Readers of my posts in Flashreport know that I am not a social conservative: I am in favor of gun control, basic abortion rights, and gay marriage. In this essay, however, I do not endorse Neel Kashkari for California governor because I agree with him on these issues (which I do) but because he is the pragmatic candidate, meaning that, unlike his main opponent Tim Donnelly, Kashkari, because of these positions, has some chance to win. This assertion may strike some Republicans as odd, but here are the facts:
1. Per a new Politico poll , 71% of Republicans support stricter checks on gun purchasers.
2. Regarding abortion, the Public Policy Institute of California finds that, “Large majorities (70 percent adults, 79 percent likely voters) say the government should not interfere with a woman’s access to abortion. This view is held by majorities across parties, regions and demographic groups.”
3. Regarding gay marriage, the Public Policy Institute finds that support for same-sex marriage “…has increased 15 points among mainline Protestants since May  (55 percent to 70 percent), and this support ‘…comes from a majority of those age 55 and older (55 percent) [who] are also in favor for the first time.'” If the GOP insists that, by definition, a Republican is opposed to gay marriage, it will define the party out of existence.
Kashkari’s acceptance of gun control, abortion and gay marriage puts him at odds, of course, with the Tea Party. I use the term “Tea Party” for want of a better term, since it is not a party and has no written, official platform. In addition, many self-identified Tea Partiers maintain that the Tea Party does not embrace any social positions, but rather stands only against big government. Whether that is true or not (it would be news to the media and most Americans), the fact remains that most polls show that the social positions associated with the Tea Party (e.g. opposition to gun control, gay marriage and abortion) are shared by no more than 30% of the electorate.
Of course 30% is significant, and such a large group of voters cannot be ignored. But the story is not just that the Tea Party social positions are only supported by 30% of the electorate, but also that the other 70% tends to abhor those positions so much that they will vote for an imperfect Democrat only because he or she is not a social conservative. In California, tens of thousands of voters who do not particularly like Brown will vote for him only because he offers a contrast to social conservatism (the same dynamic was in play during the Romney/Obama campaign).
This is the reality which the GOP “establishment,” as it is increasingly called, is dealing with, and it is well exemplified in California with the endorsements of major GOP names for Kashkari. I think the phrase “civil war” is too extreme for what is happening in the party. I would not like to see a mass exodus of Tea Partiers from the GOP, because I like the energy of the Tea Party caucus, and I agree with their positions on some key points, e.g. the overreach of the NSA in its violation of the 4th Amendment, and the violation of the 10th Amendment entailed in Obama’s Common Core Standards. In fact, these two concerns of the Tea Party are not prominent elements of Kashkari’s platform, and they should be.
It’s unknown whether Tea Partiers will be able to tolerate less control over state and national platforms, should the pressure to win elections and become again a viable party prevail. When the Democrats faced their existential crises at the end of the Reagan years (when Democrats thought they were going out of business), they created the Democratic Leadership Council, which opposed the extreme progressive wing of the party, and made possible the ascendency of Clinton and Obama. The progressives complained, but did not leave the party, knowing that it was still their best bet for representation.
I would hope, if the GOP “establishment” prevails, that Tea Partiers would remain in the party. Kashkari, even if he wins the primary next month, is not expected by anyone to beat Brown. To win he needs issues like NSA overreach and the Common Core Standards, which Brown would like to duck (since they are both Democrat/Obama related). The Tea Party Republicans should be on hand to help promote these issues.
Thus the best outcome for the California GOP would be a win for Kashkari in the June 3 primary, followed by a campaign that is designed to win.
Doug Lasken is a retired LA Unified teacher, recently returned to coach debate, a freelancer and education consultant. Read his blog at http://laskenlog.blogspot.com/ and write him at email@example.com.