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The Tough Job Facing Jim Brulte as GOP Party Chair

Tony Quinn
Political Analyst

So Jim Brulte wants to be Republican Party chair to rebuild the party.  To me, restoring the Republican Party seems nearly impossible in California, unless they were willing to swallow really stiff medicine and I’m not sure they are.

But if they are, here’s what would need to be done, starting with their biggest problem:

  • Admit that the reason Latinos detest Republicans is that they fear them.  Republican xenophobia that dates from Gov. Pete Wilson sends a message to Latino citizens that Republicans want to take away their rights, and their only defense is to come out in droves at election time and vote to defeat any and all Republicans.  Unfortunately, the anti-immigrant phobia is deeply ingrained in the Republican electorate that is old and white and resentful of the cultural changes immigrants have brought to California.  I have no idea what to do about this, but it leads to the next point.
  • Acknowledge that Republicans have not hit bottom yet.  The real Republican registration is not 29 percent, it is somewhere around 23 percent when you ask party identification.  They are extremely lucky to have 25 Assembly members now; with a little money in 2014 (and no change in Republican attitudes) Assemblymen Mike Morrell (R-San Bernardino) Eric Linder (R-Riverside) and Jeff Gorrell (R-Ventura) will probably lose because their districts will have more Latinos and less white voters in two years, and there will be more Latinos and less white voters in other safe GOP districts as the decade progresses.  I would not be surprised to see only 15 to 18 GOP Assembly members and six to eight senators by the end of this decade.

Two more steps that are difficult but important.

  • Stop letting the Baby Grover Norquists lead them around by the nose.  The rigid anti-taxers have no ideas beyond “no new taxes”; nothing about using tax policy to spur growth, strengthen the economy or improve people’s lives.  They prevented Republican legislators from putting Jerry Brown tax extension on a 2011 special election ballot, where it would have lost.  Instead Brown came up with a much more popular plan for November 2012 which he used to help turnout the youth vote that cost Republicans up and down the state.  The rigid anti-taxers are no longer relevant in California; it is time for them to go.
  • Officially adopt a libertarian platform on abortion, gay rights, and the social issues.  They are all losers, and any Republican recovery requires getting them off the table.

So can anything be done?  Well, there are a few things.  The most interesting election statistic to me was not the huge Latino turnout that Republican and business pollsters, and this author, totally missed. The big surprise was the lousy turnout among white working class voters.  Glen Bolger of Public Opinion Strategies, a good polling firm, noted that when asked which candidate President Obama or Mitt Romney, “cares about people like me” Obama won by 81 to 18 percent.  He also noted that white voters were only 72 percent of the electorate this year against 77 percent in 2004.

This was also apparent in California.  Turnout was only 72 percent, seven percent less than in 2008, so theoretically Republicans should have done better than they did in 2008, not much worse as they did.  But that drop in voters was alienated white working class voters who reject the extreme social liberalism and wealth distribution policies of the Democrats but find nothing attractive in Republicans.  In California they see neither party as “caring about me.” They certainly did not buy the Republican argument that taxes should not go up on rich people nor the Democratic one that Sacramento’s problem is not enough tax dollars.  So they stayed home.

A good example is Fresno and Orange counties, supposedly conservative bastions, but where the turnout was just 63 and 67 percent, against wealthy liberal Marin County where turnout was 87 percent and heavily minority Alameda County where it was 74 percent.

There are ways to communicate and bring these voters into the GOP fold.  A coming battle is over the “split roll” property tax that liberals salivate for and polls now show to be popular.  That will go before the people in the not too distant future because Democrats believe the people are ready to increase taxes on commercial property and big business, and indeed they may be.  If Republicans in opposition just whine “no new taxes” and say nothing else they will lose.  However, this could be an opportunity to expand their base.  If they approach the shopkeeper and small business owner, of which huge numbers are Latino and Asian, with an argument that this will impose a huge new burden on you with no offsetting benefits, they can win over moderate and fiscally conservative Californians who now find nothing attractive in either party.

But before they can articulate a positive and sophisticated message, they will need to go through a painful purging of their xenophobia, and their denial of the realities of the new California, and that will not be easy.

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