/ Perspective

California Republicans: New Way, Old Way, or No Way?

Back in January, I discussed a number of ills that plagued the already crumbling California GOP in the span of a week.

From two senior Republican Congressmen—Ed Royce and Darrell Issa—announcing their retirements, to the unfortunate entry of a third Republican into the gubernatorial primary threatening to split the vote further—thus guaranteeing no Republicans in the final round—things seemed to be winding down for this state’s party even faster than expected. For better or worse, some interesting developments just a couple months since have arisen to change previous outlooks.

In late February, a little over a month after entering the gubernatorial race, former Congressman Doug Ose, a loyal supporter of President Trump, withdrew from the primary. In doing so, he divulged some of the most biting revelations you will ever hear about the California GOP: “The people that have traditionally written $25,000 checks are now writing $1,000 checks because they don’t see a path for a Republican to win. . . . There’s no money and there’s nobody willing to invest in a statewide Republican campaign.”

Ose admitted to the cold hard truth, like a pail of ice water down the backs of the party’s leadership—Republicans just don’t have a viable path to victory at the statewide level anymore. Ose even brought up this year’s Senatorial race, which is shaping up to be a repeat of 2016, that is, Democrat against Democrat. In that case, Ose made clear his intentions in the unfortunately all-but-guaranteed scenario that the election is between incumbent Dianne Feinstein and her far-left challenger Kevin de León. Ose will vote for Feinstein, who’s at least not an avowed socialist, and has even previously criticized the “Russia” conspiracy.

With Ose out, there remains once again only two major Republicans in the primary: Illinois businessman John Cox, and Assemblyman Travis Allen (AD-72). At the same time, a fifth major Democrat has jumped into the race, Amanda Renteria, former chief of staff for Senators Feinstein and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who ran for the 21st Congressional District in 2014, losing to incumbent Republican David Valadao by 15 points.

Her entry into the race has raised questions, especially considering how late she jumped into the process, and with little to no organizational structure. Some have questioned if she’s simply running as a spoiler for former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, threatening to take away some of his share of the Latino vote as the more centrist Villaraigosa runs neck-and-neck with the far-left Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom. At the same time, she has also criticized Newsom for past sexual misconduct scandals, calling on him to withdraw from the race. It remains to be seen whether or not this new dynamic—five major Democrats and only two prominent Republicans—increases the chances of either Cox or Allen advancing to the general election.

At the same time, the fallout from the infamous “cap-and-trade” vote continues. After former Assembly Minority Leader Chad Mayes (AD-42) led seven other Republicans in voting for a Democrat-backed bill (AB 398) that raised taxes on utilities such as gas and electricity, as well as increased regulations on the energy sector and small businesses, Mayes was forced to resign from leadership when over 20 GOP central committees and the state party’s board officially called on him to do so.

Of those eight, three are now already out of office come November. The lone Republican State Senator, Tom Berryhill (SD-08), is term-limited out of office. Assemblyman Marc Steinorth (AD-40) announced in early March that he will not seek re-election. And Assemblyman Rocky Chavez (AD-76) is running for Darrell Issa’s old seat in the 49th Congressional District, meaning he will not run for re-election to the Assembly.

Of the remaining five, two more are facing serious primary challengers. Mayes himself is being flanked from his right by two other Republicans, San Jacinto city councilman Andrew Kotyuk, and former Palm Springs police chief Gary Jeandron (who previously challenged Mayes in 2014). And Assemblyman Devon Mathis (AD-26) is also facing two primary opponents: Visalia Mayor Warren Gubler, and Kern County rancher Jack Lavers. In addition to taking heat for their cap-and-trade votes, Mayes and Mathis have both also faced various sexual misconduct allegations—Mayes is accused of having an affair with the previous Minority Leader Kristin Olsen. Mathis is accused of sexual assault against a female staffer.

Only three cap-and-trade voters remain who are not facing Republican challengers, and each are instead facing only one Democrat in the primary: Heath Flora (AD-12), Catharine Baker (AD-16), and Jordan Cunningham (AD-36). But beyond the changes in the electoral dynamics, from the governor’s race to the fate of the eight “cap-and-traitors,” there still remain crucial ideological divides that have only grown further apart. Although one has clearly proven itself to be an embarrassing failure, while the other is a surprising success, the battle nevertheless rages on as both sides fight for sole control of the state party and its direction.

Old Way California

A watershed moment in this divide was March 21st, when the organization “New Way California” held its inaugural summit. As previously described, New Way is a moderate, center-left organization founded by Mayes and former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, with the intention of further moderating the already-moderate CA GOP. The event was promoted over many weeks by the group’s Facebook and Twitter pages (both of which have a whopping 900 followers).

It was announced early on that the event would be headlined by Schwarzenegger, Mayes, and Ohio Governor John Kasich. Their announcement letter, however, proved that no matter how many big names you get for an event or an organization, you can’t spontaneously produce professionalism. The announcement letter for the event, posted to the group’s Twitter, is rife with hilarious and basic grammatical mistakes. Just to name a few (emphasis added):

New Way founder Assemblyman Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley), will open the Summit with brief remarks describing his vision that California Republican need a new way forward.

Assemblyman Mayes will then join the two Governors’ for a wide-ranging discussion on the state of the California Republican party and it’s path to regain policy and electoral relevance.

But don’t worry, the actual itinerary is even worse than the punctuation and grammar of these announcements. After blowing most of their energy on putting Kasich’s name in lights, the remaining speakers are unbelievably lackluster.

In addition to propping up a couple of Schwarzenegger’s old staffers from almost a decade ago (like his former Deputy Chief of Staff Cassandra Pye and former Community Liaison Alexander Kim), the event somehow managed to do the unthinkable—it featured two hosts from two of the biggest cable news networks that you’ve most likely never heard of. They had CNN host (because nothing says “Republican” like CNN) Michael Smerconish, and Fox News host Steve Hilton. Now, I may be crazy, but I’ve never heard of either of these two individuals before. When I think (through the pain) of CNN hosts, names come to mind like Wolf Blitzer, Anderson Cooper, Brooke Baldwin, and Dana Bash. When I think of Fox News, I think of Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Bret Baier, Jesse Watters, and Greg Gutfeld—or even former hosts like Bill O’Reilly, Megyn Kelly, or Greta van Susteren (for better or for worse).

But of course, they didn’t just settle for no-names, they also made sure to get infamous names to attend, including half of the cap-and-traitors. In addition to Mayes, the event also featured Rocky Chavez—who has scored a 75 percent rating from Planned Parenthood, and also said he would not have voted for the historic Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017—as well as Jordan Cunningham. They also hosted Devon Mathis—who, in case you’ve already forgotten, has been accused of sexual assault. They even featured the aforementioned former Assembly Minority Leader Kristin Olsen, whether or not those allegations of an affair between Olsen and Mayes are true, featuring her at an event hosted by Mayes conveys the same level of tone-deafness as Richard Nixon hosting a dinner party with the Watergate burglars.

What could possibly be more unintentionally hilarious than a center-left Republican organization featuring John Kasich, Arnold Schwarzenegger, a couple of has-beens from Schwarzenegger’s office, two no-name cable news hosts, and four disgraced members of the Assembly, including two who are accused of sexual misconduct?

The location of the event was something comedic. This inaugural summit, featuring a former governor and current governor, as well as a handful of state legislators took place in a school gymnasium. Of course, the promotional material marketed the venue as the “Hollenbeck Youth Center” in Los Angeles, as if trying to convey a sense of community, as well as implying that the event itself is large-scale just by virtue of being in such a massive city—but that’s just cover for the fact that it took place in a school gymnasium. The picture was complete with black-and-white folding chairs for the audience, two LCD screens on each side of the poorly-constructed stage, and a crudely-attached sign slapped onto the front of the podium. In a delicious bit of irony, painted murals on the wall behind the stage depicted multiple pairs of stick figures fighting each other.

To top off this surreal scenario, the crowd size said it all. There was a grand total of about 150 folding chairs set up for the attendees in the gymnasium, with as many as 70 empty seats, meaning that only about 80 people showed up. Perhaps that explains why most of the shots of the crowd are from close up, and rarely show the entire audience. And something else that even the close-up pictures could not hide—an overwhelming majority of the attendees were older adults; not a single college-aged person to be seen. I’ve covered the (uninspiring) speakers, the (lackluster) venue, and the crowd’s (tiny) size and (old) average age. What about the actual content of the various speeches?

Schwarzenegger’s speech hit all the usual notes of the Trump-era Arnold Schwarzenegger. He took a direct shot at President Trump’s frequent use of Twitter, and also paid lip service to some of the Left’s biggest issues, declaring that “We can’t be afraid to talk about health care” and “We can’t be afraid to talk about the environment.” Of course, that is obviously code for “we should just agree with the Democrats on these issues,” as Schwarzenegger already does on a daily basis, or did back when he was governor.

Kasich was not much better, with his usual plentitude of platitudes, as he talked about how he is “sick of politics,” and that we should “forget all the politics.” Coming from a politician who has previously served in the Ohio Senate and the House of Representatives, and is now a governor openly mulling a possible 2020 presidential run, that sentiment is the equivalent of a pilot claiming he’s “sick of flying,” but that he wants to continue flying anyway. Why would Americans trust someone like that in office?

Co-founder Chad Mayes had perhaps the most bizarre and distinctly anti-Republican, anti-conservative line of the entire event. “The old way says, ‘Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.’ The new way says, ‘If you don’t have boots, we’ll lend you a pair of ours.’” How does that sound like anything other than the program of state-administered handouts peddled by Democrats? How will they pay for those boots? How long until they run out of boots to give? Will they force one California citizen to lend their boots to someone the government determines is more needy?

Even the group’s handling of the CA GOP’s modern day lord and savior, Ronald Reagan, was rather mixed and confusing. In a Tweet promoting the event, the group’s account said they were “stoked to hear from a true Reagan Republican,” in reference to a CNN contributor named John Weaver announcing he would be in attendance (because, again, nothing says “Reagan Republican” like CNN). But then the group later retweeted a Tweet that seemed to, more or less, disavow Reagan by clarifying that a rather lame “Star Wars” reference made by Assemblyman Mathis was referring to the movies, not the Reagan-era space program. As if that wasn’t cringe-worthy enough, the Tweet in question also joked about the infamous phrase “Big Tent,” by declaring that “Trekkies [are] welcome” in New Way as well. That attempt at youth outreach could have worked out fairly well, in the 1970’s.

Perhaps one of the truly most tone-deaf moments of the entire event came from the aforementioned former Deputy COS for Schwarzenegger, Cassandra Pye, who commented on the rapidly-changing demographics of the state of California. She pointed out that “The California Republican Party is now 80% white,” and that “as the Party continues to shrink,” it becomes harder to “convince people in communities of color that you care about them.”

Of course, it goes without saying that the major reason for this demographic shift hurting the CA GOP is the unfettered flow of illegal aliens into this self-described “sanctuary state,” providing the Democrats with hundreds of thousands of loyal new voters every year. But considering that California Republicans like Schwarzenegger and Mayes are fine with that level of immigration, this rhetoric is the equivalent of, “We don’t need to fix the plumbing leak that’s causing our house to flood! Let’s just adapt to our new aquatic setting, and think about how we can make all our furniture float!”

No Way, New Way

All in all, the event was exactly what you would expect from a bunch of pro-tax increase, pro-global warming, pro-choice, and pro-amnesty Republicans. These are people who would basically transform the CA GOP into a quasi-Democratic Party, all while blaming President Trump for the downfall of a party that hasn’t won a statewide office in eight years.

If anything, perhaps now we can all breathe a little easier knowing that this group is incapable of fixing basic grammar mistakes in their announcement letter, or reserving a venue more high-class than a high school gymnasium. I must confess, I was a bit worried when I read that New Way intended to form a super PAC going into the 2018 midterms. But now I am confident that said PAC probably won’t even have enough money to fund a few city council candidates in the Salton Sea region. Other than Chavez’s Congressional run (with Schwarzenegger’s blessing), there don’t seem to be any other prominent “New Way” Republicans running for significant offices, aside from the handful of cap-and-traitors that are already running for re-election.

The most accurate ideological criticisms of this laughable group might have come from The American Spectator's salon. In trying to reach out to potential crossover support from independent voters and Democratic voters, these CA GOP figureheads are really just advocating for an “old way” of doing things rather than a “new way.” That is, by simply adopting Democratic policies on abortion, taxes, energy sector regulations, and appeasement of labor unions.

All the while, they are completely ignoring the fact that it is these same liberal policies that have produced such an impoverished, over-regulated, and over-taxed state of affairs, which has resulted in California being declared as having the worst quality of life in the United States. And never mind that other reforms pushed by these very same moderate Republicans contributed to the rapid decline of the state party, including the new “blanket primary” system where the top two candidates advance to the general regardless of party, thus resulting in Democrat vs. Democrat races like the 2016 U.S. Senate race.

Still, it gets better. The group’s two leaders could not possibly have worse legacies in their respective tenures in CA GOP leadership. Schwarzenegger not only left the state’s economy in ruin and the government with more power than ever before, but he even used his last days in office to reduce the sentence of a convicted murderer, because the murderer was the son of a political friend, and as Arnold so blatantly put it, “Of course you help a friend.” And Chad Mayes, even after being run out of his leadership post in one of the most shocking grassroots revolts in the state’s history, still defiantly defends his cap-and-trade efforts as “bipartisanship.”

Fortunately, not all in the CA GOP leadership—past or present—are falling for these has-beens and their empty rhetoric. Current party chairman Jim Brulte, a former state senator, has explicitly rejected the notion that Trump is to blame for the downfall of the state party, pointing out that the CA GOP lost every statewide election in 2002, 2010, and 2014. Another New Way critic was one of the more recent former chairmen of the CA GOP, and the party’s nominee for Lieutenant Governor in 2014: Ron Nehring, who took to Twitter to criticize New Way in real-time during the summit. He effortlessly debunked many of the arguments put forth by the speakers, particularly the claim by Schwarzenegger that both the national GOP and the CA GOP offer no solutions to today’s problems. Perhaps his strongest and most concise Tweet was in response to Schwarzenegger’s criticism of Trump’s use of Twitter:

Truer words were never said, Mr. Nehring.

Come November 7th, when the dust has settled, it is more than likely that New Way California will be left with even less supporters in the state legislature, and thus even fewer people (if any) who are willing to financially support it. But it remains to be seen whether or not they will continue to heckle from the sidelines, or if they will finally get the hint and consider letting a new generation take over.

The Future of the CA GOP

Conversely, there is another California Republican convention set to take place a few weeks after the New Way event, though it is of virtually the exact opposite ideological makeup, and certainly the other end of the age range: The statewide convention of the California College Republicans (CCR).

As I documented heavily for The Millennial Review, CCR had an extremely vicious election last year for the various statewide board positions, including the Chair. The election was rife with scandal, voter suppression, alleged bribery, and election delays, as the incumbent slate attempted to silence an insurgent rival slate of candidates. The incumbents, Thrive CCR, very much resembled the New Way crowd, being more socially liberal and soft on rhetoric, while also putting emphasis on electioneering and serving the CA GOP leadership in elections above all else, while also taking shots at President Trump. The outsider slate, Rebuild CCR, was a much bolder, politically incorrect, and firmly right-wing slate, emphasizing on-campus activism, directly combating the Left in no ambiguous terms, and unapologetically supporting the president.

In the end, the race even received coverage from the Los Angeles Times, as Rebuild and its candidate for Chair, Ariana Rowlands of UC Irvine, ultimately won an upset victory. Rowlands’ tenure as chair has since earned national recognition from Time Magazine. In doing so, Rowlands and other more conservative CR’s across the state are arguably doing more to promote a true “new way” for California Republicans than the organization of the same name.

Now, Rowlands and a handful of former Rebuild candidates, as well as some new faces, are running for re-election under the new name “Rise CCR,” emphasizing an abundance of structural and constitutional reforms, as well as the creation of 11 new chapters on Rowlands’ watch. Meanwhile, the few surviving members of the Thrive slate are running under the new slate “Unite CCR.” When Unite’s website isn’t using the same logo as Aperture Laboratories from the Portal video game series, or directly alluding to Obama’s “hope and change” slogan, they accuse Rowlands (without evidence) of fostering an environment of “mockery, derision, and hatred.” Sounds just like a Tweet that was retweeted by New Way California, claiming that the GOP under Trump has “thrived on the ‘ethos of exclusion.’”

The convention is set for the first weekend of April (from the 6th to the 8th), at UC Santa Barbara. The actual election will take place on the final day, Sunday the 8th. According to CCR’s Facebook page, ticket sales for the convention have already smashed past records, with 156 tickets sold in the first nine days; previous conventions never exceeded 150 attendees. Not only is CCR 2018 set to be the largest in the organization’s history, but it is also likely to far surpass the attendance rate of the New Way California summit.

The day-and-night contrast between the enthusiasm for New Way California and the California College Republicans already proves one thing: The youth wing of the CA GOP is far more active and mobilized than the adults (or at least those who adhere to the milquetoast ideology of New Way). The result of the CCR election will ultimately prove which direction the youth are committed to. Moderate Republicanism like New Way, or bold conservative activism like Rebuild and Rise. This is arguably even more important than the previous election, as the 2018-2019 academic year takes place during the crucial 2018 midterms. Thus, whichever slate wins control of CCR could determine which Republican candidates the organization’s resources are put behind in both the primaries and the general: Moderates or conservatives.

From New Way to CCR, from the primary election in June to the general in November, the battle rages on. Will the victory go to a new way, or “New Way”? Will the party leaders of old storm back onto the scene and continue “business as usual” under the guise of reform, or will bold new faces offer a true alternative to the ways of the past? And will one side claim definitive victory and unite the party before it is too late?

Eric Lendrum

Eric Lendrum

Eric graduated University of California, Santa Barbara with a degree in Political Philosophy. He authored, "You’re Damned, Right! A Concise Timeline of How and Why the California GOP Has Failed."

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