California Republicans do a much better job of displaying unity around their candidates than their counterparts.
It is at least one reason why, even in this bluest of states, a few have broken thorough to claim the governorship and a couple of them rode the Golden State wave right into the presidency.
Ronald Reagan was a benefactor able to squelch stiff opposition to his candidacy from those on the far right. Richard Nixon prevailed eight years after his initial defeat by John F. Kennedy trouncing the liberal forces that propelled George McGovern, a controversial nominee, to a landslide defeat.
Democrats have a much different tradition of splintering over issues and causes about which they feel passionate that often prevents them from walking in lockstep.
Such openness to clashing points of view is a party trademark that can lead to unintended consequences. The ideological rupture between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders voters remains to this day and still runs deep.
These schisms are becoming especially apparent as we approach the presidential debates.
The big question to which every candidate on stage will be held answerable is whether impeachment proceeding should begin immediately or deferred for now as House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is cautioning.
A growing number of House Democrats—72 at last count including 15 Californians— are challenging Pelosi’s “go-slow.” approach and calling for the impeachment inquiry process to begin immediately.
The majority of the Californians are from so-called “safe” districts although a loss of 35 seats could flip the House back to GOP control—something on the Speaker’s mind all the time.
Orange County delivered seven of the new Democrat members in a stunning sweep for this long-reliable GOP stronghold.
One winner—Rep. Katie Porter (CA-45th)– has now broken ranks with the leadership in favor of starting “the impeachment process.”
Rep. Harley Rouda, from a neighboring district who ousted 15-term GOP conservative, Dana Rohrabacher, has also gone on record saying that if the Trump Administration continues to resist congressional subpoenas to provide testimony on White House dealings he will join Porter.
Porter beat her GOP opponent, incumbent Mimi Walters, by a razor-thin 4 points which makes this a highly competitive district.
“I didn’t come to Congress to impeach the president,” said Porter. “But when faced with a crisis of this magnitude, I cannot with a clean conscience ignore my duty to defend the Constitution.”
Continuing she said, “I can’t be committed to rooting out corruption and putting people over politics and then not apply those same principles and standards in all the work I do.”
Porter will not be on stage for the debates. Call it heroism or plain skepticism, she poses a litmus test which all the presidential wan-a-bees will have to face. Their answers and the conviction with which they are expressed could have both short and long-term implications for their candidacies.
One of them is California’s junior Senator, Kamala Harris, who surged early in the polls and has left little doubt that she favors the beginning of impeachment proceedings even knowing that not a single one of her Republican Senatorial colleagues has signaled any interest in taking that step.
Dianne Feinstein, California’s senior senator has not yet chosen to join the impeachment advocates preferring to first take a deeper look at the Mueller report and declaring it “vital that Mueller appear” first before the Judiciary Committee on which she is the ranking member.
Harris will be facing off against the former Vice President, Joe Biden, the top-polling candidate at this juncture, who enjoys a strong following in California and will be competing for the critical middle-class voters.
Biden continues to back Pelosi’s stance but now says “impeachment may be unavoidable.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders, another tireless challenger who practically took up residence here in 2016 and labels himself a Democratic Socialist has generally given short shrift to the need for party unity. He will also be in the spot light once again.
As to the impeachment process, Sanders says “it may be time.”
Harris, along with Sen. Elizabeth Warren who is slated to appear on the first night’s debate will both be looking for ways to blunt Sanders considerable populist appeal.
Now throw into this stew the overnight sensation so far in this election season, the earnest, genial and remarkably poised 37 year old Pete Buttigieg, Mayor of South Bend, Indiana who draws parallels to the young JFK and you have the makings of a volatile mix.
And that still leaves at least a dozen other contenders who are scheduling multiple trips to California to meet with deep pocket funders renowned for their generosity.
In her appearance at the DNC’s convention held earlier this month in San Francisco, Warren arguably drew rave reviews along with Harris albeit from the preponderant group of Democratic activists who typically attend these gatherings.
Their significance might be best measured in the comfortable margin by which Feinstein—an unapologetic centrist and for decades the state’s most popular Democrat—ousted her Progressive opponent to win a historic 5th full term notwithstanding a failure to secure her party’s endorsement.
Biden springs from the same tradition as Feinstein which favors quiet persuasion over ideological appeals—an elder statesman who has managed to age gracefully with the easy-going manner and vast knowledge of government that made him the perfect running mate for Barack Obama.
But that was at an earlier time before the emergence of Donald Trump threw Congress and the nation into upheaval rendering party discipline for Democrats and any hope of inter-party reconciliation a near impossibility.
Californians responded by fielding Democrats who were able to oust Trump acolytes on bread-and-butter issues which Pelosi is convinced will be a key to victory once again in 2020.
Rep. Porter is saying that there is a time when political ambition and party unity may have to take second seats to individual conscience and for her that time arrived.
Despite her courageous stance, the vast majority of her House colleagues have yet to commit on the subject of impeachment which fence sitters see as an omen to be taken seriously.
If a single member of the California GOP delegation were to break ranks with the leadership that would get headlines. Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan is so far the lone GOP House member willing to take that risk.
As emotional temperatures continue to rise Californians are showing signs of beginning to take sides. The debates will not bring the state’s querulous Democrats closer together and may only widen the divides.
Few of them are likely to make up their minds based on a single debate. But they will have a surfeit of choices and that is both the party’s blessing and its predicament.
Republicans in 2016 had a similar opportunity and chose someone who thumbed his nose at his party, now owns it, and even in the face of possible impeachment has, defying credulity, positioned the Democrats as the potential underdogs if a strategy to recapture the White House backfires.
Still, the only votes that have any real meaning for the general populace will be those cast on election day which though only 14 months away can be a lifetime in politics.
Whether or not this president is by then impeached, and whether or not a majority of California’s representatives is ready to call for proceedings now or ever, each lawmaker is ultimately accountable to his or her own conscience. And it will be one of the most momentous decisions they are ever called upon to make.