SB 27 signed yesterday by Gov. Gavin Newsom requiring the release of five years of tax returns for any candidate wanting to run in California’s primaries for president or governor exists because of President Trump. While Trump is the target of obvious political harassment by California’s Democrats, could non-Trump Republicans see an opportunity to also cause pain to the president by attempting to grab a hoard of national convention delegates? Political mischief is now possible on both the left and right.

It probably never comes to that because the law will be challenged on constitutional grounds as violating the federal constitution’s qualifications to become president.  But think of the chaos it could create if the law stands. 

Former Gov. Jerry Brown cited the potential constitutional problem when he vetoed a similar bill. 

Brown went beyond the constitutional question arguing that the tax return requirement would lead to the proverbial slippery slope where other requirements would interfere with the election process.  

Brown wrote in his veto message, “Today we require tax returns, but what would be next? Five years of health records? A certified birth certificate? High school report cards? And will these requirements vary depending on which political party is in power?” 

Yet, if another state—there is talk of Illinois, for example—follows California’s lead, it is possible some lower court could rubber stamp the law delaying its final outcome. Under the new law, tax returns must be delivered by late November for a candidate to get a place on the March ballot 

Despite the potential long term problems or the short term court issue, how many anti-Trump Republicans see the law as an opportunity to redirect the party and take on the president in what would be a highly media covered primary if Trump is not on the ballot? 

The state provides 172 delegates to the Republican national convention. That’s 14% of the total delegates needed to win the Republican presidential nomination. Certainly, a Republican rebel would not get all 172 delegates because some party officials automatically become delegates.

But a large portion of delegates going to someone other than the sitting president would show that the Democrats are not the only party that is trying to hold together against the forces of present-day ideological clashes. 

Trump can avert the effort to keep him off the ballot if the court doesn’t interfere by running a write-in campaign. His recent approval among Republicans in this week’s PPIC poll is a healthy 82%. But why spend the money to support such an effort?

 As an incumbent with control of the party, Trump won’t need California delegates to be nominated.

Yet, the possibility for making a statement about the direction of the party under Trump may now exist. Who on the Republican side will see this as an opportunity? Former Massachusetts governor William Weld is already running for president as a Republican. He could set up shop here and New Hampshire where he is known because of Boston news coverage. The Granite State voters traditionally favor candidates from the neighboring state. It’s unlikely a person who wants a future run at the office will challenge the incumbent. But given Trump’s unfavorable ratings, it is not hard to imagine. Incumbent presidents have faced intra-party challenges before. 

More importantly, the problem with this bill is long term consequences. Jerry Brown made a wiser, sensible choice to veto the bill then Gavin Newsom’s politically driven decision to sign it. 

It is now up to the courts to push back on this blatant political move.