New California Republicans

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer called for a “New California Republican Party” during his speech at the Commonwealth Club last week. He said, “It’s time to offer California a GOP with broad appeal again – because a vibrant, competitive Republican Party is good for our state.” Meanwhile, Assembly Minority leader Chad Mayes, holding off a coup to remove him from his leadership post, came at the same message from a different direction. He told reporters, “The party hasn’t done a good job of converting folks. In fact, we’ve done a good job of repelling individuals.”

Do Republicans, especially Republican activists, want to hear this message?

Skeptics abound. The state party has taken an official position to have Mayes removed from his leadership post. While Republican voters have certainly changed over the last couple of decades on certain issues are they ready in large numbers to accept Faulconer’s platform: embracing freedom of sexual orientation; stand with immigrants, get smarter about border security and improve relations with Mexico; and be strong on the environment. “News flash,” he told members of the Commonwealth Club, “Republicans care about our environment too. I’ve been making this controversial statement for years and haven’t been struck by lightning yet.”

Mayes also argued that refashioning the Republican message on the environment would lead to a more competitive party. In a slide show presentation he offered in defense of his support for the cap-and-trade extension, Mayes pointed to polling that indicated that California Republicans are split on the question of stopping global warming even if it costs some economic growth. More importantly, he noted that all the segments of the population that Republicans need to attract to become a majority party overwhelmingly support the notion.

Mayes cited polling that said Republicans considered leaving the party over its environmental/climate change position.

Critics of Mayes’ approach argue that he is not molding a new Republican Party but a party that is “Democratic Lite.” There would be little to distinguish between the parties if this path is followed, the critics claim. Indeed, many Republican activists believe that if the party only makes bold its colors, makes a clear distinction from the Democrats, the Republicans would come back to power.

Mayes rejoinder is that Republicans have tried the bullhorn method of bellowing stark differences with Democrats and it has gotten them nowhere.

His message over cap-and-trade, and his argument to keep his job echoes that of one of Mayes’ chief supporters on the Republican side, former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who once warned Republicans were “dying at the box office.”

Both Faulconer and Mayes make similar arguments that Republicans must forge policies that reach out to nontraditional Republican groups.

So, will this nascent cry to remodel the Republican Party—a New California Republican Party—gain traction or simply be a cry in the wilderness?

Mayes is in jeopardy of losing his leadership post. In fact, Jon Fleischman at FlashReport writes that a number of sources indicate Mayes is ready to give up the fight and not stand for the leadership post when the Republican Assembly Caucus votes on that position next week. Does Mayes see the handwriting on the wall that the position is lost or has he decided that being assembly minority leader does not come with a large enough megaphone to lead the Republican Party in a new direction?

The way to measure support for new ideas is to raise your flag and see who follows.

Faulconer’s call for a New Republican Party has generated a fresh interest in the San Diego mayor running for a higher office—preferably governor. Faulconer continues to say no. Will he change his mind? The Commonwealth Club address had all the trappings of a campaign speech.

There are few Republicans with name recognition who have proclaimed for statewide office. Has Mayes decided he must direct his message through a different platform–might he jump into a statewide race—even governor?

The long knives would be out for him from party activists if he made that choice. On the other hand, what will the major business organizations and major GOP donors do since many supported Mayes’ position on cap-and-trade and hope to re-energize the Republican Party. Dare they stand in the way of activists who reject Mayes’ politics?

Republican business leaders and donors have been split on the party’s stance as much as its elected officials, with some adhering to immutable Republican principles that must not be crossed and others who argue a pragmatic stance on some issues will move the party out of the doghouse in California. It is noteworthy that the demand that Mayes  give up his leadership post came from only half of the GOP county committees.

An internecine war would tear the party apart. Which in itself might produce a New California Republican Party—but what would that new party look like?

UPDATE: Mayes to step down as Republican leader. Story here.

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