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California Primaries Reveal Trump’s Strength in the State

I previously covered the purely electoral implications of the June 5 primary in California in American Greatness, so here I instead want to focus on the ideological implications—some of which, all things considered, are quite shocking.

RINOs Rejected

As I have previously documented, one of the major divides in the California GOP right now is between a more conservative wing and a more moderate wing, divided on such issues as global warming, political correctness, immigration, and President Trump.

The moderates paraded under the banner of “New Way California,” a center-left group endorsed by such infamous moderates as former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ohio governor John Kasich. The group is led predominantly by former Assembly Minority Leader Chad Mayes, as well as most of the other six Assembly Republicans who voted with Mayes for “cap-and-trade”—an extension of the state’s program to combat global warming, which includes tax hikes and increased regulations. The vote ultimately led to Mayes being ousted as Minority Leader, and many of his fellow “cap-and-traitors” being put on notice for the 2018 midterms. But the moderates only doubled down on their more left-wing stances on immigration, global warming, and President Trump, even to the criticism of some other leaders of the party.

As of the primary, three of the eight cap-and-trade Republicans are already out, while a fourth is in serious danger of losing his seat, and a fifth only barely scraped by.

The lone Republican in the State Senate who voted for it—Tom Berryhill of the 8th District—was term-limited out of office. Assemblyman Marc Steinorth of the 40th District declined to run for re-election, and instead tried to run for the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, challenging an incumbent in the 2nd District. He lost by 5 percent. To make matters worse, Steinorth’s Assembly seat is now in danger of flipping to the Democrats, after the sole Republican Henry Nickel only received 46.6 percent. The combined vote totals of the two Democrats, Libbern Cook and James Ramos, comes out to 53.4 percent.

Perhaps most prominently, Rocky Chavez of the 76th District—a pro-choice, pro-amnesty, anti-Trump, and anti-tax cut Republican backed by Schwarzenegger—chose to instead run to replace the retiring Darrell Issa in the 49th Congressional District. Chavez got absolutely crushed, coming in sixth place behind two Republicans and three Democrats with only 7.8 percent. As a final gift to the party from the outgoing RINO, Chavez’s old seat has already flipped to the Democrats, as the only two Democratic candidates in the primary there easily came in first and second, ahead of the six Republican candidates.

One other cap-and-traitor is still facing the possibility of being ousted by a conservative challenger, as said challenger battles the Democrat for second place. In the 26th District, Devon Mathis made it to first place by the skin of his teeth against two challengers, facing off against Visalia Mayor Warren Gubler and farmer Jack Lavers. Their combined totals—Gubler’s 28.7 percent and Lavers’s 11.6 percent—easily outmatched Mathis’s own 30.2 percent by a 10-point margin. However, they ended up splitting the anti-incumbent vote too greatly between themselves, allowing Mathis to secure first place.

As of now, Gubler is just neck-and-neck with the sole Democrat Jose Sigala, and either one could narrowly clinch second place as more ballots are counted. If Gubler advances, he would be in a strong position to beat Mathis in the general. But if the Democrat advances to the general, there is a strong chance that numerous allegations against Mathis—including sexual assault against a female staffer and claims of abuse against his family—could make him so toxic that this seat also turns blue in November.

And the ringleader of the cap-and-traitors barely scraped by against conservative primary challengers to face off against a Democrat. Mayes himself also faced two challengers for his seat in the 42nd District, with San Jacinto City Councilman Andrew Kotyuk and former police chief Gary Jeandron attempting to oust him. The two men split the anti-Mayes vote, with 15.7 percent for Jeandron and 12.3 percent for Kotyuk. Mayes won 33 percent, while the sole Democrat DeniAntionette Mazingo came in first with 35.7 percent.

Only time will tell if the disgruntled voters who backed the conservative challengers in both seats will pinch their noses to send the incumbents back to Sacramento, or stay at home in November and let the Democrats deal with them.

One other moderate Republican managed to narrowly slip by the wrath of conservative voters after having previously been punished. In a historic race, a State Senator was successfully recalled for the first time in over 100 years, as Democrat Josh Newman (SD-29) was removed from office after voting in favor of a 12-cent gas tax increase. He was replaced by the Republican he beat by less than 1 percent in 2016, Ling Ling Chang, who had been narrowly rejected by the district’s Republican base due to her anti-Trump rhetoric and anti-gun votes while serving in the State Assembly.

This time around, it was less of a direct matchup due to being a recall, with the simple “Yes/No” vote determining whether or not the field of six challengers—three Republicans and three Democrats—would even be eligible to replace Newman. Chang easily led that divided field with 34 percent, while the next-highest was Democrat Joseph Cho at 20.1 percent; thus, the landslide result of 60 percent in favor of recalling Newman handed her the seat on a silver platter. In the end, the voters’ frustrations with his tax increase outweighed their prior frustrations with her anti-gun votes. It was decisively more of a referendum on him than on her—she just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

Trump Triumphs

While the top issues of contention among the CA GOP are global warming and immigration, no particular individual is more polarizing in the state party than the President. Many in CA GOP leadership outside of Congress, including former governor Schwarzenegger, former Minority Leader Mayes, former gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman, and others have rejected Trump and his policies, even as Republican Congressmen from the state such as Devin Nunes (CA-22) have fully embraced him.

Such moderates claim that President Trump will be an anchor dragging down the state party—but instead, the President turned out to be a lifeboat, while the moderates ended up being the anchors that, once cut off by the voters, sank out of sight and out of mind.

First and foremost, President Trump’s endorsement of Illinois businessman John Cox seemed to give the candidate all the momentum he needed to make it into the top two in the gubernatorial race. This came on top of the fact that the other Republican candidate, Assemblyman Travis Allen (AD-72), was running on a much more explicitly pro-Trump agenda, whereas Cox is opposed to a border wall and didn’t vote for Trump in 2016. But since the endorsement, Cox has fully embraced the President and his agenda, proving that Trump is definitely more of an asset than a detriment at the statewide level.

Furthermore, if the vote totals of Cox and Allen were combined, it would have surpassed even frontrunner Gavin Newsom’s total in the primary, meaning that Republicans who voted in the gubernatorial race overwhelmingly supported candidates that either ran on Trump’s platform or were endorsed by Trump.

Second, in perhaps the biggest tragedy of the primary, the U.S. Senate race came out to two Democrats in the general once again, for the second time in a row. Just as Kamala Harris proved herself to be the more leftist against the moderate Loretta Sanchez in 2016, now State Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de Leon is attempting to prove that he is the “true liberal” against incumbent Dianne Feinstein.

However, de Leon only barely secured second place, when a practically unheard-of Republican candidate with next-to-no funding almost beat him. That Republican is businessman and veteran James Bradley, who was one of only two Senate candidates running specifically on the MAGA agenda (the other being author Erin Cruz, who came in sixth place). Bradley finished with 8.8 percent to de Leon’s 11.3 percent.

If more of the state party’s resources had been put behind his candidacy, or perhaps if Cruz was not in the race and her 4.1 percent went to Bradley, he could’ve easily taken second and surpassed de Leon, guaranteeing that a MAGA candidate would be in the general against Feinstein. This could have been further compounded with Feinstein’s age and longtime incumbency acting as turn-offs for moderate and independent voters (as it threatened to do for Orrin Hatch in Utah), as well as de Leon’s candidacy proving that she is not nearly as popular with the grassroots left. At the very most, it could have produced another close Senate race like the 1994 election.

Several other conservative and/or pro-Trump candidates had comfortable first place finishes in some of the most tightly-contested Congressional races. In the race that Chavez ditched his Assembly seat to run for, Congressional District 49, conservative Republican Diane Harkey—who endorsed Travis Allen for Governor and was subsequently endorsed by Allen for Congress—came out on top against a field of multiple Democrats and Republicans. In the neighboring 48th Congressional District, pro-Trump Congressman Dana Rohrabacher easily fought off former Assemblyman Scott Baugh, a Republican challenger who branded himself as a moderate on such issues as global warming, and even accused Rohrabacher of being a Russian spy.

This is clear proof that Trump is still as strong as ever in California among Republican voters. While moderate party leaders and candidates who rejected Trump were roundly punished in the polls, candidates backed by Trump and running on his agenda performed surprisingly well. This should be an indication that no matter how much the Left may viciously attack the President, his ideas, and his supporters in the heart of American leftism, the Trump base is resilient and determined even in the darkest of times and most desolate of places.

Widening of the Overton Window

It should come as no surprise that Trumpism is strong even in California. As the state’s Overton Window has shifted so dramatically to the left on just about every issue, from guns and immigration, to global warming and religious speech, to taxes and regulations, the nearly irreversible shift to the furthest of the far-left will only force the few right-wing forces in the state to react by shifting further to the right.

As I said before, the fact that the youth wing of the CA GOP—the California College Republicans—is becoming more firmly right-wing and pro-Trump is all that you need to know in order to see which direction the party should—and must—be heading, if it is to stay somewhat relevant. These are the members of the party who are more routinely and viciously exposed to the Left’s uncensored, uncontrolled vitriol every single waking day in Ground Zero of California leftism: college campuses. It is here where these rabid left-wing ideas are produced, and are eventually made into law.

Fortunately, even the majority of current CA GOP voters seems to already understand this, hence the wide-ranging support for MAGA candidates and firm conservatives while virtually all of the moderates and anti-Trumpers failed. The few moderate candidates who didn’t outright lose (Mayes and Chang) barely scraped by in their races. Their narrow elections were hardly 21-gun salutes in celebration of their moderation, but instead were more like shots across the bow, warning them to watch themselves and be careful to not make the same mistakes they made before.

While the handful of other races for statewide offices such as Secretary of State, Treasurer, and the like are not expected to be nail-biters, all the focus will be on the gubernatorial race and the handful of tight House races. If the primary is any indication, the California GOP is ultimately sacrificing a statewide strategy for a more localized, district-by-district focus on key contests. And that, ultimately, can be just as important as taking back the governorship.

In that sense, John Cox is not so much a serious candidate for governor as he is a motivator for down-ballot turnout. And with Cox being endorsed by President Trump, as well as many of the candidates in said down-ballot races also being pro-Trump, it is quite clear that it will be Trump himself who helps prevent any sort of “blue wave” in the Left’s socialist utopia.

California Republicans have found their “new way” forward in today’s changing political scene. It’s just not the one that Arnold Schwarzenegger and John Kasich were hoping for.

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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California Primaries Reveal Trump’s Strength in the State
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