In the wake of the disastrous showing by Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina and the rest of the California Republican Party ticket, the leaders of the Golden State GOP should recalibrate their politics and policies to become relevant once again.
The state’s Republicans are now so trapped in their ideological hall of mirrors that they have become a distorted caricature of themselves. The midterm election demonstrated that they utterly fail to reflect the impulses of the vast majority of California voters, who tend toward fiscal conservatism and social moderation.
Many Republican values have a wide following: smaller government, lower taxes, reduced regulation, economic growth, individual freedom and law and order, to name a few. The California GOP should fight for these ideals. But it needs to incorporate them into a platform that begins with a realistic growth agenda. Investment in roads, bridges, dams and/or levees, ports, water projects, redevelopment projects and schools and universities — all of these things and more are wholly consistent with their philosophical worldview.
The party’s fixation on opposing everything the Democrats propose is hurting Republicans more than it is their opponents. The GOP should take the lead in advocating an economic rebound strategy that relies on Silicon Valley innovation, green jobs and high-tech research and development. The party could integrate this with increased exports for a growing agricultural sector and a healthy and expanding service economy.
Republicans don’t have to continually serve the interests of the wealthiest 2% of California families; they can focus also on the struggling middle class. And they need to remember that California is not Kentucky or Alaska or any other state where the so-called tea party is a big deal. In California, tea party ideology has little appeal to the vast majority of voters.
It’s time for leaders of the California Republican Party to rethink their general strategy and agenda. Here are some ideas it should consider:
•A change of position on providing a path to citizenship. The party should strongly favor securing the borders against illegal immigration; that’s a matter of defending our national sovereignty and integrity. But that position doesn’t need to be in conflict with extending eventual citizenship to some of those who are currently living here illegally.
Just as the Republican Party was the Northern standard-bearer for the abolition of slavery in the 1850s and 1860s, so the California Republican Party could advocate for citizenship for honest working men and women who have come to the U.S. to make better lives for themselves and their families.
According to the Los Angeles Times/USC postelection survey, about 8 in 10 Latinos, half the independents and even 4 in 10 Republicans support a path to citizenship. Even greater percentages support other ideas for integrating illegal immigrants. Republicans are driving away Latinos — nearly a quarter of the voters — with their anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric.
•Getting on board with green jobs and environmental conservation. By arguing that people must pick between the environment and economic development, Republicans are creating a false choice. And voters know it.
California Republicans have made fighting environmental regulation a cause. But plenty of people, including George Shultz and the late David Packard, have demonstrated that you can be a rock-ribbed Republican and also favor preserving and enhancing the environment. Of course, environmentalism has to be balanced against other competing interests, such as healthy agriculture, water supplies for cities and reasonable growth in and around urban areas. But pragmatic environmentalism could win the party votes.
•Developing a bench. The party should start grooming young, bright, articulate Republicans throughout the state. It should teach them about practical politics, polling and other insider skills. It should train them in how to talk to reporters and how to think on their feet and answer questions without betraying their ignorance. It should teach them how to talk to ordinary people without sounding as if they’re preaching or reciting talking points. In other words, the GOP should do what big-time college athletic programs do: recruit.
•Changing the party’s stance on abortion. There’s a way to move to the center on this issue. The party could support a woman’s right to choose in line with Roe vs. Wade without endorsing or even supporting abortion. The idea that abortion is a moral choice is not incompatible with the idea that this moral choice must be made by individuals, not the state. The party could also focus on reducing the number of abortions by supporting rather than opposing family planning. Barry Goldwater did.
The party’s goal should be to build a coalition based on an overarching goal of reducing the number of abortions rather than wasting breath yammering about abstinence and opposing sex education for teens.
•Sounding sensible, not strident. The problem with the tea party rhetoric is that it sounds like the ravings of a crazy old uncle who really ought to be locked in the attic. The vast majority of California voters are moderate, independent-minded, practical people. They don’t much care if an idea comes from a Democrat or a Republican. They care if it works.
They’re not against government; they want just enough of it to handle the important things. They’re not opposed to all taxes; they’re opposed to taxes that seem unfair, onerous or overly broad. They want to control the borders, but they also want to be fair to people who have worked hard to make a living, no matter where they come from.
They’re not pro-abortion, but they want women and their doctors — not Assembly members and state senators — to make choices about the life and death of fetuses.
California voters are tired of people running for office who sound as if they think they know everything and whose answers are purely ideological.
The Republicans need to have a hard head. But they also need to demonstrate a soft heart. And maybe a touch of humility.
Phil Trounstine and Jerry Roberts write regularly about politics at their website, calbuzz.com. This article was adapted from one of their posts.