Can the California GOP go any lower?
California Republicans have been living on borrowed time for a long time, relying on a series of increasingly desperate stunts to try to stay competitive. This past weekend, at their state convention in Sacramento, with the stunts done and Democrats mostly triumphant, they went back to basics with a new “nuts and bolt” state chairman in former state Senate Minority Leader Jim Brulte. But they forgot the most basic thing of all.
Their basic problem is not one of mechanics or form, but of substance. California Republicans aren’t down to 29 percent registration, with no one to run against Gov. Jerry Brown, no statewide electeds, and shrinking minorities in the state Legislature and congressional delegation because they need a better get-out-the-vote operation or more public relations. They’re dead in the water because they’re too extreme and out of touch with the state.
So, having Brulte, a very competent tactician, come on as chairman is an evasion of the central issue. But at least it’s not another stunt.
The stunts that kept Republicans competitive, to a point, started back in 1994, when incumbent Gov. Pete Wilson, threatened by Kathleen Brown’s candidacy, seized on illegal immigration and rode the draconian Proposition 187—later thrown out by the courts—to a smashing re-election victory. But with Brown taking a determined stand against 187 in defeat, this stunt proved to be a pyrrhic victory in the long run, putting Republicans on the wrong side of the rising Latino community.
The next big stunt was global superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger, who took Republicans with him on two landslide election wins as governor. But they expressly rejected his moderation and kept veering to the right.
Then came the stunt of running a billionaire for governor. But Meg Whitman was crushed by Jerry Brown.
The stunts came faster and more desperately after that.
Next, spending millions the party couldn’t afford in a failed attempt to block new state Senate districts drawn by the citizens redistricting commission.
Then, ginning up the biggest anonymous political contribution in California history in a backfiring attempt to stop Brown’s Proposition 30 revenue initiative. That only fed the Democrats’ victory margin last November.
So, now it’s down to party mechanics. Or is it?
This past weekend, Brulte brought in Karl Rove, the ex-Bush-Cheney political who honchoed a secretive $300 million-plus super PAC operation last year, for a keynote luncheon talk. But, at least in public, Rove offered a boilerplate message that could have been delivered most anywhere. Worse, he dodged the press throughout, probably fearing questions about that anonymous campaign money funneled into California by a group with ties to him.
There were some entreaties to reach out to Latinos, but the materials I saw spread around the convention looked like those at most any other Republican convention in the last few decades.
And the relative moderation of Rove—to the extent that anyone outside the far right would regard him as a “moderate”—was more than balanced by other speakers.
The dinner speaker was Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro, a far-right blogger who debated CNN host Piers Morgan on gun control and declared that the purpose of having Second Amendment rights is to allow people to have enough firepower to fight a tyrannical government.
Shapiro is also a virulent pro-Israel advocate—rejected as an extremist by most Israelis—who pushed the false story about new Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel supposedly getting money from the nonexistent “Friends of Hamas.” This is like having a 9/11 Truther as the keynote speaker at a Democratic convention.
Which is another way of saying that Brulte, while certainly not that extreme, is no moderate. He chaired Steve Poizner’s hard right 2010 gubernatorial primary campaign.
Poizner, once an actual moderate Republican, was discovered and encouraged by Schwarzenegger as the only bright light in his failed bid to unseat a host of Democratic Assembly members in 2004. All the candidates Schwarzenegger backed lost, but Poizner engaged him, and Schwarzenegger brought him into statewide politics. The two of them, running as moderates, were the only Republicans elected statewide in 2006.
But Poizner sensed the internal winds pushing the party further to the right and dropped his moderate Republicanism. In the 2010 gubernatorial primary, with Brulte chairing the effort, Poizner ran very hard right. Especially on immigration.
As the latest Field Polls show more signs of a shift to the left by California voters—on immigration, same-sex marriage, climate change, gun control and legalizing marijuana—the GOP looks as hard right as ever.
House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, speaking to the Sacramento Press Club just before the convention began, sounded a plaintive note about his party’s California plight: “Look, the most important thing the Republican Party has is, I don’t believe we can get any lower, all right?”
Sure, you can.