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Death and resurrection of CAGOP – California Globe

Republicans in California are dead. Candidates for state office rarely receive more than 40 percent of the vote, and GOP representation in the state Senate is half that, at 20 percent (8 of 40 seats), and in the State Assembly, 21 percent (17 of 80 seats). No Republican has been elected to state office since Arnold Schwarzenegger's re-election in 2006.

The conventional explanations for the end of CAGOP are familiar and boring. Bill 8 in 2008 and Bill 187 in 1994 branded Republican candidates as homophobes and racists, respectively. The stigma stuck, seared into the psyche of voters thanks to decades of campaigning and lobbying that favored overwhelmingly Democratic candidates and causes. And then came Donald Trump. Love him or hate him, but for millions of thoroughly prepared partisan voters in California, you couldn't imagine a more terrifying bogeyman.

But there are other, lesser-known factors that have contributed to the Republicans' irrelevance in California. The party is deeply divided, due to a split that began around 2006 and deepened with each passing year. Around 2006, Schwarzenegger performed a political pirouette, transforming seemingly overnight from a politician who dared to confront the all-powerful public sector unions into a conciliatory moderate willing to sign the Global Warming Solutions Act.

Schwarzenegger's defection in 2006 split Republicans between voters who liked the old Schwarzenegger and voters who liked the new Schwarzenegger. Two years later, that divide widened when Proposition 8 came to the ballot. It narrowly passed voters but alienated GOP voters and donors who fell into the “financially conservative but socially liberal” category. And into a fractured party rode billionaire Meg Whitman. As a candidate for governor, she managed to blow $177 million on a mediocre campaign, including $30 million of other people's money. Looking back, her campaign could be summed up as, “I'm a woman, not a bigot, please vote for me.” Jerry Brown ripped her to shreds.

After the Whitman debacle, major Republican donors felt they had been duped. They began to sit out campaigns in California, preferring to support Republican candidates in smaller, more competitive races in other states. In 2010, California voters also approved the top-two primary system, which was promoted as a way to get less extreme candidates into the general election. And to complete the 2010 trifecta, business associations made a conscious decision that year to support “pro-business” Democrats. Within a year, the California Republican Party managed to lose the trust of large individual donors and much of its support from the business community, as well as the previously guaranteed spot on the November ballot for its candidates.

A smart, pro-business Democrat once asked me why on earth he was a Democrat when he walked like a Republican, talked like a Republican, and acted like a Republican, something that surprised me at the time. “We already have the Republicans,” he said. That makes perfect sense. While Republican voters and the vanishing minority of Republican candidates who get elected argue about abortion and the transgender agenda, they still reliably support whatever the business community needs. While California's business community is constantly on the defensive, it knows it already has 20 percent of the vote to stop the Democratic Party's truly insane, job-killing proposals. If they can talk sense into a little more than a third of Democratic lawmakers, they can stop a bill.

Why on earth would any sane businessman invest in the California Republican Party? They are more dead than alive. And if there is any life left in them, they have always been on your side.

The resurrection of CAGOP may not require a miracle, but it will probably take a few more missteps by California Democrats, fighting their own insurgency with one law tampered with by extremists after another. A few more economic setbacks that could have been completely avoided, and no amount of money in the world will convince Californians to continue supporting this madness.

In the short term, the California Republican Party will never be able to solve the social problems that divide it, any more than those social problems can be quickly solved by society as a whole. Despite their urgency, these are moral issues that will take a generation or more to establish a new consensus on. The best strategy Republicans can pursue on social issues is to simply let Democrats continue to overreach. In the meantime, California Republicans can unite on issues that affect everyone in the state and on which Democrats have clearly and obviously failed. They are education, crime, and the cost of living.

Crucial solutions to these problems are supposedly controversial, given the interests of the special interests that continue to profit and gain power from the failed agenda they push. But they are not controversial. Californians need free school choice, a restoration of crime prevention, and massive deregulation to allow the private sector to increase supply and reduce the cost of everything essential – housing, food, building materials, energy, water.

It will not be easy to build a coalition strong enough to take on the special interests that currently dominate the Democratic Party—public sector unions, “nonprofits,” the environmental lobby, trial lawyers, and left-wing billionaires. But a possible coalition is there, if leaders can be found to build it. California’s business community could unite behind candidates who agree on concrete policies on education affordability, safety, and quality. Some private sector unions in California may also recognize that new approaches to these issues will benefit working families. Responsible environmentalists may choose to balance the needs of the people with those of the environment. And a growing band of billionaires are already choosing to break through the groupthink of their fellow citizens and support solutions that preserve freedom and enable widespread prosperity.

The biggest risk to the resurrection of CAGOP is confusing rhetoric with real reform. The fight for free school choice, laws with teeth to deter crime, and an agenda that actually restores affordability and prosperity to working families will be a battle. It will take strong resolve and unity. Words are cheap and credibility must be earned. But if enough candidates stand up for these three goals and refuse to compromise on the core elements of this new agenda, California can turn itself around.

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Anna Harden

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