The collapse of the California Republican Party has obscured just how weak the California Democratic Party is.
That weakness was evident from news reports about the party’s state convention, and efforts by party leaders and elected officials to freeze out those with contrary views on key issues, particularly on education.
The news focused attention on the power of the teachers’ unions and other labor organizations in the party. But such isolation of those with different ideas is important because of what it tells us about the party.
And what it tells us is that the party is weak and feeling insecure.
That may be hard to believe, given that Democrats control all statewide offices and have achieved supermajorities in the legislature. But those victories are much more of a reflection of how unpopular the Republican brand is nationally, and how out of touch Republican ideas are with realities. Democrats are the alternative party, and the party’s views on issues are close to big majorities of Californians.
But that issue alignment – and the vote for Democrats – obscures the fact that the party itself, as an organization, is weak.
It’s worth remembering that the Democrats are a minority party in California, literally. Fewer than half of voters are registered with the party. The growth among voters is among those without an affiliation.
And the Democrats, no less than the Republicans, suffers an organization because California’s 100 Years War Against Partisanship has produced “reform” after “reform” that weakens parties (without weakening the partisanship in voting). Parties in this state are relatively weak organizations with strong brands that they attach to candidates.
The wise way to deal with this reality would be for the party to seek out new members and try to bring more people in at the local level. There have been some attempts at that, but nothing on the order of what’s needed. But that work hasn’t been nearly as high profile as efforts to enforce party discipline and declare that people who hold contrary views aren’t “real” Democrats.
This, of course, is the same strategy that California Republicans have pursued. Look where it’s got them. When you’re a party, you should want to get bigger. California’s parties are having trouble with the concept.
It would be great if the weakening of one party would strengthen the other. But in California, the parties are weakening together.