It’s All About Trump

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

What, on paper, should look like a lackluster midterm election in California is turning into a donnybrook that is engaging not only political junkies but the rest of us. Credit, of course, goes to Donald Trump.

In ordinary times, this election would be pretty ho-hum in the Golden State. The top races for Governor and U.S. Senate lack suspense and those statewide races that are close—Lieutenant Governor, Superintendent of Public Instruction and Insurance Commissioner—are pretty much under the radar for most voters. Efforts to excite their bases through the initiative process—Proposition 6 for Republicans and Proposition 10 for progressive Democrats—have pretty much fizzled, as both measures appear headed for defeat. This year, however, election day in California seems to have generated widespread interest and most signs point to a robust turn-out for a non-presidential year.

The Donald Trump show has become an ongoing melodrama that has fixated fans and critics alike. Trump’s candidacy and his presidency bring to mind OJ Simpson’s slow speed chase—you just can’t turn your eyes away. Counting even the House “flip” elections in 1994, 2006 and 2010, the fight for control of Congress has not loomed larger. Will the results be a check on Trump or a validation of Trumpism that will spur him to deliver more of the same?

Most of the Golden State’s political energy is focused on the 7 to 10 competitive, Republican-held Congressional districts; flipping them could take Democrats a long way toward regaining the majority in the House of Representatives. These tight, high-spending and nasty general election fights are not business as usual for the California House delegation; overall, it’s been a model of stability for decades—with incumbents routinely being re-elected. For example, in 2016, no California House seat changed parties, even as Republican registration cratered in favor of No Party Preference voters and Hillary Clinton carried the state by 4 million votes. This year is different, thanks to the President.

This just in! Donald Trump doesn’t like California and the feeling is mutual.

The Trump Administration has worked to negate California’s environmental standards, water policy and conservation efforts. The State and the Trump Administration are constantly in court and the battle over immigration and the treatment of immigrants couldn’t be more intense. Trump trade policies hit California hard and the Administration tax bill penalized Californians by limiting the deductions for state and local taxes. Trump’s brand of “nationalism” doesn’t go down well on a state that has thrived on its diversity.

Even before his entry into politics, Donald Trump had his problems with California. Real estate developer Trump wanted to build the world’s tallest building on the site of the legendary (some would say infamous) Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles; his grandiose plans came to naught when he lost out to the Los Angeles Unified School District, which has since built The Robert F. Kennedy (RFK) Community Schools, a complex of public schools, there. The vaunted dealmaker’s getting beaten by the LAUSD is like the Yankees being defeated by a college’s junior varsity ball team. Trump did acquire a golf club in Rancho Palos Verdes, a suburb of L.A.; but it has hardly been a roaring success.

Typically, most Californians aren’t tuned in to electoral politics, but they are this year. The House races have caught people’s attention, especially in battleground districts like those in Orange County. In the Golden State, as nationally, this election has the earmarks of a referendum on Donald Trump and “Trumpism.” It is impossible to measure voter participation—or preference–until all the absentee and provisional ballots, along with those cast on election day, are counted, but most signs point to a seldom-seen Gold Rush of California voters.

EUREKA!

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