The California Republican Party, acting through its convention of generally self-identified party activists, has decided that it will not permit “decline to state” voters to participate in its primaries. The effect of this will be to put more moderate Republicans at a disadvantage in pursuing office. This is a win for ideological purists and a loss for voters like me, who would prefer to see a Republican candidate be competitive in a marginal district rather than make a campaign pitch that alienates centrist voters.
Abel Maldonado, probably the most moderate of all Republican officeholders in the Legislature, says the party is shooting itself in the foot — “… I’ve never, ever seen a business … run by eliminating 25 percent of the market share. Anyone would walk away from that deal.” Close, Senator Maldonado. In fact, decline-to-state voters are about 20% of the statewide electorate. And you can run a nicely profitable business by focusing your efforts at a particular segment of the market, specifically the high end that is sensitive to quality and willing to pay a high price for it — but you’re not going to dominate that market and politics is not the same thing as a commercial business. The goal in politics is to get a majority behind your policy ideas, which is why reaching out to those people who do not pick a party to register in matters.
Which is why there is some truth to the party purists’ claim that “As long as we help raise taxes and deficits, we will be a minority.” This is true on its face, but deceptive in its impact. The real objection is not about fiscal and taxation policy. The Republicans pretty much held the line on the budget battle this year, forcing cuts rather than tax hikes, and I don’t foresee the Republicans reaping huge political rewards for doing it. That doesn’t mean it was the wrong thing to do, either for their own political advantage or for the state’s economic health generally, by the way, because it was the right thing to do for both purposes.
The reason for the tepid reaction to the Republicans is not that the public doesn’t respond to a sound decision to not raise taxes. It’s that it was Republicans who did it — and if Republicans get the upper hand, they fear a variety of social legislation that they dislike. They fear a restriction of abortion rights, something that party activists openly salivate about implementing. They do not want legislators who are openly contemptuous of gays and lesbians. They do not want abstinence-only sex education taught to public schoolchildren (perhaps because they recognize that abstinence-only sex education doesn’t affect teen pregnancy and increases transmission of STDs).
Now, there is talk about revising the Constitution so the Republicans lack the power to do in the future what they did this year, but this wouldn’t be getting the traction that it is getting if the Republicans hadn’t gone out of their way to make the rest of their platform so unpalatable to the public in general. And the decision to keep the primary closed means that the party will be further distanced from the forces of the political marketplace that could otherwise correct this and over time give Republicans a decent shot at actually taking some power in this banana republic we call the Golden State.
The social issues are the real reason that conservatives within the party don’t want moderates helping pick their candidates. And the social issues are the lead weight that prevent Republicans from making inroads into the electorate. The Republicans did hold the line on taxes, and that turns out not to be enough. But, it’s the social conservatives who take the time to show up to the party convention — I wasn’t in Indian Wells this weekend being an activist, I was at home having a good time with my wife and my friends — and therefore they are the ones whose priorities get implemented.
Maybe one day they’ll realize that their strategy condemns the California GOP to forever suffer diminishing returns at the box office, and the only thing saving them from political oblivion is the utter incompetence (and frequent corruption) of their adversaries.
But I don’t think that’s in the cards any time soon.
UPDATE: And then, there’s also the hypocrisy. Particularly the corrupt kind, the kind that happens when you’re sleeping with a lobbyist whose job it is to, well, lobby you. You know, it’s cool and all if you want to score with hot chicks twenty years younger than you, no matter what party you’re in. But it’s kind of not cool to do it if you’re married. And if you make a campaign platform plank of protecting families. And if you are lying not only to your wife but your mistress. And banging around without a condom to bring home who knows what to your wife. And bragging about it on tape admist raucous laughter. And then apologizing not for doing any of it but for being indiscreet enough to brag about it. Seriously, why is it that Republicans who push so hard on “family values” issues so often turn out to be such turds to their own families?