Trump and the California GOP

John J. Pitney, Jr.
Professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and coauthor of American Government and Politics: Deliberation

There are two scenarios under which Donald Trump’s performance in the 2020 election could hurt the California Republican Party.  The first is that he loses.  The second is that he wins.

Even as he got a modest electoral college majority in 2016, he did so poorly here that California alone accounted for Hillary Clinton’s plurality in the national popular vote.  If he loses nationally this year, that outcome will probably stem from intense mobilization of voters who think that the country has spun out of control.  That effect would be magnified in this state. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, his approval rating is 33 percent among likely voters – even worse than his national number, which is saying something. A blue tsunami would drown Republican hopes of picking up a race here and there, driving them deeper into the minority.

Though current polls don’t show it, there is an outside chance that Trump could squeak through the electoral college again.  National conditions could change, and as early as his 1988 campaign, Joe Biden showed that he could make colossal mistakes.  In this case, Republicans might do a little better in California — but not by much.  They’ve been sliding for decades, and as of this year, they were down to just 24 percent of registered voters.

In the longer run, they’d probably be worse off if Trump won.  Presidents seldom fare well by their sixth year in office, and 2022 is already shaping up as a bad year for those in power.  The current economic crisis has now locked in years of trouble for budgets at all levels of government.  It has also hastened the day of reckoning for Social Security and public pensions.  With Trump still in the White House, Democrats would have a target, and Republicans would have the blame.

And in a second term, GOP politicians in California should still face pressure from activists and contributors to support the president.  That approach would not help them in general elections.  Trump’s political base lies among non-Hispanic whites, a shrinking segment of state population.   By 2030, they will account for just one-third of Californians. And many of them live in the suburbs, where Trump is especially toxic. 

With Trump as president two years from now, California Republicans would be trapped in steerage on the Titanic.

With Trump out of power, they would not have it easy, but they could have a chance to start rebuilding. 

 

John J. Pitney Jr. is a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and author of Un-American: The Fake Patriotism of Donald J. Trump.

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