Column: Trump branded the GOP a party of racists. Larry Elder as standard-bearer won’t help

Larry Elder
Larry Elder, who lost a bid to replace Gavin Newsom as California’s governor in Tuesday’s recall election, speaks to supporters at the Orange County Hilton hotel in Costa Mesa.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

There are lots of reasons why Gavin Newsom held on to his job Tuesday night. That California is dominated by Democrats is one. Another is that most voters weren’t as upset with the governor’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic as Republicans thought.

But there’s an even bigger elephant — both proverbial and political — in the room.

Eight months after white supremacists invaded the U.S. Capitol at the urging of former President Trump, the Republican Party lost because it still hasn’t figured out how to talk about race or racism in a coherent manner.


When it comes to winning elections in a state as diverse as California, that matters.

And yet, Republicans apparently decided the solution to their problem was to elevate a Black person to the role of de facto standard-bearer of the California GOP. I mean, sure, that sounds like a great idea in theory. Who better to navigate the uncertain and choppy waters of race and racism than a Black person?

The answer is just about any Black person but Larry Elder. Just look at what happened on Tuesday night.

The conservative radio talk show host did nothing but solidify the Republican Party’s racist reputation, using the highest-profile speech of his life, in which he conceded his loss in the gubernatorial recall election, to spout a bunch of incoherent nonsense such as this:

“We believe in the dream of MLK, judging people by content of character, not color of skin. And let me tell you something, to the extent that it is humanly possible, America has achieved that dream.”

Larry Elder shook up the recall campaign. What will the conservative talk radio host do next?

So race no longer matters?

“I have an R at the end of my name, and suddenly I’m no longer Black.”

It does matter?

“I have never suggested that anybody should vote for me because I’m Black or against me because I’m Black. I don’t go there as far as I’m concerned. After we elected the first Black president, everything else after that is anticlimactic.”

“We are going to bring this country together. We are going to bring this country together. Because we know what the real problems are. And they have nothing whatever to do with racism.”

OK, I got it now. Race doesn’t matter.

“What do you think would happen if a candidate such as Barack Obama running for president had a white woman in a gorilla mask throw an egg at him? What would happen? Front page news ... systemic racism alive and well in America. They would have been talking about it in Bangladesh, but with me, nothing.”


“They tried to divide us on race. They want Black people not to think about the fact that families have been destroyed because of the welfare state. They don’t want Black people to think about the decline in the quality of public education. They don’t want Black people to think about jobs. All they want is Black people to think about oppression, that you are under siege, you are a victim.”

Wait. What?

“They only care if an unarmed Black person is killed. More unarmed whites are killed every year than unarmed blacks. It is a lie, I said to him. He still wasn’t feeling me. You know, I’m an Uncle Tom. I’m a sellout. I’m a bootlicker. I’m the Black face of white supremacy.”

Well, at least on that very last point we agree.

Elder’s effort to replace Gavin Newsom feels like an insult to Blackness.

It’s hard to see how any of this convoluted rhetoric bodes well for the Republican Party winning statewide elections in the near future.

Part of the problem is demographics. California is already majority-minority — a trend that will soon be the case across the United States.

The latest data from the U.S. Census revealed that, for the first time, the percentage of Americans identifying only as white dropped to less than 60%, and the percentage of Americans younger than 18 who are people of color rose to a majority of about 53%.

The other part of the problem is Elder himself. Although he’s Black and grew up in South Central L.A., he’s known as much for trashing Black people on his radio show while insisting that systemic racism doesn’t exist as he is for supporting Trump.

During his insurgent campaign, Elder made no real attempts to address the racist legacy left behind by the former president, like when Trump praised white supremacists as “very fine people.” It apparently didn’t matter to Elder that such incidents long ago soured a large portion of the electorate on the GOP.

So there’s a reason why the Republican Party remains one backed mostly by white voters, a good percentage of whom are older and don’t have college degrees. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party, as imperfect as it it, continues to be the party of diversity, regularly attracting Black, Latino and Asian voters.

Whether Elder understands this is unclear. He is, no doubt, enchanted by his supporters, most of whom are white and Republican.

Black Republicans are rare in California, but they hope the bombastic recall candidate will inspire more people of color to run for elected office.

When he entered the race to replace Newsom in July, he quickly shot to the front of the pack of 46 contenders. In the recall election, he received nearly 2.4 million votes as a replacement candidate at last count. But millions more voters didn’t even choose a replacement candidate, and, at last count, about 5.9 million Californians voted to keep Newsom in office.

And yet, when asked about plans to run for governor in 2022, Elder told KMJ radio in Fresno on Tuesday: “I have now become a political force here in California in general and particularly within the Republican Party. And I’m not going to leave the stage.”

He seemed to think better of it on Thursday, though, telling KTLA: “It’s hard to see how the outcome would be any different unless I was able to raise at least as much money as Gavin Newsom has spent, but even then the thing is daunting.”

After all, Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 2 to 1 in California.

Still, only in the carefully crafted fantasyland that was Elder’s watch party in Costa Mesa on Tuesday night — we’re talking Fox News on big-screen TVs, and a six-man band fronted by Bing Crosby’s grandson playing ’50s and ’60s hits — would another run for governor even be entertained.

After it was clear that Newsom had prevailed, Elder assured his supporters: “We may have lost the battle, but we’re going to win the war.”

No, actually you’re not.

If Elder is the best the Republican Party can do, then it’s probably time to surrender.