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California’s Republican Party is going to lose statewide elections for a long time. And it’s not just because of the leaders and candidates; it’s their electorate that is preserving this fate.
Let’s start with the people who should head the ticket. The Golden State’s Grand Old Party has professional politicians with both charisma and issues that will appeal to many voters. Positions like a stress on individual responsibility and cutting the deficit. Conventional pols advocating these values could easily be winners.
I am exempting from the above statement amateurs like the current governor. Arnie actually helped the Dems defeat Meg Whitman by lacking the credentials of a politician with real world experience in government. Even though his campaigns cited this as a virtue, his job performance was poor, and alienated Californians from every sector of the political spectrum. By the time Ms. Whitman tried a similar appeal, of the gifted novice, voters declared “Been there, done that. It failed.” And voted Democratic, and for someone with experience. If the current governor hadn’t amply demonstrated the flaws in that approach, Whitman might have done a lot better.
The real problem, however, the Republicans face, is not a lack of decent, practiced political leaders. Rather, it is their electorate. It is just too far to the right of this state, and blocks moderate candidates who might win.
Let’s state the obvious: California is a blue state, with a voting population that favors the Democrats. Even in this environment, especially with so many independents, a moderate Republican could get elected to state wide office, possibly quite easily. The problem is that she or he could never get nominated.
California Republicans may be, like so many other ideas from our shores, ahead of national trends. They are powerfully conservative, way to the right of the middle. Long before there was a Tea Party, local Reps were upholding the faith of their fathers. And enforcing it as well.
That may have the virtue of integrity, but it won’t win elections here. To get to Sacramento or Washington, they need moderately conservative candidates. The true believers, meanwhile, will always veto such folks, and turn to an ideologue out of sync with the voters here. That is a losing hand, and will continue to be for a long, long time.
Take a look at Schwarzenegger’s one political masterstroke. Arnie probably realized he was too liberal and far too independent minded to pass muster in a Republican primary. But in 2003, in the midst of a recall election for Grey Davis, the bodybuilder realized he could run before the entire population, not just Republican voters. And for that group, his shortcomings became virtues. His analysis was right; he won that year and again in 2006. He has never run in a competitive Republican primary for the governor’s office.
The Republicans also have one other huge issue that they have to tackle if they want to win. Call it the curse of Pete Wilson.
Back in 1994, Californians voted on Proposition 187, which banned illegal aliens from public sevices like health and education. Lots of anglos supported it–it passed handily, even though the courts later overturned it–but it was anathema to Hispanics.
That changed California politics forever. Republican governor Pete Wilson, who strongly supported the measure, became the symbol of what was–and still is–considered a vehemently anti-immigrant party. This in a state where Hispanics are becoming a critical voting bloc, with more members joining their ranks every day.
A number of years ago I was on a public panel with Gaddi Vasquez, an Hispanic and stalwart of the Orange County Republican Party; no one has ever questioned Gaddi’s conservative credentials.
I don’t remember how or why the conversation turned to the issue’s discussed above, but it did. Gaddi’s observation was that Pete Wilson had destroyed the Republican Party in California among Hispanic voters.
The former head of the Peace Corps was being honest and smart. A Los Angeles Times survey released this week found that only 18% of their respondents vowed to “never vote for a Republican,” or roughly one-sixth. Among nonpartisans the figures were the same, 17%. But among Latinos surveyed, the figure jumped substantially, to 31%, closer to a third. One of the two directors of the poll, Linda DiVall, a Republican, remarked, “I don’t know how any Republican thinks they can win in California after looking at this.”
Most members of her party don’t get it. They figure by throwing out a few sops they can overcome this hostility. Not even close.
Take a look at Meg Whitman’s recent campaign. True, she opened a few offices in Hispanic neighborhoods. But who was her campaign chairman? Pete Wilson. In some parts of the state, she might as well have been endorsed by Satan, while running for the papacy.
How can Republicans reverse this? Well, one way would be to steer clear of Pete Wilson, for starters. But a winning Republican candidate would have to take strong pro-immigration stands, such as firmly endorsing a route for illegals to gain citizenship. Carly Fiorina adamantly opposed this idea, and Meg Whitman waffled badly on it.
Of course, anyone who held that position would never get past the Republican primary.
So if Boxer and Brown, and generations of their successors to come, keep on winning, Republican voters have no one to blame but themselves.