Time for rethinking, not rebranding

James Lacy
Co-founder and managing partner of Wewer & Lacy, LLP

The California Republican Party suffers from deep hubris on issues that
matter to Latino voters, the largest emerging voter block in the state, a
"branding" issue so unfortunate that the state GOP has become essentially a
"permanent super minority party" as a result of the last election.
Moderates and conservatives may have to wait a generation to have their
policy interests dominant in the state again. California’s financial crisis
can’t wait that long to be fixed. The time has come to start a discussion
about establishing a new, companion right-of-center party in this state that
can appeal to a majority of voters and which focuses on the core freedom
issues of lower taxes, less government spending, and less government
regulation in our lives. Especially if Proposition 14 is upheld in the
courts, and an open primary is instituted, the time might be ripe for
moderates and conservatives in California state politics to just start over
with something intelligent, new and attractive to a majority of voters.

After the 2008 election defeats for Republicans across the nation, the
watchword among GOP political operatives and major donors became
"rebranding". In political planning meetings I attended from New York to
California during 2009, it was impossible to not hear the word "rebranding"
at some point in the conversation.

What "rebranding" actually meant however was somewhat elusive. It surely
did not mean that John McCain should continue to lead the national party, as
the very idea behind "rebranding" was to focus on voter groups lost to the
GOP in the 2008 Presidential election semi-disaster. Conservatives
generally thought rebranding meant going back to the basic anti-tax,
anti-spending philosophy coupled with political single interest coalitions
that helped place Ronald Reagan in the White House. Tea Party activists
gave some encouragement. But others generally thought it meant making the
Party more appealing to swing voters in affinity or minority groups, such as
women, youth, and Latino voters. Agreement was usually reached that to win
elections and keep faith with voters, the GOP needed to be firmer in it’s
commitment to tax reduction and spending restraint, it’s "coin-of-the-realm"
issues. But something hard for many GOP elected officials with Bush era
tax-and-spend records to pull off, made a tougher task in a post-TARP era.

The rebranding worked on a national basis in 2010, with a historic pick-up
of 61 seats and control of the House, and wins in key Senate seats.

But it surely failed in California. In fact, the California GOP not only
failed to rebranding itself, it reinforced already existing negative voter
attitudes of Republicanism among key swing voting groups by losing every
single statewide partisan election in the state, and even reducing influence
in the Legislature.

How did it happen? 70% of Latino voters rejected the state GOP candidates,
that’s how it happened. And Latinos account for 21% of registered voters in
California and that number is growing exponentially. The background to this
poor showing may have started with Proposition 187 years ago, which sadly
became a safe haven for some prominent liberal Republicans to establish
allegedly appealing conservative credentials where their other policies were
spotty. It was surely not aided by failed immigration policies leading to
the advent of politically active Minutemen patrolling the border. While the
rise of the Tea Party rallies gave us some encouragement, the self-serving
partial hijacking of that movement in southern California by some talk radio
personalities proved only that while commercial radio show can help build
attendance at a Tea Party rally, the quest for drive-time ratings also lead
to squandering the result on repeatedly losing efforts to defeat or recall
Republican candidates, even excellent ones like Assemblyman Jeff Miller, and
undermine the urgent political goal: building a lasting majority of
California voters for conservative policies.

Looking at the situation today, after the November 2010 election results in
California, it is not a stretch to say it may take a generation for the
statewide GOP to recover, if it can. In the face of the national trend,
some moderates and conservatives in the California GOP may even be asking
themselves that if the brand is so broken, maybe it isn’t worth fixing,
maybe it isn’t worth the time, and something new needs to be tried to be
successful, especially with the growing importance of Latino voters to
election outcomes.

Registration in California for the Republican Party has hit new lows. Even
accounting for general population growth, in the last twenty years the
Republican party in this state has not grown at all.

The Latino voting block should not be allowed to become a monolithic and
reliable part of the liberal Democrat’s source of power in our state. If it
does become such, we will never solve our state’s tax and spending problems.
On an issue basis, Latino voters should be supportive of many aspects of the
GOP’s professed platform, especially among the many small business owners in
the Latino community. Coupling these natural convergences of policy and
interests with voters sharing the Reagan freedom philosophy is a route to
long term victory statewide. But it isn’t going to happen anytime soon if
the California GOP is the vehicle, according to voting results and according
to opinion polls. This is not just my opinion, it is what the people really
think in our state. It is fact.

As a life-long politically active Republican, I would surely like to see the
GOP succeed. But California now presents special, intractable issues. I
have some respect for the organizers of the Conservative Party of New York,
a party with Reagan/Buckley roots that works closely with Republican
candidates when they are the right candidates. In California, a new party
free of the hubris of the California state GOP, focused on solving the
immigration issues, and at the same time offering welcome to Latino voters,
that could meld center-right opinion in favor of spending reforms, tax cuts,
and regulatory reform, that was pro-business, pro-growth, and pro-people,
that keys on the issues that unite a majority of California voters, not
divides them, is something that might better advance core Republican
principles than even the Party itself. I am not planning on leaving the GOP
anytime soon as my party, however, I think we surely ought to be looking to
all options to recover from our recent election defeats, and this idea is
one that surely deserves some discussion.

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.