that’s accurate. He never defended his record on crime, homelessness, how he shut down the economy or how he shut down schools while his kids were enjoying in-person private education and he was yucking it up at the French Laundry while incurring a $12,000 wine tab. I don’t know what he was drinking, but it sure wasn’t Mad Dog 2020. He didn’t mention wildfires and how he mismanaged forests, or a water shortage, or rolling brownouts, or how people are leaving California for the first time. All he did was say “Republican takeover” over and over and show Larry Elder and Donald Trump side-by-side, and it worked, because 83 percent of Democrats believe Trump is a racist, and 61 percent believe all Republicans are racist slash sexist slash bigoted.

Newsweek: The ad with you and Trump was funded by Netflix founder Reed Hastings, and it claimed it was a matter of life and death that you be defeated. Did that surprise you?

Elder: Nothing surprised me. I’ve been critical of the media for a long time. When I decided to run, I knew that the wrath of God was going to come down on me. The flat-out lies didn’t surprise me, like “Larry Elder is anti-vax.” I’m vaccinated and I encourage people to get vaccinated, but I also encourage freedom.

Newsweek: I spoke to celebrities who supported you and they told me that the ad from Hastings sent a chill through conservative Hollywood, as if to say, ‘if you want a relationship with Netflix, you’d better not support Elder.’ Does that make sense to you?

Elder: Of course it does. Two high-profile Hollywood people who support me, Clint Eastwood and Jon Voight, said that I could say they support me but that they wouldn’t put out a statement. Voight later allowed me to post a picture of me and him. And I’m not mad about them not giving a statement, I’m just telling you that this is how it rolls in this state and in this open-minded, tolerant industry.

Newsweek: So you’re saying the media didn’t cover you fairly?

Elder: I put a tweet out, Paul, saying that only in America could a Black man become president and be called the Black face of white supremacy. And not one reporter has said to me, ‘well, Larry, you got smoked on the recall, but, my God, you smoked all these Republicans. You got 47 percent and the next Republican got nine or 10, and you were only campaigning for seven weeks!’ Paul, it is stunning what I have done. I am actually stunned by the margin of my victory.

Newsweek: So then you have further political aspirations, perhaps nationally?

Elder: Stay tuned.

Gubernatorial recall candidate Larry Elder speaks to supporters at an election night event on September 14, 2021 in Costa Mesa, California.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Newsweek: What’s the biggest problem in California and how should Newsom solve it?

Elder: Crime, the fact that people are leaving because they can’t afford a house, and homelessness. I have no idea what he’ll do about those because if he did, he would have mentioned it in his commercials. He didn’t. He’s clueless. He lives in a $5 million house in a gated community. He got attacked during his campaign by a mentally ill homeless person and his security crew took care of it. The things that working-class people have to deal with don’t affect him at all. I believe it will take California hitting rock bottom, like an alcoholic, before we turn this around, because all he had to say was ‘Trump’ and ‘Republican takeover,’ and people got scared and pulled the lever for him. They hate Republicans more than the rise in crime, rise in cost of living, rise of homelessness, rolling brownouts and wildfires. It’s a remarkable achievement by the left and they did it with the complicity of the media.

Newsweek: Was it a fair election with no irregularities?

Elder: We know that a bunch of people in Republican districts tried to vote and were told they already voted. It was investigated, and they eventually were able to vote, but if that’s not an irregularity, I don’t know what is. When all is said and done, with the margin of victory, whatever shenanigans there may or may not have been won’t matter, but we all should have an interest in making sure the election was handled with integrity. I’ll tell you one thing more, Paul; I was asked repeatedly by reporters if I thought Joe Biden won the 2020 election fair and square. I told several reporters, and none of them did anything with it, that just once I’d like them to ask Newsom if Trump won the 2016 election fair and square, because for four years Hilary Clinton said the election was stolen from her and that Trump was illegitimate, and the result is that 66 percent of Democrats, according to a YouGov poll, believe that Russians changed vote tallies. Never mind a 1,000-page report that said the Russians did not change a single vote tally … a greater percentage of Democrats believe the 2016 election was stolen than Republicans believe the 2020 election was stolen. Even if Newsom said he believed Trump won in 2016, the next question should be whether Hillary Clinton should have her social media platform shut down for pushing the big lie the way Trump has had his shut down. Nobody ever asked him. Nobody. One reporter said, ‘well, that’s what-aboutism.’ I said, ‘no, it’s called consistency and being fair.’

Newsweek: Do you regret your decision to run?

Elder: Not for one moment. Nor am I surprised about anything. I complained about being called ‘the Black face of white supremacy and ‘the Black David Duke,’ but I certainly anticipated it, because I have zero respect for the media. They are the public relations bureau for the Democrats. They long stopped even trying to be objective. I just hope that now people are seeing what I’ve been seeing for decades. I know that even people at the L.A. Times were embarrassed about a columnist calling me ‘the Black face of white supremacy,’ because they told me they were. But not only was she not fired, she was on PBS, so our taxpayer dollars were hosting a woman who said that about me. Scottie, beam me the hell up.

Newsweek: So at your election night party, your handlers told you not to talk to me. Did you like having handlers?

Elder: Every candidate has handlers. It didn’t bother me. But ultimately the candidate decides what to do. I got advice I didn’t follow, and was happy I didn’t. I also got advice I didn’t follow and later regretted it. Most candidates have been at it for years and have relationships, but I had to do it on the fly with people I didn’t know. I went through a few campaign managers before finding the right one.

Newsweek: What’s an example of you not taking advice, or taking it and regretting you did?

Elder: I did an interview with the L.A. Times where I jumped all over them for calling me ‘the Black face of white supremacy,’ and my communications manager was not happy with how combative I was. But she soon learned that that’s why people like me, because I’m authentic and I fight back, so she began to tailor her advice to my personality. Another time, the Today Show asked me if I’d appoint a Republican to replace Sen. Dianne Feinstein. I knew it was a question designed to upset Democrats, so I didn’t answer it directly. Afterwards, one of my handlers told me I should have just said, ‘yes,’ and I should have. I regret fumbling around and not being myself.

Newsweek: You did sound a little more stifled on the campaign trail than on radio, no?

Elder: Oh come on. It’s a different thing. On the radio I’m taking calls and giving my opinion on events of that day; on the campaign trail I was discussing issues.

Newsweek: At your party, there was a guy dancing around with a giant cutout of your head. Is that sort of adulation giving you a big head?

Elder: No, but there definitely was adulation. There’s no question. I was treated like a rock star; like a Beatle. Experienced people told me they’ve never seen anything like it. I thought I’d have a connection, but, my goodness, middle-age men, forget about women, came up to me crying because they were thinking of leaving California until I entered the race. I did not expect that.

Newsweek: Well, you’ve painted a grim picture of California. Are people right to be moving out?

Elder: Do you think things are going to get better? I don’t see any evidence of that. Just recently at a restaurant on Melrose that I’ve eaten at, people in masks held up diners at gunpoint and took their purses and watches, and Newsom has released 20,000 convicted felons early, even though studies say the majority of them are likely to re-offend. We have a law that allows people to steal up to $950, not just a day, but at multiple stores in a day, without any fear of going to prison because they’re not a felon, and we have district attorneys who are soft on crime and support cashless bail, and there’s no consequences if they simply don’t show up to court. You tell me if people should leave. It’s bleak in California. I wasn’t kidding when I said it’s got great resources — where else can you go surfing in the ocean and skiing in the mountains in one day? — but it’s being ruined by horrible leadership.

Newsweek: The accusation I have heard that hurt you most were reports saying you wanted former slaveholders to get reparations. Is that the case?

Elder: Oh good grief. No one on the campaign trail ever asked me about that, just members of the media. I was being interviewed by Candace Owens, and I said that reparations is the extraction of money from people who were never slaveholders to people who were never slaves. If you really want to play this game, the Dred Scott decision called slaves property. It was vulgar, but that’s what the Supreme Court said. But people always leave this part out; the slave trade could have never existed without African chieftains selling people to Arab and European slavers. Should we get reparations from them? It was a long conversation that was boiled down to, ‘Elder believes white slave owners should get reparations.’ It’s totally unfair.

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