GOP Pulse Detected

Sherry Bebitch Jeffe & Doug Jeffe

Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, Professor of the Practice of Public Policy Communication, Sol Price School of Public Policy and Doug Jeffe, Communications and Public Affairs Strategist


News Flash: The California Republican Party appears to have a pulse. From all appearances, “Dr.” Brulte seems to be weaning the state’s GOP off life support.

Despite the party’s anemic scorecard in the last election, there was a new tone and heightened energy in the air at last weekend’s Republican convention in Sacramento. To paraphrase Monty Python, the CAGOP is “not dead yet.”

Even though Republicans lost every statewide office in the last election and appear nowhere near fielding a top tier candidate for Barbara Boxer’s open U.S. Senate seat, GOP State Chair Jim Brulte, and his cohorts touted the gain of enough Assembly and Senate seats in 2014 to hold Democrats under the two-thirds supermajority in the legislature. (These days, it doesn’t take much good news to bolster GOP hopes.)

Brulte, the former California Senate Republican Leader, was a man in motion—presiding over meetings, schmoozing with the media and orchestrating the convention behind the scenes.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie gave the keynote address–a standard out-of-town stump speech—to a fairly subdued luncheon audience and newly elected Congresswoman Mia Love—an African American Republican from Utah—gave a rousing dinner speech that ignited the crowd. But Brulte, reelected party chairman without opposition, was clearly the star of the show.

The big news out of the confab was the Party’s granting the Log Cabin Club recognition as an official state GOP organization–over vocal opposition from hard right delegates, who wanted no part of the gay Republican group.

Before the vote, Brulte roamed the convention venue wearing a California Tea Party Caucus button—a gesture he said illustrated his big tent philosophy where “everybody’s welcome.” The message wasn’t lost on most delegates, and the hard-core conservatives took a big hit when the convention voted 861-293, to invite the Log Cabin Club into Brulte’s tent.

Beyond grappling with the broad issue of gay representation, the convention stressed the “small ball” theories espoused by Brulte, with emphasis on grass roots mobilization, electing local officeholders, etc.

GOP gains among Asian-American voters and the election of Republican Asian-American candidates were highlighted.

The average age of the delegates appeared to be lower than in past conventions and business attire far outnumbered the spangled, patriotic costumes that were more evident at past GOP conclaves.

None of this should obscure the harsh reality that the Republican Party has hit bottom in California. Democrats continue to hold a 14 point registration advantage over the GOP. No Party Preference voters—who tend to mirror Democratic voting patterns—are poised to overtake the Republicans in registration.

In California, the party brand is badly tainted by Republican Congressional antics and the GOP presidential contenders don’t look like any one of them would have a prayer in the Golden State.

Dr. Brulte may have stabilized the patient, but it remains to be seen whether a full recovery is possible.

In the meantime, John Boehner and his colleagues in Congress, who’ve been struggling to keep their GOP troops in line, could take some political pointers from Jim Brulte. And Napoleon Bonaparte. Bonaparte defined a leader as “a dealer in hope.” That’s the role Brulte has chosen to resuscitate California’s Republican Party and that John Boehner has abandoned as his victorious Congressional coalition appears to be flat-lining.

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