Nixing Republican purism

GOP voters show they prefer mainstream candidates

After all the talk lately about the Tea Party and the rise of the Republican right, last week’s election was an eye-opener. As veteran Republican political commentator Tony Quinn has observed, not only did the most conservative Republican candidates for statewide office all lose by wide margins, but voters also approved Proposition 14, the so-called “top-two” initiative that for all its flaws stands a good chance of favoring moderate Republicans over their far-right brethren in future primary contests.

Which of the candidates, after all, positioned themselves as “true conservatives” and got the endorsement of the California Republican Assembly, the purist “conscience of the Republican Party”? One was our own termed-out state senator, Sam Aanestad, who ran for lieutenant governor against Abel Maldonado, a moderate Republican, and four other candidates. Aanestad came in second, with 31 percent of the vote, while Maldonado won with 43.2 percent.

Then there’s Steve Poizner, a once-moderate politician who veered right and spent a fortune trying to appeal to Republicans’ worst xenophobic tendencies, only to come away with just 27 percent of the vote for governor, compared to Meg Whitman’s 64 percent. Remember it was Rep. Tom McClintock, the icon of rock-ribbed, purist Republicanism, who insisted in a widely viewed television spot that Whitman was no conservative and urged voters to reject her. They didn’t buy it, not by a long shot.

And consider Chuck DeVore, the ultra-conservative state senator who ran third in the U.S. Senate primary behind Carly Fiorina and Tom Campbell, attracting only 19 percent of Republican voters. Or John Eastman, the CRA-backed conservative who garnered just 34 percent of the vote to moderate Steve Cooley’s 47 percent in the race for attorney general.

It remains to be seen how Proposition 14 will affect primary races, but if it changes them at all significantly, it will be in the direction of favoring candidates who can appeal not only to members of their own party, but also to independents, who are increasingly a force to be reckoned with and tend to favor centrists.

No matter how you cut it, Republican voters sent a strong message to their party Friday: We prefer mainstream candidates who can win in general elections, not so-called “true conservatives” who cannot win and would doom the party to irrelevancy.