TRUMPIFORNIA, Here They Come

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

The Republican State Central Committee convened in Anaheim last weekend and gave every appearance of settling into a long-term tenure as a minor party in California.  The lack of enthusiasm among the GOP rank-and-file for Republican party prospects in the Golden State was palpable.

Although Donald Trump was trounced in California by Hillary Clinton, the GOP crowd appears to have fully embraced the President and Trumpism.  Moderate dissenters either kept their mouths shut or stayed away. Veteran State Chairman Jim Brulte did his best to channel the new speak of Trump’s GOP. Brulte, the former California State Senate GOP Leader, hailed Friday’s keynote speaker, Steve Bannon, as “a leading voice in the effort to drain the swamp in Washington DC” and California’s “own swamp in Sacramento that also needs draining.”

Provocateur Bannon, self-styled as Trump’s “wingman outside,” took no prisoners—dissing former President George W.  Bush and Senator John McCain, among others.  Mentions of Bush and McCain, traditional GOP heroes at previous conventions, were met with boos and worse this time around.

The only real 2018 electoral priority for Republicans appears to be re-electing the seven to nine GOP members of the state’s congressional delegation who have been targeted by national Democrats.  Eroding the Democrats’ supermajorities in the state legislature seemed an after-thought.

Not surprisingly, Washington’s plea was voiced most vociferously by Congressman Kevin McCarthy—the GOP Majority Leader in Congress.  Of the targeted Congressional members, none were in evidence at the convention–except Congresswoman Mimi Walters (R-Irvine), who showed up the day after Bannon’s revival meeting to introduce McCarthy. Not one of the other three “vulnerable” Republican Congressmembers who represent Orange County districts was visible around the convention hall.

With a wide-open race to elect a successor to Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, you would think that the gubernatorial contest would be the hot topic; but neither conservative Assemblyman Travis Allen nor businessman John Cox appeared to be creating much excitement. Nor was there evidence of a serious Republican challenger to take on U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein.  There seems to be little pushback on the likelihood that both the 2018 gubernatorial and U.S. Senate contests will feature Democrat against Democrat runoffs.  This from a convention whose main theme was “Electing Republicans in a Blue State.”

Sure, Republicans freely refer to California as a “blue state;” but delegates appeared to give no more than lip service to turning that around.  What seemed to generate the most interest in the run-up to 2018 is an initiative to repeal the newly passed gas tax increase to fund transportation maintenance and improvements—a stance that will put the party at odds with their business community allies, who have fought hard for upgrading the state’s infrastructure.

At the convention, California was mainly portrayed as the enemy.  McCarthy defended the GOP proposal to eliminate the federal deduction of state and local taxes–which can hit high-tax states like California hard– on the grounds that it would make Sacramento more responsible. Bannon’s attack on the “ascendant economy” (i.e. the Silicon Valley and Hollywood) characterized California’s economic vitality as a sin and predicted that the State would eventually try to secede.  He and Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton lambasted the “sanctuary state.”

In many ways, this convention reflected the “Trumping” of the Republican Party.  Convention delegates this year seemed to be younger and even less diverse than in the past.  Older party stalwarts may be drifting away.  Much of the electricity in Anaheim seemed to revolve around a heated contest for the heart and soul of California College Republicans—an exercise that would make Democrats proud. And one that resulted in a win for the “Trumpifornian” wing of the CAGOP.

It has been more than a decade since a Republican has won a statewide election in California and the party has been shedding registered voters for years.  Democrats now hold an almost twenty percent registration edge over Republicans in the Golden State and are firmly in control of the Legislature and the Congressional delegation. Those registering as “No Party Preference” are on a trajectory to overtake the Republicans’ share of registered voters in the not too distant future.  In California, “No Party Preference” voters lean toward Democratic candidates on Election Day

Yes, the Golden State GOP needs a new direction–but following the road to “Trumpifornia” may lead to nowhere.

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