A gymnasium on Los Angeles’ Eastside is an odd setting for a Republican summit, but it offered the kind of symbolism former Assembly Republican leader Chad Mayes is seeking these days: For the GOP to stay relevant in California, it has to try something new.
So somewhere new is where Mayes, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ohio Gov. John Kasich found themselves Wednesday at the first meeting of Mayes’ centrist advocacy group New Way California. He started it after he stepped down as the leader of his Assembly caucus last summer amid criticism for helping Democrats renew California’s landmark climate program.
The event was a sort of coming-out party for the group, aimed at articulating a different path for the Republican Party as it continues on a slow slide toward irrelevancy in the state. There are about as many registered Republican voters in California as there are voters with no party affiliation, according to the most recent figures.
How exactly the “new way” for the GOP in California will take shape is unclear. Mayes said the group is still coming together.
“We are just at the point now where we are getting people together and trying to organize those — I call them rational Republicans and centrists — and to provide a place for them,” Mayes told The Times. “We are engaging in this idea that you can be a Republican and you can be with us on 50% of the issues or 60% of the issues; you don’t have to be with us 100% of the time.”
They don’t plan to support or oppose candidates for this year’s election, but a think tank is in the works, Mayes said.
Schwarzenegger suggested that donors could cut off fundraising for the state GOP if the party does not take more moderate stances on issues like healthcare, education or the environment.
On Wednesday, they didn’t mention President Trump by name but attacked the brash and divisive style that has become a hallmark of his presidency.
“The old way yearns for a false nostalgia of the past; the new way is hopeful and embraces the future,” Mayes said. “The old way burns bridges and erects walls; the new way builds bridges and opens doors. The old way governs by fear; the new way leads with courage and love.”
Schwarzenegger also jabbed at Trump without mentioning his name.
“The politics of division and anger and resentment can drive a strong base to the polls, but it is tearing our country apart at the seams and nothing is getting done,” he said.
Kasich, who has been a fierce critic of Trump since the two clashed in the 2016 GOP presidential primary, made a pitch for civility.
“What is happening increasingly in our country is people don’t feel a connection with each other, and they don’t know who is going to help them,” he said. “People have to believe that we care about one another.”
Kasich has toured the country promoting his new book and is the subject of speculation about whether he will challenge Trump for the presidency in 2020. He only fed the speculation with his comments Wednesday.
“The Republican Party is my vehicle; it has never been my master,” he said. “And it is my job to lead the party. And it is my job in a tug of war to pull us ... to caring about people.”
Other GOP politicians showed up for the event, including Oceanside Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, who has built a reputation as a moderate and faced heat when he helped pass an extension of the state’s cap-and-trade system. Chavez is running for retiring GOP Rep. Darrell Issa’s House district, which is among several that have been trending toward Democrats in Southern California.
It remains to be seen how the group’s push for more moderation will be received by the party’s rank and file.
Ron Nehring, former chairman of the California Republican Party, criticized the group during the summit. “Elites talking down to grassroots voters once again,” he wrote on Twitter.
Kasich offered support for Mayes and other California Republicans involved in New Way during a question-and-answer session with party members, activists and operatives.
“Help these folks. Help Chad,” Kasich said. “It is going to be lonely for a while.”