New Year’s resolutions are what you make when you feel the need to fix yourself up and get back into shape and into the game — lose weight, exercise more, look for a new job.
What resolutions then can California Republicans make to save their shriveling party? The party that built the political cradles for Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan is a toxic brand in their home state.
But to build a neo-Republican Party in California and get rid of the Neolithic one — to tweak the old phrase — it may have to be destroyed before it can be saved.
The death rattle has been 20 years in the making, from Proposition 187 to the Trump nosedive among Republican suburban voters. Mike Madrid, a onetime political director of the state GOP and a Republican political consultant for the public affairs group GrassrootsLab, drafts a short list of resolutions on what the state party must do to restore its moribund fortunes.
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Let's talk about what New Year's resolutions the California Republican Party should have to rebuild itself.
I think the first thing it needs to do is stop being mean, right? The famous Google line is, “Don’t be evil.”
As many good ideas as there are in the conservative movement or the Republican Party, there's no way that anybody is going to listen to you if they think that you don't like them. And the Republican Party has given plenty of groups, virtually all groups, reason to believe that they're mean-spirited and angry and upset. In that environment, no one's going to listen to you.
And until that changes, until that's corrected, until that New Year's resolution is committed to, you're never going to see any meaningful partaking of Republicans in the public policy debate — and you shouldn't.
How does that change, and what are the obstacles to changing it?
That's really the biggest conundrum facing the party, because as more moderate voices and more diverse voices leave the Republican Party and are pushed out and sidelined and marginalized, what remains is those that are much more homogeneous and more and more committed to this kind of angry ideology, this nationalism that has really taken over the party. And that element is the least likely to change.
So the very voices that can be instrumental in moving the party forward are those that no longer remain.
And so my prediction is really what's going to happen to the Republican Party is it will continue to double down on these nationalist, white-identity political positions, and it will continue to wither on the vine until ultimately it just disappears.
Well, is the California Republican party, or what's left of it, very different from the national Republican Party in that regard?
It’s really not. What the same demographic is in California is precisely the demographic that Donald Trump the president has been able to capture statewide. It really only exists in our deserts, our mountains and our forests up north. In California, it's not only very small, it's actually the fastest-shrinking demographic. And that group, incidentally, tends to be non-college educated, white, poorer workers, blue-collar workers in the rural parts of our state. So not what you think of as the future of California, and frankly, it's not even what the future is in America anymore.
Can you afford to alienate those voters to try to recruit new ones?
The short answer is no. The question becomes: At what point do you abandon that element that you have worked in coalition with? And at least in California, we have seen that break.
We saw suburban college-educated white voters in places like Orange County, north San Diego, the suburban peripheries of Los Angeles say, We've had enough. These voters were actually saying, I would rather have Nancy Pelosi wield the speaker's gavel than see the Republican Party continue down the direction of Donald Trump.
And so even if political leaders don't have the will, the voters are now saying, We've had enough.
The California Republican Party, its registration numbers, are now third, behind “decline to state,” behind people who have no party affiliation at all. Most recently we saw the chief justice of the state Supreme Court, Tani Cantil-Sakauye, change her registration from Republican to “no party preference.”
Yes, and it's much deeper than that. My firm just put out a report showing that 11% of mayors and council members — which is about 250 to 300 mayors and council members — have no party preference. And we’ve found that about 80% of those were Republicans just two or three years ago. So Republicans at the very initial stages, the very local government level, as well as in and at the state level, are leaving the party.
In the primaries earlier this year, Gavin Newsom, the governor-elect, and Antonio Villaraigosa, his main Democratic challenger, raised 20 times more money from Republican donors than John Cox, the eventual Republican nominee, and Travis Allen, his main Republican competitor, combined — from Republican donors.
The donor community has fled. Republican elected officeholders are leaving. The voter registration numbers are hemorrhaging. And again, the only reason why it is really still sticking together is because the smaller that voter base gets, the more intense it gets. And until more people leave the party than stay in it, it will continue this trajectory. This downward spiral will continue.
While I am optimistic for conservative ideas, I am not very optimistic for the Republican Party.
I think our current course is probably four to six years before there's a complete disintegration. And we truly enter a multiparty, or at least a more fractured, group of interests that will probably work in coalition with other independents and/or different wings of the Democratic Party.
For people that have been looking for the end of the two-party system nationally, you’re witnessing it happening here in California, and the horizon for when it occurs is not that far away.
My guess is over the course of the next couple of years, you will hear more and more people writing op-eds or putting out articles or talking about a third-party movement. I don't see that happening, and here is why: There's kind of this mythical notion that there's a centrist element out there that people are yearning for and looking for.
There's very little statistical evidence or data suggesting that. What it really is is simply a rejection of the political structure as it exists.
While the split in the Republican Party is extremely evident and is happening in a really spectacular way, the divisions of the Democratic Party are equally as profound. And you started to see that with the Bernie Sanders/Hillary Clinton primary, and I think in the upcoming primary for 2020 we're going to see it in even greater glory.
Both parties are hemorrhaging for very different reasons. They're really not even a right or left or moderate. Both parties are experiencing an upsurge in their populist wing.
The interaction between class and race are going to fundamentally challenge the two-party system in a way that we have not seen ever in this country, certainly not in 150 years that we've come to know the two-party system as it exists today.
The cowboy humorist Will Rogers famously said, “I am not a member of any organized political party — I am a Democrat.” Can Republicans rely on the Democrats’ tendency to fracture to look for a future, an opportunity?
As I've advised Republican leaders all the time, if you're relying on the other party's mistakes or overreaching, that's not a strategy. You have to at some point stand for something to bring people to you, to compel them to support you at least in any sort of loyal or reliable way.
Donald Trump is planning to streamline his re-election campaign, incorporating the Republican National Committee and the campaign into a single entity, which means that Trump then becomes the Republican Party. For California, how different do you think the real and future GOP is from the national Republican Party, and should be?
The consolidation of the existing incumbent presidency and the party's national infrastructure is extremely dangerous. What it is, is the first step in truly rigging the system as Bernie Sanders would characterize it with Hillary Clinton.
This is clear evidence, and it's a clear, overt attempt by the incumbent president to take complete ownership of the party. That's a very, very dangerous move for democracy.
What issues would Republicans need to give ground on to rebuild, and on what issues would they need to stand their ground?
For the past couple of years, I have been extremely critical of the president and the direction of the party. It’s not just for personal political beliefs. It's really a more strategic and tactical question.
The first step in recovering, if you will, is acknowledging the problem and then publicly declaring that you are not from that wing or strain of our political system, or that wing or strain of the Republican Party.
There are two really good examples of this. Larry Hogan, the governor of Maryland, and [Charlie Baker], the governor of Massachusetts, two Republican governors in very deep blue states, won re-election by overwhelming majorities in this era of the big blue wave.
The one thing they had in common is they were both vocally, strenuously anti-Trump and saying: I am not that type of Republican; I am not that type of person.
At that point, you had those candidates run on issues like education reform, economic reform, more transparency in government, tax reduction, a healthier regulatory environment.
But until you make a strong, declaratory statement about who you are not in this era, nobody's gonna care about what you're for.
Is the Republican Party as it rebuilds in California in a position to say something more moderate about guns, about climate change, about immigration?
I don't think it is. And I'm not necessarily convinced that those are the requirements to get back into relevance.
California is not just the wealthiest state in the country. It is also the poorest state in the country. We have extraordinarily big problems as it relates to the economic standing of a very large swath of our citizens. Issues like homelessness, housing affordability and the underperformance of a lot of our public schools are disproportionately affecting Californians and especially Californians of color.
These are the issues that polling tells us time and time again that people want to see change in the direction of this state.
And yet it was Proposition 187 and immigration issues that tanked the California Republican party in the ’90s, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, who led the climate change fight.
Climate change is an important issue for California. I think Republicans need to do better in that area. But if you're asking me, Do I think that that will get Republicans back into relevancy? No, absolutely not.
The vast majority of Californians, especially Californians of color, do not cite climate change as their No. 1 concern. The one group that does tends to be wealthier, whiter homeowners, specifically in the coastal communities of California, and those folks will never vote for Republicans anyway.
It's the working class, the middle class, those that are being left behind that are most likely to move towards saying: We need a different way of governing for California, because what is working in California for wealthy white progressive people is not working for us.
That needs to be the target where Republicans or at least conservatives start to address and build some sort of rapport with the community and start saying, We are going to be a group that is not going to leave you behind.
This is the Republican Party I just articulated that I joined in the late 1980s.
It sounds as though your New Year's resolution list will be around for several new years before you can check everything off.
Well, it's been 20 years of New Year's resolutions I've been working on with the Republican Party. So I think it's probably a generational list more than just an annual list.
While I am optimistic for conservative ideas, I am not very optimistic for the Republican Party, because those are both increasingly different things.
But you're not changing your registration. You're staying as an R.
I am staying as a Republican mainly I think for the reason Arnold Schwarzenegger pointed out, which is, when somebody comes into your house or breaks into your home and starts taking your stuff and eating your food, you don't just walk out and leave them. You stand and fight for it.
And I do believe that there are conservative ideas that need to be fought for that California and this country desperately need right now. I’m not trying to save the Republican Party. I'm trying to fumigate the party, and there is a wing that needs to be pushed out and denounced.
I do believe that the Republican Party's brand has become so toxic that there are a lot of millennials — a lot of Latinos, African Americans, Asian Pacific Islanders and white progressives that will never vote Republican, at least not for a generation.
And in California that’s 80% of the state!
So while I think that the fight that I'm fighting is a righteous one, I am also very realistic about the chances of its resurrection or rebranding. I don't think that they are very good.
The party either has to come to terms with what it is, or it has to erode into the dustbin of history in order to build something new.
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