A few months ago, I wrote an article for The Millennial Review detailing a very bad week for California in mid-October of 2017, in which Democrats in control of the State Legislature passed a plethora of bad bills that made me wish Lex Luthor would bomb California.
Such bills included the infamous “sanctuary state” bill, a bill making it no longer a crime to knowingly infect someone with HIV, and a bill leveling criminal penalties against those who use the “wrong” gender pronouns on mentally ill people.
Now, we have had yet another very bad week in the ex-Golden State—rather than being a bad week because of the Democrats running roughshod over decency and the rule of law, it was a bad week because the California Republican Party just about keeled over and died ahead of 2018.
First, it goes without saying that the very name “California Republican Party” should make you do one of two things (if not both)—laugh or cry. The party has been in a consistent downward spiral since 1994, with its voter registration numbers dropping by over 11 percent to a measly 25.9 percent of overall voters—in contrast, Democrats have only decreased by less than a third of that over the same period, dropping 4.2 percent to its current amount of 44.8 percent. That means the CA GOP is just 1.4 percent higher than the “Decline to State/No Party Preference” option, at 24.5 percent.
And this has proven itself over the last few election cycles. In 2012, the Democrats gained two-thirds “supermajorities” in both the State Assembly and State Senate for the first time since 1978. Although the CA GOP managed to roll back these supermajorities in 2014, benefiting from the “midterm vs general” trends and the historically low turnout of that year, the Democrats came right back in 2016 and won back those supermajorities in both houses, primarily by flipping back the very same seats that the CA GOP won in 2014.
In 2016, thanks to Proposition 14’s “top two/blanket primary” system, the two candidates in the general election for Barbara Boxer’s seat in the U.S. Senate were both Democrats, for the first time in California’s history. In the primary that shut out all three of the main Republican candidates, the combined total of the CA GOP’s primary vote share was 27.9 percent. The Democrats’ share was 63.9 percent.
That same year, California gave Hillary Clinton her national popular vote victory when she won 4.3 million more votes in the state than Donald Trump, in the largest raw popular vote margin in a single statewide contest in American history.
The last time any Republican won a statewide office in California was 2006, when Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was re-elected and Steve Poizner won the office of Insurance Commissioner.
As of right now, the CA GOP holds 25 out of 80 Assembly seats, 13 out of 40 State Senate seats, 14 out of 53 U.S. House seats, and 0 out of 10 statewide offices. The only other prominent seats held by Republicans are on the State Board of Equalization, where two out of the four elected seats are held by Republicans (George Runner in the 1st District and Diane Harkey in the 4th District). However, the balance of power on the BOE is determined by whoever holds the office of State Controller, which is currently Democrat Betty Yee.
But even in these tough times, a handful of Republicans from California in the House have maintained prominence in several different ways. Kevin McCarthy (CA-23) is the second highest-ranking member of the House as Majority Leader; Darrell Issa (CA-49) served for four years as Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, where he led several charges against widespread corruption in the Obama Administration; Ed Royce (CA-39) is Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; and Devin Nunes (CA-22) is Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and famously vindicated President Trump by exposing the Obama Administration’s plot to wiretap Trump Tower during the campaign and transition.
Nevertheless, several announcements over the last week have shaken the CA GOP, and done nothing but promise an even greater reduction in size and influence.
First, there is the matter of the upcoming gubernatorial election. The longtime governor and household name in California, Democrat Jerry Brown, is finally term-limited out of office. Right now, the primary field is very wide on both sides of the aisle. For the Democrats, this includes Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, State Treasurer John Chiang, and former Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin. Newsom is the clear frontrunner and obvious successor to Brown’s legacy, boasting his relative youth (at the age of 50) as well as being firmly left-wing, having previously served as the Mayor of San Francisco.
For the Republicans, the field was initially just two major candidates, Assemblyman Travis Allen of the 72nd District, and businessman John Cox. Allen has served since 2012 and is a lifelong resident of the deeply conservative Orange County, while Cox is originally from Illinois—having run for office numerous times there—before moving to California in 2012.
Allen promotes himself as a Trump-esque conservative challenger, championing the issues of illegal immigration and California’s “sanctuary state” status, while also addressing other major issues such as the recent tax hike on gas, which increased statewide gas prices by 12 cents at the beginning of 2018.
In contrast, Cox has campaigned on several original issues he has put forward, all of which are of a rather sensationalist nature. In 2016, he actively tried to promote a failed ballot initiative called “California is Not For Sale,” which would require all state legislators to wear the logos of their top donors on their suits whenever speaking on the floors of their respective chambers, in a manner similar to NASCAR drivers. This year, he is pushing for another similarly outlandish idea called the “Neighborhood Legislature,” which he says is inspired by New Hampshire’s 400-member House of Representatives. His proposal calls for California’s legislature to be divided up into even smaller districts mostly consisting of individual neighborhoods, which he says would result in roughly 12,000 lawmakers in the California legislature.
Yes, you read that right. Cox has campaigned for making California lawmakers dress like NASCAR drivers, and now wants to make the California Legislature consist of 12,000 members. Not only are these ideas rather unfeasible and obviously meant to be attention-grabbing publicity stunts, but they don’t even address the core issues facing California today, like, oh, I don’t know—mass illegal immigration? Thousands of strict government regulations? Obscenely high taxes?
The two have bounced around in the polls as they vie for the CA GOP’s nomination, with the gap between them being anywhere from 4 percent to dead-heat ties. Cox had more often taken the lead over Allen, and initially battled Villaraigosa for second and third before the Democrat settled into a comfortable second place in most polling averages by late October, leaving Cox and Allen in the single digits.
But all that has just been put aside; the Allen vs. Cox dynamic no longer matters.
On January 5th, a third major Republican announced his candidacy for governor, former Congressman Doug Ose, who served for six years in the 3rd Congressional District, from 1999 to 2005. He then tried to run in 2008 as a primary challenger to incumbent Republican Tom McClintock in the 4th District, but easily lost. He tried to make one more comeback in 2014 as the Republican challenger to Democrat Ami Bera (CA-07), who was first elected in 2012 and has narrowly won every election since then with only about 51% of the vote. The 2014 election was Bera’s closest ever, as Ose appeared to lead on election day until additional ballots gave Bera the win; he won by 0.8 percent, just shy of 1,500 votes.
Now Ose, touting himself as a proud supporter of President Trump, has thrown his hat into the gubernatorial race. As if it wasn’t already obvious, this all but guarantees enough of a fractured Republican primary field that Villaraigosa will even further solidify his second place standing behind Newsom in first. Just like the 2016 U.S. Senate race, the three Republicans (assuming no more join the fray) will be left in the single-digit dust while the general is, once again, Democrat vs. Democrat.
And that was just the beginning of this bad week.
Over the course of the same week, two of the most prominent California Republicans in the House have announced their retirement, Darrell Issa and Ed Royce. Royce’s announcement came on January 8th, and Issa’s announcement came two days later on the 10th. While Issa’s retirement is not that shocking considering the narrow margin by which he was reelected in 2016 (0.6 percent, just over 1,600 votes), Royce’s announcement came as a shock to many people, as he won in 2016 by 15 percent.
Nevertheless, both seats are ranked by aggregate predictions as the top two most vulnerable red seats in the state in 2018. As such, replacements are already jumping in line to run in both districts, producing crowded fields in both races and on both sides of the aisle. There are four Republicans and six Democrats running to replace Royce, while Issa’s seat is being contested by three Republicans and four Democrats. And that’s just because of two Republican Congressmen retiring. There is still the likely possibility that more may follow, including even more senior House Republicans from the state who may also be considered vulnerable, such as Dana Rohrabacher (CA-48) and Steve Knight (CA-25).
While the electoral side of the CA GOP’s misfortunes are extensive, party leaders decided that even more needed to be put in jeopardy. The very ideological foundation of the party is now at stake, as several pearl-clutching, bleeding-heart “moderates” have vowed to “save” a party that they think isn’t moderate enough.
Enter perhaps two of the most reviled names in the California Republican Party, with a collective announcement on January 9th, in between Royce’s retirement and Issa’s retirement; former Assembly Minority Leader Chad Mayes and former Governor Schwarzenegger. These men announced that they were forming a brand new coalition called “New Way California,” which they say is intended to change the direction of the CA GOP into a more moderate party.
Their stated goal reads as follows: “New Way California is a movement that seeks to put people above political parties and unite Californians along the common interests of individual freedom, shared responsibility, educational excellence, environmental stewardship, efficient government, and an open economy.”
It’s quite plain to see how almost all of these, with the exception of “individual freedom,” reads like a sad attempt at pandering to the left. “Shared responsibility” invokes left-wing ideas of socialism and a collective mindset; “educational excellence” speaks to the Democrats’ wild idea that “education is a right,” not a privilege; “environmental stewardship” is obviously conceding to the left on the highly contentious issue of global warming (and, subsequently, their never-ending string of big government solutions such as tax hikes and energy market regulations); “efficient government” rather than “small government” (the true conservative principle); and “open economy” again relies on more ambiguous language, instead of unapologetically conservative language like a “free-market” economy or a “capitalist” economy.
As if it wasn't obvious enough as to why this organization is basically a center-left group masquerading as “principled Republicans,” just remember the two major names leading this new group.
As governor, Schwarzenegger passed a budget for the 2009-2010 fiscal year that raised taxes, despite his promise to not do so. In this effort, he sided with the entirety of the California Democratic Party in both chambers, as well as a handful of turncoat Republicans—three state senators and three assemblymen, who collectively became known as the “Sacramento Six.” One of those six was then-state senator Abel Maldonado, who Schwarzenegger appointed as his lieutenant governor shortly after the vote.
Maldonado, who was a key vote in passing the controversial budget, made a deal with the Democrats and Schwarzenegger that, in exchange for his vote for the budget, the legislature would pass a proposed ballot initiative that he wrote—Proposition 14. That measure went on to completely change the electoral primary system in California, eliminating the competing party primaries and instead turning each election into a single overall “blanket primary;” thus creating the electoral conditions that led to the Democrat vs. Democrat race for the U.S. Senate in 2016, and is appearing to do the same for the gubernatorial race this year.
Schwarzenegger also opposed Proposition 8, the anti-gay marriage ballot initiative that stunned the country when it won a surprising victory in the 2008 election. Schwarzenegger's opposition essentially handicapped the law upon its passage and made it easier for left-wing activists to fight it, and eventually overturn it, in court.
Lastly, and perhaps most devastatingly, Schwarzenegger essentially operated just like a Democrat on the issue of global warming. He championed AB 32 in 2006, the “Global Warming Solutions Act,” which gave unprecedented power to the California Air Resources Board to regulate the energy market in order to reduce carbon emissions by any means necessary.
It was this law that sparked the recent “cap-and-trade” debacle that you may have heard of in August of 2017. AB 398, the cap-and-trade bill, was an extension of CARB’s power that included tax hikes and steeper regulations. Like Schwarzenegger’s budget, it passed with mostly Democrat votes and a handful of Republican votes. In this case, it was eight Republicans; seven members of the Assembly and a single state senator.
Leading the group that would eventually become known as the “Swamp Eight” and “Crazy Eight” was then-Assembly Minority Leader Chad Mayes, from the 42nd District. Most of the Republicans were convinced to vote for the bill due to a handful of pork provisions negotiated by Governor Brown and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon.
But in this case, unlike Schwarzenegger’s budget, a handful of Assembly Democrats did not vote for the bill out of fear that it would make them even more vulnerable in 2018. Four Assembly Democrats voted against the bill while two more abstained; two of the Democrats had only recently been elected by ousting Republican incumbents in 2016 by single-digit margins, meaning that a vote for cap-and-trade could have made them easier to defeat in 2018.
This means that Mayes directly led the effort to swap out roughly half a dozen vulnerable Democratic votes for over half a dozen of his own members. This could potentially result in those Republicans either being primaried out or being defeated by Democrats in the general election. Mayes nevertheless arrogantly defended this as “bipartisanship” while attacking the conservative base that opposed his move; the base responded by turning against him in droves.
When over 20 GOP Central Committees across the state called for him to resign as Assembly Minority Leader, the state board of the CA GOP followed suit; he soon stepped down, and was replaced by Brian Dahle of the 1st District. But that was not even remotely enough for Mayes to get the hint. Mayes was selected to be part of Dahle’s leadership team (appointed by Dahle as one of three Assistant Republican Leaders), and has now even fostered rumors that he may run for governor himself. Now he has formed this group, alongside Schwarzenegger, pretending that he still has any semblance of legitimacy or popularity in the CA GOP. Mayes has described his “brand of politics” as being “loving, kind, and compassionate.” Which, these days, is essentially code for “We’re not racists like the Democrats say we are, I swear!”
So, that’s the leadership of this new group seeking to “change” a party that’s already been drastically shifting further to the center over the last few years. An infamous former governor who left the state’s economy in ruin, and a former Assembly Minority Leader who was run out of office by forces outside of the legislative caucus, in one of the most unprecedented grassroots revolts in modern California history. The Riverside County Republican Party said it best on their Facebook page—joining this new group would be a “kiss of death” for any decent Republican.
The truth of the matter is that the Mayes-Schwarzenegger mindset is much more widespread in the CA GOP than you would think. Even if these two and their new little playground remain unpopular with the broader base, the “centrist” approach they advocate for is already becoming firmly ingrained in the CA GOP leadership.
This kind of rhetoric has also been used by another prominent California Republican, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer. Ever since being elected in a 2013 special election, Faulconer has been put on a pedestal by many in the CA GOP, insisting that he is the future of the party. Many have clamored for him to run for both governor and senator, though he has rejected both opportunities. But all you need to know about Faulconer’s outlook is a speech he gave back in mid-August, right before the cap-and-trade episode. In the speech, he called for a “New California Republican Party.” Sound familiar?
In the speech, he talks about everything from immigration to global warming. He declared that every new immigrant is “as American as I am,” and said that San Diego and Tijuana are not really two separate cities; instead, he insisted, both cities “are one mega-region moving forward together.” On global warming, he said that Republicans need to “stop ignoring climate change,” and advocated for government subsidizing of certain energy markets and spending on infrastructure, among other measures.
He also has repeatedly tried to raise taxes on the city’s hotels in order to fund such "crucial" projects as a new football stadium, and renovating the city’s convention center. But fortunately, these measures have been rejected every time, by both the voters and the city’s Democrat-majority city council. Of course he conveniently left that out of his speech.
The radical centrism is not only limited to the biggest and highest-ranking names in the CA GOP. Another now-infamous name in recent party history is Ling Ling Chang, who served one term in the Assembly from the 55th District after being elected in 2014. She then tried to make the rapid leap to the upper house in 2016, when former State Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, in the 29th District, retired and needed a replacement. Chang was unopposed in the primary, but narrowly lost the general in a district that had been reliably red for over 25 years. Her crime? She had recently broken from the CA GOP and voted with Democrats on several major anti-gun bills, encouraging the wrath of Huff’s voters who felt no loyalty to her as a result.
This loss gave the seat to Democrat Josh Newman, and was the only State Senate seat that changed hands in 2016; it was just enough to give a supermajority back to the Democrats in that chamber.
But the overall message of figures like Schwarzenegger, Faulconer, Mayes, and Chang shares one clear factor: their opposition to President Trump. From Faulconer’s speech declaring that the CA GOP “shouldn’t be a carbon copy of the national GOP,” to Schwarzenegger’s nonstop posturing against Trump on his sacred cow issue of global warming, to Chang’s openly distancing herself from Trump in the final weeks of the 2016 election, these people and others like them are already playing the left’s game of blaming everything on Trump. In this case, it is the absurd claim that Trump is somehow to blame for the historic decline of the CA GOP, even though—as I have already said—this is a trend that has been going on for over 20 years.
A wide variety of broad cultural factors—from immigration, to Hollywood, to the Frankfurt-based indoctrination camps known as universities, to the dominance of Silicon Valley tech executives—have directly produced this sad state of affairs in California, along with many of the aforementioned errors committed under Governor Schwarzenegger. The party has increasingly been shifting further and further to the center, becoming Democrat-lite on such issues as global warming, immigration, and even the holy grail Republican issue—taxes.
Above all else, this has produced a thoroughly disillusioned base that is no longer motivated to vote for Republicans at the statewide level, and is either shifting to independent or leaving the state altogether. While the base may be capable of ousting a disgraced Assembly Minority Leader, it’s not about to suddenly elect a Republican governor in 2018.
The party leadership, of course, is still trying to hold onto what it has, even with the two major retirements. But the divisions in the party caused by the “extreme moderates” pervade even these precious races, threatening the primaries and the general election.
Congressman Royce has given his blessing to former Assemblywoman Young Kim, one of the Republicans who ousted a Democratic incumbent in 2014 when she defeated Sharon Quirk-Silva in the 65th District, only to lose to Quirk-Silva in the 2016 rematch. (Quirk-Silva, by the way, was one of the two Assembly Democrats considered most vulnerable in the cap-and-trade episode, and thus voted against that bill). But another possible candidate whose name has been floated around? Ling Ling Chang.
And Issa, along with House Majority Leader McCarthy, has enthusiastically endorsed Diane Harkey—one of the two aforementioned Republicans on the Board of Equalization—to run for the 49th Congressional District. But the cap-and-trade fiasco has managed to indirectly connect to this race as well, with one of the eight Republican turncoats—Rocky Chavez of the 76th District—also running for Issa’s seat.
The most likely outcome of the 2018 election cycle in California is, overall, a foregone conclusion and easy to make a broad prediction about. Even if the national GOP manages to hold the House of Representatives, the California delegation is very likely to take some hits and lose some of its stars, shrinking even smaller—in size and influence—than it already is.
Mayes and Schwarzenegger, with their “New Way” coalition, may very well do nothing in the way of actually trying to field candidates or help in these elections, but you’d better believe that they’ll engage in extreme heckling from the sidelines as they insist that Trump is to blame.
The conversation on conservatism versus moderation might as well not even be happening when it comes to the statewide stage. As long as the Prop 14 electoral system is in place and the CA GOP keeps running at least three candidates for offices such as governor and senator, there won’t even be a Republican in the general election. The gubernatorial race will be Newsom versus Villaraigosa, battling over who is more liberal while the thoroughly defeated Republicans will weakly try to justify one as being less liberal than the other.
Oh, and the CA GOP is not even remotely trying to get involved in the 2018 U.S. Senate race. Never mind the fact that the Democrats are facing a bitterly divided primary battle between the 200-year-old, 20-term incumbent “Sneaky” Dianne Feinstein and her far-left challenger, State Senate President pro tempore Kevin de Leon. This is about as good of an opportunity as it gets for Republicans in a statewide race in California, but as of now, not a single even remotely noteworthy Republican has jumped into that race.
This means that, most likely, both of the major statewide races in California in 2018 will be two Democrats, and no Republicans anywhere in sight. It's true that 2016 was one of the worst election cycles in the CA GOP’s history, but 2018 is looking to be even worse. What can we do about it? Not much.