March 21, 2011
Like a herd of wooly mammoths at the end of the Pleistocene epoch, the California Republican Party is on the verge of extinction.
It may still recover. The CRP has come back from near death before. And redistricting, alongside the top-two primary system may yet revive it. But judging from the infighting, narrow thinking and rigid ideological positioning on display at the party’s organizing convention last weekend in Sacramento, the signs are not good.
As former GOP Assembly leader Bob Naylor put it succinctly Sunday morning, “It’s on life support.”
The party did pull back on some issues that would have help drive it off a cliff. And there’s a new chairman — Tom Del Baccaro, a bright, attractive fresh voice who hopes to connect with a broader range of voters than the 20% to which the GOP usually speaks.
“We have a message problem, folks,” Del Beccaro told delegates. “Quite frankly, we have trapped ourselves into talking to the converted instead of inspiring a new generation of voters.”
Which, of course is true, but not to the point. The GOP’s fundamental problem is that the content of their message on too many key issues is simply unacceptable to the vast swath of moderate California voters.
Moreover, the mass message his party seemed to endorse at the weekend organizing convention essentially was: “Love Us or Leave Us.”
“We’re just a party of narrow ‘no,’” said conservative radio talk show host (and fellow Buckeye) Eric Hogue, who, along with the rest of the news media was only allowed to attend the noon keynote speech after reporters angrily protested. “The California Republic Party is on its way to becoming the third party in California, behind Decline to State,” said Hogue, whose rants from the right sometimes would make Attila blush.
“They’re very set in their ways,” said a 29-year-old Latino delegate from the Inland Empire who was afraid to let his name be used. “They say, ‘That’s the way it’s always been,’ whether it’s on immigration or the environment or marriage,” said the U.C. Davis graduate whose grandfather came to California as a bracero.
In short, the CRP shows no signs of intending to adopt the pragmatic and doable five-point plan Calbuzz laid out back in November for the Revival of the California Republican Party.
The troglodyte wing of the party – the California Republican Assembly – withdrew its resolution to censure, denounce, expel and castrate any legislator who votes to put Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax extensions on the ballot. But as CRA president Celeste Greig herself noted – the point was made: this is a pup tent party.
And despite much drama and name-calling, the party adopted a rule for endorsements that essentially respects the top-two primary system until 2014, when they intend to run a vote-by-mail primary for Republicans. Of course, that was after state Sen. Sam Blakeslee (the only one of the five GOP senators who are negotiating with Brown to attend the convention) was verbally bitch-slapped at a Rules Committee meeting (of course he did accuse the other side on the endorsement issue of “thuggery”).
There was a lot of lip service from party leaders to “reaching out” to Latino voters, but not even a suggestion of moving toward creating a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants – the sine qua non for Mexican-Americans in California. The prevailing attitude at the convention seemed to be the Republicans lost every major statewide race and have been reduced to a strident minority because Republican candidates were too weak on conservative principles and besides, are people are lazy and stupid.
This was nicely summed up by Karen Klinger, a delegate from Sacramento, who declaimed, “We need Republicans with balls . . . People don’t know who their party is any more.” Voters don’t align with the GOP these days because “people automatically want to be subsidized . . . (but) Republicans stand for hard work.”
CRP members cheered John Bolton, the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, who said he is “considering” running for president and who, after calling President Obama’s foreign policy “pathetic,” said he’d have unilaterally attacked Libya.
They also were smitten with Fox News fake pollster Frank Luntz, who advised a party that is reviled by Latinos to reward immigrants who came here legally and punish those who came her illegally. Don’t ever vote for tax increases — ever — Luntz advised (contrary to those pinko former governors like Ronald Reagan and Pete Wilson.)
And they delighted in the message from Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour who demanded someone should explain to him “How do businesses thrive and hire when government is sucking up all the money?” (Pithy note on Gov. Barbour from GOP wiseman Allan Hoffenblum: “How likely is it that the governor of Mississippi is going to defeat the first black president of the United States?”)
Over and over, the Republicans talked about the “opportunities” they face but nowhere was there an attempt to address some of the, um, facts, provided to Calbuzz by troublemaker Bob Mulholland, the former political director of the California Democratic Party:
– There are 7,569,581 registered Democrats (44%) and 5,307,411 registered Republicans, (31%). This is the lowest GOP percentage in the history of California.
– Democrats hold 123 of the 187 partisan seats in California (66%).
– Democrats won all nine statewide races last November and now hold all 10 state offices (including both U.S. Senate seats). Since 1988, Democrats have won all five presidential races and all eight U.S. Senate races.
– President Obama won California by 24 points (61% to 37%) or by 3,262,692 votes.
– Democrats hold 34 of 53 House seats; 52 of 80 Assembly seats and 25 of 40 State Senate seats.
To this, we might note, there are also 3,507,119 DTS voters (Decline To State a party) (20%) – double the percentage from 1994. Polling and voting data find that these voters — by and large — think and act more like Democrats than Republicans on electoral issues most of the time.
It’s not as if ideas aren’t available to the GOP to maintain its principles but make itself less odious to Latinos and moderates. Consultant Patrick Dorinson, the former communications director for the party who calls himself the “cowboy libertarian,” for example, said “what scares these folks is that if all those immigrants become citizens, they’re going to vote (for Democrats).”
So, he suggested, the party could adopt a stand supporting the notion that any illegal immigrant who wants to vote as a citizen would have to go back to Mexico and come back legally, but those who just want to stay and work could become permanent legal residents, without the right to vote.
Delegate Michelle Connor of Solano, 33, had another idea: “If you go into the armed forces and you’re willing to die for your country, you should be able to become a citizen. Or if you graduate from college and pass your citizenship test.”
Right now, we suspect, the first response a lot of party Republicans would have to such ideas would be: “What would John and Ken say?”
Quiet conversations with several Republicans confirmed what GOP finance chairman Jeff Miller was saying: that donors “think the party is on the brink of irrelevance . . . They think the party focuses most of its time speaking to 30% of the state rather than the majority of the state . . . (donors are watching to see if) we’re going to continue to focus on eating our own, as opposed to focusing on electing more Republicans.”
Or as Dorinson put it: “Only a buzzard feeds on its friends.”
An accounting from our advancer:
1. As noted above, the cave people did not exactly win since they withdraw their resolution to rub out anyone who helps put a tax extension measure on the ballot. But if getting publicity for their tiny strike team of reactionaries was the goal, they triumphed handily.
2. The GOP 5 couldn’t be tarred and feathered because only one showed up and while he didn’t get the medieval treatment, he was accused of “selling us out on taxes” and made to understand that should he ever wander out of his district, the right wing will jump his ass.
3. Sutter Brown and Grover the Norquist did not make appearances but there was plenty of doggy doo and more than a few delegates stepped in it.
4. The Stalinistas failed to pass their plan to give a cadre of party purists the authority to anoint candidates in the top-two primary system — U.S. Rep Kevin McCarthy and others put the squeeze on to keep the party — as he said at Saturday night’s dinner — from bringing back the back room.
5. Comrade Jon “Josef” Fleischman, who was working the hallways, salons and bars like a cheap hooker, never bought one lousy drink for any reporter that we’re aware of, despite the fact that the news media have literally made his name a household word.
Other notes: Chairman Del Barraco, who is young and good looking, was literally mobbed by GOP women Saturday night at his reception where he signed baseballs. Why did he sign baseballs when he never played hardball? “It’s the team thing,” he told Calbuzz, which got its own autographed ball.
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