Circular Firing Squads — Fire, Aim, Ready

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

They have long been advocates of a strong military build-up, but today, Republicans in Washington and Sacramento appear to be embracing circular firing squads. Instead of guns, this firing squad is using finger pointing and tweets aimed at erstwhile allies.

President Trump’s attacks on fellow Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senator John McCain and even his own Attorney General, exemplify the disunity that has seized the national GOP, despite the party’s hold on the Presidency and both houses of Congress.

National Democrats have their own intra-party squabbles.  The Berniecrats are rejecting anything that smells of moderation and abortion rights has reemerged as a litmus test issue.

In California, what’s left of the Republican Party is split over climate change.  Assembly Republican Leader Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley) is under attack in his own caucus for supporting Governor Jerry Brown’s cap and trade legislation. It remains to be seen whether Assemblyman Mayes, a well-credentialed conservative, will continue to hang on to his leadership post. But the challenge to his leadership is more threatening than that to McConnell’s or than the threat of recall to Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon.

The challenge to McConnell is coming largely from outside the legislative institution—even if it’s from the GOP incumbent in the White House.

Mayes’ challenge is coming from within his own caucus—the ultimate decider of a legislative leader’s fate. Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez is seeking to oust Mayes. If the Mayes situation seems familiar, it harkens back to the days when a two-thirds vote was required for passage of the State Budget.   The “Big Five” (Governor, Assembly Speaker, Senate President pro Tem and Republican Assembly and Senate leaders)  would engage in protracted negotiations that eventually resulted in a Budget deal.   Hardliners in both GOP caucuses would then routinely oust their leaders and choose a new victim for the next Budget cycle.

And Rendon? His recall is being launched by single-payer healthcare activists, angered by Rendon’s blocking SB 562 from Assembly consideration.  SB 562 was passed by the State Senate as a work in progress and punted to the Assembly. Rendon put the brakes on SB 562 and turned it into a two-year bill—sparking the ire of the California Nurses Association and other militant advocates of “single payer now.

Rendon doesn’t necessarily oppose single payer, but is concerned about issues like where the money is going to come from to pay for it, what kind of cooperation or sabotage could be expected from the Trump Administration and how the complex system would work in real life.  He’s protecting his caucus members from having to cast a politically risky vote before the 2018 elections (Republicans are looking to use the “single-payer” issue as an example of the leftward, “socialist” tilt of the Democratic Party, both nationally and statewide).

In payment for his statesmanship, Speaker Rendon has faced death threats and a recall attempt in his own district.  It is hard to believe the recall effort poses a serious threat, but it does show that the left wing of the Democratic Party is not in a mood to compromise.

However, SB 562 is not supported by many unions, establishment pols and other Democratic constituencies. And in 2016, Rendon garnered roughly 78% of the vote in both his district’s primary and general elections. It may be difficult to topple him at the ballot box, by a challenge in his home district, or,  despite the grumbling of “progressives”, in the Assembly Democratic caucus.

California Democrats are engaging in intraparty warfare not only over a single payer health care proposal but, of all things, over the chairmanship of the State Party

The bitter fight over the chairmanship of the Democratic State Central Committee pits the California Nurses Association and assorted Berniecrats against party regulars and elected officials.  Eric Bauman, longtime Los Angeles County Democratic Chairman, eked out a narrow victory over insurgent Kimberly Ellis at the party’s State convention in May.  The Ellis campaign is still contesting the results, charging election rigging, voting irregularities, and an “inherently biased [review] process.”.  The irony is, of course, that the prize is of dubious value.  In California, a candidate driven state, the political party operations play a supporting role.  California’s two major parties basically serve as money laundering mechanisms for candidates, whose contribution limits are lower.

As has been said of academic politics, intra-party politics are so vicious because the stakes are so small. Except that they’re not, if nasty internecine warfare in either party—or both—threatens legislative agendas and electoral blowback against the party and its candidates next year.

Share this article: Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Comment on this article


Please note, statements and opinions expressed on the Fox&Hounds Blog are solely those of their respective authors and may not represent the views of Fox&Hounds Daily or its employees thereof. Fox&Hounds Daily is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the site's bloggers.