It’s no mystery in my mind as to why the Orange County Republican Party endured such monumental losses this past election.
They can blame it on everyone from President Trump to President Obama, to being outspent by Democrats.
But the bottom line is this: their core message didn’t resonate with voters.
As they say in the TV biz, know your audience.
Instead of reading the room and running fresh faces and ideas, party leadership stuck to its antiquated policy of protecting incumbents, no matter how flawed, at all costs.
No race exemplified this better than the one in the 48th Congressional District between Democratic candidate Harley Rouda and longtime Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher.
The party could have stopped Rouda in the primary if it hadn’t spent big bucks trying to knock out Republican challenger Scott Baugh against Rohrabacher.
Odds were good Baugh and Rohrabacher would win the primary and face off in November. At least then Republicans would’ve held onto the seat.
But Rohrabacher was an incumbent.
Baugh, former OC Republican Party chairman, broke the cardinal rule by challenging him.
I joked with Rouda after his primary win, asking if he’d sent OC Republican Chairman Fred Whitaker a thank you note for ensuring his victory.
He just laughed.
And of course Rouda took that win all the way home in November to beat Rohrabacher, ending the congressman’s 30-year run.
On Monday I checked in with the congressman-elect about his impressions of Washington, D.C., and his political to-do list.
“It’s been interesting,” Rouda said.
The first days after the election, and still exhausted from the long campaign, everything was still “a bit surreal” for him.
“At first you don’t appreciate the full magnitude of the situation,” said Rouda.
But that quickly changed.
His initial time in Washington consisted of three weeks of congressional training in D.C. and one week at Harvard in preparation for serving in the 116th Congress.
“It may be surprising to people coming into Congress,” he said. “It’s like setting up a not-so-small business — you’re given a budget,” and the next step is to set up a D.C. office and one in the district.
The federal government must approve the leases, and budgets for this aren’t released until Jan. 3 — after the swearing-in.
Rouda says on a personal level, existing members have been helpful to incoming members, sharing advice on where to live, schools, etc.
The Roudas have already rented an apartment in the Eastern Market area so he can walk the four or five blocks to the Capitol.
With 35 weeks in the Congressional calendar, Rouda typically plans to fly into Washington on Mondays and back to the district on Thursdays to work with constituents here.
It’s a bit more travel than he was used to doing when he ran his own business, but not much, he tells me.
Rouda described Rohrabacher and his team as being “very gracious” during this transition period.
Stepping foot in the Capitol for the first time is when “the significance of the job we were ready to undertake, and being one of 12,000 people to have ever served the country,” really sunk in for him.
Rouda is a history buff and it’s “everywhere in Washington.”
“I just want to stop and read every plaque,” he said.
One of the most touching moments came recently while walking with his wife on a tour of the Capitol.
On display in one of the underground areas of the building was the black, fabric-draped wagon that carried President Lincoln’s body.
“It was such a poignant moment,” Rouda says.
With all the preparation underway to take his congressional seat, Rouda’s eager to get to work.
He’ll focus on issues for which he feels there there is bipartisan support like climate change, infrastructure, gun violence, reforming drug pricing and health care, as well as addressing homelessness and affordable housing availability, which directly affects Orange County.
And he hasn’t forgotten issues facing the district we talked about before the election: rehab/sober living homes and John Wayne Airport.
He’s also responding to the state’s recent emergencies.
“I joined my fellow members-elect from California to request expanded federal support to address the impacts of the devastating November wildfires,” he said in a news release.
Members-elect hope to improve “evacuation routes and emergency protocols, greater education for community members on fire safety; increased defensible space around structures; and funding for science-based hazardous fuel treatment.”
As we ended our conversation on Monday, Rouda said, “Even though I won the election, a lot of people voted for Dana, and I will be working hard to represent all the people.”
He also wanted to wish everyone “a happy and prosperous 2019.”
So do I.