GOP 2018 Field Wide Open for an Outsider

Luke Phillips
Research Associate for the Center for Opportunity Urbanism and Senior Correspondent at Glimpse From the Globe

Article after article speculates on the looming 2018 gubernatorial race, listing prominent Californians who may seek the Governor’s Office once Jerry Brown moves on to better things. Gavin Newsom has announced. Antonio Villaraigosa has made his intentions clear. Eric Garcetti has nothing to lose. Alex Padilla, Tom Steyer, John Chiang, and Steve Westly also turn up in polls.

The common thread behind each of these articles? They either list only Democrats, or they list a token Republican or two and immediately dismiss them. In other words, the Californian media is fully expecting a coronation rather than an election, or at the very least a deathmatch between Democratic titans in which Republicans play a wholly insignificant role. This is one-party politics at it finest.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Theoretically, a well-spoken and cunning GOP gubernatorial candidate could point at the squabbling likes of Garcetti, Villaraigosa, and Newsom and seem statesmanlike and put-together in comparison. Why isn’t this happening?

The CAGOP remains a very sidelined minority party without charismatic leadership- that’s the main reason. Jim Brulte may well offer himself up; aside from him, the two names that keep cropping up are Ashley Swearingen and Kevin Faulconer. Neither mayor has anything like the name recognition of Villaraigosa or Newsom, though Faulconer has the unique quality of being a Republican mayor of a major city, San Diego. Other California Republican figures who might otherwise run are either ineligible- Schwarzenegger- or completely uninterested- Secretary Rice. Carson Bruno suggestedBruce Willis, who has expressed conservative opinions in public before. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Candidate Willis happened- but it won’t.

So no Republican titans, and at the very best, most likely a sacrificial lamb named either Faulconer or Swearingen, for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. Not much of interest there, though best of luck to either if they decide to pursue the office.

What about playing the Trump strategy- whirling up a populist campaign with some charismatic political outsider? (Except one who’s nicer to Hispanics and women.) It’s definitely possible for someone with no prior political experience to run in California- Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina, and Arnold Schwarzenegger are all testimony to that. What if the CAGOP can find a hidden gem of a speaker somewhere who, being outside of the California political elite, could strike a populist chord on the campaign trail?

There’s plenty of stuff for such a candidate to talk about, too. A poor business climate that privileges tech, finance, and entertainment, but doesn’t do much for mass-employment industries like manufacturing and energy, is still with us. Environmental regulations and green energy boondoggles continue to drive up electricity costs for working class Californians. Our infrastructure is crumbling. Major companies export their operations to other, milder tax climes, and they take their jobs with them. Yet the Brown regime remains content “fighting” climate change and allowing only for slow, incremental job growth.

A candidate from outside the political elite who preached a jobs agenda could do well, particularly if they brought innovative ideas to the problems of drought and stagnant wages. James P. Pinkerton apparently thinks it’s possible- a fanciful article of his refers to “the Republican victory in California’s 2018 gubernatorial election” and “the GOP sweep in Sacramento.” In Pinkerton’s political fanfiction, the GOP won over California’s working class with a pro-growth, pro-desalination, pro-energy exploitation agenda.

Is this at all likely?

I strongly doubt it. But it would be nice, and something new for a change. The way the campaign is currently shaping up, though, makes me think we’re more likely to remain a one-party state at least through this electoral cycle.

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