This will be the last in the series on why the Republicans in California are the real enemies of Republicans in California. I have talked about our party, consultant, and political issues, and what to do to correct them. What follows in what I believe it will take to fix it.
We lost an unprecedented number of offices in 2018. The question is why? Some of my Republican colleagues here in California wish to blame Trump. The problem is: It’s not Trump. In fact, when Trump was on the ballot in 2016, in a non-battleground state, Republicans in California saw unprecedented turnout. Rank and file Republicans like Trump (this coming from someone who didn’t support Trump in the 2016 primary). It is “establishment” Republicans, that is, either Republicans who are too sophisticated for a rough and tumble candidate, or Republicans who have spent too much time in the Washington swamp (and who really do need to be drained with the rest of the swamp things), who don’t like Trump. I am neither. Trump is the most conservative president I have seen in many years, and he has converted me. I like his policies, and I like his rough and tumble style. When Trump is the issue, Republicans win. When Congressional Republicans are the issue, Republicans lose.
Witness the 2018 elections: Republicans lost a boatload of Congressional seats in California. It wasn’t because of Trump though, nor was it because of a high Democrat turnout. It was because of an unprecedented drop off in Republican turnout. Only two of the seats Republicans lost in 2018, the Mimi Walters seat and the Dana Rohrabacher seat, had an unusually high increase in Democrat votes. The rest: less than 10% higher. In fact, in the Valadao and the Denham seat, the Democrat vote was almost identical to the 2016 election. Quite frankly, even with the higher Democrat turnout in Walters and Rohrabacher, if the Republican vote remained the same in 2018 as it was in 2016, both Walters and Rohrabacher would have won. In all the Congressional seats that the Republicans lost in 2018, the average loss of Republican votes was 30%.
A thirty percent drop off — why?
In 2016, Republican candidates promised they would build a wall and get rid of Obamacare. They had been promising us that since 2010, if the voters delivered both houses of Congress and the Presidency to the Republicans. The voters kept their side of the deal. Republican members of Congress broke theirs. Is there any wonder that Republican voters were disillusioned and unhappy with Republican officeholders? Trump kept his word, and he is being rewarded with unprecedented approval ratings. Republican members of Congress broke their promises, and they were rewarded with the minority status they so richly deserved.
When I say we have met the enemy and he is us, I mean it. One of my rules of politics is that Democrats lose power because when they get elected, they keep their promises (for the most part, people in this country don’t want government in their lives). The corollary to that rule is that Republicans lose power because, when they get elected, they break their promises (when Republicans defend or grow government, they lose). Republicans, in the times they have had the majority in Congress in the last twenty years, they have failed to shrink the national government. Voters keep giving the Republicans a chance, and the Republicans keep blowing it.
So, what is the secret for the new Republican majority in California? It is certainly NOT the Chad Mayes/Arnold Schwarzenegger “lets be more like Democrats” approach to politics. As 2018 (and most elections since Arnold was Governor) showed, a weak kneed Republican party leads to a severe drop off in Republican turnout. The first thing Republicans have to do to rise from the ashes, like the phoenix of mythology, is for Republicans to adopt a clear, consistent, and conservative message, and to deliver that message in every possible way available, through inventive use of the new media, traditional media, and good old fashioned shoe leather. That is, Republicans have to work harder, longer, and in more places than just their district to advance the message and convince the voters they actually believe that message.
The second is that Republican officeholders have to move to the “adopt-a-district” plan, to develop Republican infrastructure in nontraditional Republican venues, with political support offered to those activists and donors in these nontraditional venues.
Third, Republican consultants need to think outside the mailbox. Campaigns are not about television and mail. Campaigns are won and lost on the street, house by house, block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood, community by community.
Finally, Republicans have to persuade donors they can win, by working harder than Democrats, and actually winning. There will have to be a core of donors who step up to the plate, and leadership will have to find that core. In addition, that core will have to either believe, or understand, that the conservative message is the winning message in California, because that is what turns on Republican activists, and turns out Republican voters.
Put these things together, and the future is bright. It will take a lot of work, but hey, the current group in Sacramento and Washington are in the minority, which I know from experience means they don’t have much to do, except fight the majority outside their district. As the votes show, the war is winnable, we simply have to fight to win, and not capitulate.