While it’s been a couple of years since I started thinking of Republicans as “them” and not “us,” I nevertheless bemoan their complete collapse, because without a viable opposition party at the state level, Sacramento will never work towards finding solutions to our problems and there will be no check against corruption. But the fact is, the Republican Party in California is approaching zombie status.
For those of us watching California politics, this is old news. But now the nation knows about it because yesterday, the Gray Lady ran a piece earning some buzz about the California Republican Party, although mostly in the form of scorn from conservatives condemning it as concern trolling. They are too quick to dismiss it, and the Golden State as a whole suffers from their misjudgments. The ten or so of them who read this may be too quick to dismiss this post — but I am a persuadable voter, and I’m going in to some detail here about how I can be won back, so I’d hope to earn a response other than a cavalier dismissal of my thoughts.
Now, conservatives may sneer all they like at the New York Times, but the cold, hard statistical fact is that registration in California is down to 30.24% of the total electorate, as compared to 43.39% who are registered Democrats. “No party preference” is 21.31%. In the past sixteen years, Republican registration is down 6.8% of the total electorate, nearly double the percentage loss to “no party preference,” which has gained 10.6% in the past ten years.
Memo to California Republicans: you are doing something wrong. If current trends continue, “no party preference” voters will outnumber registered Republicans in California before the Presidential election in 2020. The highest-ranking Republican elected officials in the state right now sit as minority members of the Board of Equalization, making rulings on what kind of goods are subject to sales tax. These are not indicia of a successful political party.
The “paper of record” suggests that Arnold Schwarzenegger’s unseating of Gray Davis in the 2003 recall was a recent high-water mark for California Republicans. This is only barely correct. Schwarzenegger was not, and did not purport to be, a conservative and was only nominally a Republican. He attained and retained office as a function of his personal charisma and not the loyalty of his ostensible party. The movie-star governor was called “squishy” and distrusted by Republican party insiders, who often refused to support him when he deviated from their constellation of preferred policies. More often than not, the movie star turned to Democrats for support; when he find none there, he attempted to use ballot initiatives to govern as a third alternative. The Republican party machinery withered and atrophied under the movie star’s putative leadership, because he governed in spite of, rather than with, the help of Republicans in the Legislature.
Now, maybe you’re not a Republican and you dislike the Republicans’ agenda, so you look at this and you say, “Good.” Bear in mind that one-party rule tends to create tremendous corruption. Also bear in mind that it tends to create stagnation in terms of policy. It ought to be evident that something is deeply wrong in Sacramento as we enter our third straight year of budget crisis and budget sequestrations; the “fiscal mismanagement” that got technocrat extraordinare Gray Davis thrown out of the Governor’s office in 2003 and which his movie-star successor was only able to put a Band-Aid on long preceded the financial crash of the late Bush Administration.
Not only do Republicans have no candidates and no ideas, they don’t even have a strategy. The Republicans’ plan is to wait until the Democrats completely screw the pooch and then hope that the voters will grow so disgusted with them that they will give the Republicans a chance; no need to actually advance any policy alternatives. No, really. Quoth the chairman of the state party, Tom Del Beccaro:
You can only have 11 percent unemployment for so long before the populace gets tired of the people in power. The Democrats are in a lot of trouble because they’ve had the governorship, the Assembly and the Senate, and the budget is way out of balance; unemployment is third-highest in the nation. They don’t have any plans related to these problems, other than higher taxes. And the issues are coming our way because the biggest issues are budget and taxes.
In other words: “It doesn’t matter how bad we look to the average voter, what matters is that the other guys look even worse.” In the meantime, whatever the other guys propose must be opposed, and no policy alternative need be, or even should be, proposed. This sort of thinking is the product of a reverse Pauline Kael effect: in what universe will chest-beating about same-sex marriage, demonizing illegal immigrants, and restricting abortion rights get a Republican elected Governor of California in 2014? It’s no wonder that the GOP is out of candidates, out of ideas, and is on the periphery of irrelevance because the new jungle primary law renders it entirely possible that before long, the top two vote-getting candidates for statewide office will both be Democrats. If you were running for office in California, would you see association with people like that as an asset or a liability?
The opposition party in California here has grown so weak they not only can no longer find and recruit decent candidates for statewide office — and because of the mathematics underlying gerrymandering, they will also increasingly face the already-manifest scenario of having to face one another in “their” districts. This, in turn, will create greater polarization as the party faithful already seem to take tremendous nose-cutting glee in enforcing ever-more-rightward ideological purity tests upon one another rather than appealing to the median voter — forcing those candidates further away from the mainstream and reducing their politically conservative districts to political backwaters.
I say it again, mainly to Democrats and progressives and liberals: one-party rule is not a good thing. You need an opposition party to make meaningful alternative policy proposals. If the Republicans will not moderate their ideology, then they need to at least find a way to impress voters who do not already agree with them that they have good ideas for what to do with California. And this…
- Budget: Cut it!*
- Taxes: Lower them!
- Education: Get those illegal immigrants out of our public schools!
- Crime: Increased punishments for everything!
- Gay People: Eww, ick!
- Infrastructure: Ahh, we got lots of roads already.
- Political Reform: Keep that Kenyan socialist off our ballot!
- Illegal Immigrants: Hunt them for sport!
- Guns: Hell, yes!
- Public Health: Opt out of Obamacare!
*But not education, infrastructure maintenance, prisons, law enforcement, Federally-mandated social welfare programs (other than Obamacare), and locked-in pension commitments.
…is not a meaningful set of policy proposals, at least not to people who haven’t already drunk deeply of the Red Kool-Aid.
The GOP needs to do more than sit back and wait for the Democrats in power to make themselves unpopular, both if they’re going to ever win any thing and if they’re ever going to make a meaningful contribution to solving our public problems. They’re waiting for the Democrats in power to become unpopular? News flash: the Democrats in power are already unpopular. They’re already disliked. What Republicans like Del Beccaro apparently don’t realize is that the Republicans have become so disliked here, so much more than the Democrats, that despite hard, empirical evidence that the Democrats are thoroughly corrupted and generally incompetent, the voters will still prefer to return them to power rather than let a Republican make a meaningful policy decision.
They’re not going to change this without a leader, which they don’t have, and they’re not going to change this without better policy ideas, which they need to attract a leader. Even then it would be an uphill battle because there is no party machinery and there really are no good answers to the financial challenges facing the state government. And they’ll need a good strategy as well as a good message, because of the logistics and demographics they’ve got stacked against them in a state arrayed like this one.
Right now, they have none of these. They’re going to wait until the house burns to the ground before they’ll even put together a plan about what to do after that. With that kind of opposition party, it’s no wonder the Democrats aren’t exactly quaking in their boots out here. Consequently, there isn’t much public debate, and there aren’t a lot of answers to our very real problems.
I’m not demanding that Republicans become liberals to re-earn my loyalty. I’m asking them to put together a meaningful and intelligent policy platform.
It’s time to step up your game, California Republicans.