Will Cal­i­for­nia’s GOP save it­self?


Can any­one still doubt that the Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can Party must rein­vent it­self ? That, oth­er­wise, it hasn’t any hope of win­ning back po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence in this state, and might as well make way for a new po­lit­i­cal party to serve the role of loyal op­po­si­tion?

The 2016 elec­tion made that clear, if it wasn’t be­fore. Af­ter­ward, Cal­i­for­nia’s GOP lead­ers changed noth­ing much of con­se­quence. As a re­sult, the 2018 elec­tion was an­other pre­dictable dis­as­ter for their coali­tion.

Zero Repub­li­cans hold statewide of­fice. Democrats won a su­per­ma­jor­ity in the Cal­i­for­nia As­sem­bly and the state Se­nate. In races for the U.S. Se­nate, Repub­li­can can­di­dates can’t even make it to the gen­eral elec­tion, now that the top two vote-get­ters in pri­mary con­tests ad­vance re­gard­less of party. And when the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives re­con­venes, the Cal­i­for­nia del­e­ga­tion is most likely to be com­posed of 46 Democrats and just seven Repub­li­cans.

Even some long­time loy­al­ists are call­ing for the coro­ner. “The Grand Old Party is dead,” Kristin Olsen, for­mer vice chair of the Cal­i­for­nia GOP, de­clared in Cal Mat­ters, “partly be­cause it has failed to sep­a­rate it­self from to­day’s toxic, na­tional brand of Repub­li­can pol­i­tics.”

Repub­li­can po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant Mike Madrid agrees. “The party has to die be­fore it can be re­built,” he told Politico. “And by die, I mean, com­pletely dec­i­mated. I think Tues­day night was a big step,” he said, re­fer­ring to the midterm elec­tion. “There is no mes­sage. There is no mes­sen­ger.”

The de­cline and fall may con­tinue so long as Pres­i­dent Trump is in of­fice, es­pe­cially if po­lit­i­cal ri­vals be­yond Democrats start to ex­ploit the GOP’s weak­nesses.

In 2018 alone, David Wasser­man of Cook Po­lit­i­cal Re­port no­ticed, House Repub­li­cans lost six of 10 of their dis­tricts with the high­est Latino pop­u­la­tion, and 17 of 25 of their dis­tricts with the high­est Asian pop­u­la­tion. Golden State de­mo­graph­ics are only get­ting less white.

“In one fell swoop, Trump and Repub­li­cans who will­ingly hand­cuffed them­selves to him have turned Or­ange County into a GOP waste­land,” John Weaver, a strate­gist who has worked on the pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns of John McCain and John Ka­sich, told Politico. “You want to see the fu­ture? Look no fur­ther than the de­mo­graphic death spi­ral in the place once con­sid­ered a cor­ner­stone of the party.”

Lib­er­tar­i­ans could con­ceiv­ably do bet­ter than be­ing shut down in Or­ange County.

What’s re­quired for po­lit­i­cal res­ur­rec­tion is straight­for­ward enough. To win, Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­cans must do bet­ter among some com­bi­na­tion of their worst de­mo­graph­ics: Lati­nos, blacks, Asian Amer­i­cans, women, mil­len­ni­als and col­lege-ed­u­cated vot­ers in pros­per­ous suburbs.

So why aren’t am­bi­tious Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can of­fice­seek­ers pro­claim­ing, “To hell with Trump’s fear-mon­ger­ing about il­le­gal im­mi­grants; to hell with his weak re­sponse to Char­lottesville; to hell with his at­tacks on the rights of le­gal im­mi­grants, to com­ments he has made den­i­grat­ing Mex­i­cans and Mus­lims, and to his at­tacks on birthright cit­i­zen­ship"?

Why aren’t they lead­ing a pub­lic break from the fac­tion of Repub­li­can Party pol­i­tics pre­ferred by Stephen Ban­non and Stephen Miller in fa­vor of the model that more in­clu­sive, anti-racist Repub­li­cans have ad­vised the GOP to adopt for al­most an en­tire gen­er­a­tion, given that such ad­vice was in­spired by a de­mo­graphic fu­ture that has al­ready ar­rived here?

The GOP base is one an­swer. As the num­ber of Repub­li­cans shrinks, the pri­mary vot­ers who re­main are more likely to be ex­treme par­ti­sans.

And be­cause so much of our pol­i­tics is now na­tion­al­ized, they watch Fox News and don’t feel like po­lit­i­cal losers in need of a makeover. Their guy is in the White House, os­ten­si­bly mak­ing Amer­ica great again. The last per­son they’ll sup­port is a politi­cian who tries to make a mark by de­nounc­ing Trump’s worst flaw, even if it is the de­lib­er­ate stok­ing and ex­ploita­tion of di­vi­sive group big­otries.

Ca­reer in­cen­tives are an­other an­swer. If you are like­lier than not to lose a given elec­tion re­gard­less, why do it as an out­spo­ken anti-Trump Repub­li­can, alien­at­ing many long­time al­lies across the coun­try, when you could lose with­out be­ing seen as a dis­loyal apos­tate and pre­serve your abil­ity to make a ca­reer in na­tional Repub­li­can pol­i­tics, or in what is still called the con­ser­va­tive move­ment, in spite of its shift to­ward right-wing pop­ulism?

Any an­swer must ac­count for why an or­ga­ni­za­tion os­ten­si­bly ded­i­cated to win­ning elec­tions would lose time and again with­out ap­pre­cia­bly chang­ing its strat­egy.

The big­gest losers here aren’t the hard­est-core GOP par­ti­sans, who’d rather “own the libs” than win state elec­tions, or the politi­cians who lose elec­tions but still make a liv­ing in pol­i­tics.

It is, rather, the Cal­i­for­ni­ans who want a vi­able al­ter­na­tive to the Demo­cratic Party, whether due to sub­stan­tive dis­agree­ments or as a check on cor­rup­tion.

In­stead, they get a Cal­i­for­nia GOP that can’t win, shows no sign of mak­ing changes that will al­low it to win, yet prob­a­bly re­tains just enough sup­port to pre­vent a third party from emerg­ing.

Conor Friedersdorf is a con­tribut­ing writer to Los An­ge­les Times Opin­ion, a staff writer at the At­lantic and found­ing ed­i­tor of the Best of Jour­nal­ism, a news­let­ter that cu­rates ex­cep­tional non­fic­tion.

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