State GOP verging on irrelevant

Republicans have been amused by President Barack Obama’s thick-headed response to the Democratic Party’s electoral defeat. Despite near-historic gains for the GOP in the House of Representatives and significant GOP gains in the Senate and statehouses, Obama refused in his news conference Wednesday to pin the blame on his agenda, instead pointing to economic frustrations and a failure by his administration to adequately explain his policies.

Despite the president’s delusion, Democrats would be wise to engage in some soul-searching if they hope to reconnect with the public.

Republicans in California need to do some soul-searching of their own as they find themselves in a much deeper hole than the Obamaites. The Democrats eventually will regain some steam across the country, but Tuesday’s drubbing of the GOP in California suggests the state party might now be an irrelevancy.

Here’s the grim news: The nearly historic Republican tsunami driven by public disgust at overreaching government policies did not touch California. The state went in the opposite direction. Democrats scored big victories up and down the ticket and even won Assembly races that should have gone to Republicans in normal years, let alone during this favorable GOP year.

In recent years, conservatives have had no luck winning statewide office, but this year’s Republican slate was a moderate dream ticket, and you can see the dismal results. Now we know that conservatives can’t win statewide office in California, but neither can GOP moderates. That means Republicans can only win the occasional fluke election, such as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s victory in the 2003 recall.

The initiative results from Tuesday also were disastrous from a GOP perspective. Although voters rejected a direct tax hike and redistricting nonsense, they supported Proposition 25, which will give Democrats in Sacramento iron-clad control over the budgeting process by allowing a simple majority vote, rather than a supermajority, to pass budgets) – something that almost certainly will lead to tax increases and further marginalize a GOP that had little power beyond the budget process.

If things went this badly in a big Republican year, the chances of them going much better in the future are slim. Frankly, the California Republican Party will not revive itself overnight. It needs to think longer term and revamp some of its policies and rhetoric. It needs to tap into a more positive, aspirational agenda – one that convinces the public that its policies will better help them achieve the American dream. The old debate – moderates vs. conservatives – should be put to rest. Neither side seems capable of capturing the hearts and minds of California voters.

And the state’s voters – even though they don’t realize it now – need the GOP more than ever. Democratic spending plans and tax schemes will further smother the economy. Without significant Republican input, the only questions in Sacramento will be: “How much do we spend, and how much more should we raise taxes?” This is not what a hobbling economy needs. Even Democrats should welcome some debate of ideas, which is sorely lacking in our one-party state.

A good example of the GOP’s dilemma involves the thorny topic of immigration. The party need not abandoned well-reasoned opposition to illegal immigration, but it too often is viewed as hostile to the interests of Latino immigrants – perhaps because of the level of anger over illegal immigration expressed by many GOP activists and candidates. It may be a matter of perception, but the proof is in the votes. As the Pew Research Center reported, “In California’s Senate race, Democrat Barbara Boxer won 65 percent of the Latino vote while Republican Carly Fiorina won 28 percent. In California’s gubernatorial race, Democrat Jerry Brown won 64 percent of California’s Latino vote while Republican Meg Whitman won 30 percent.”

The state GOP has a Latino problem, which will take more than a bunch of patronizing Latino outreach committees to fix. The risk for Republicans is if the party softens its immigration stances it will alienate its base voters. Still, unless the GOP comes up with a way to convince more Latino voters that the party can help them achieve their dreams and is a more sensible choice than the tax-and-spend Democrats, the GOP will continue to face elections outcomes similar to Tuesday’s. That’s a depressing thought for believers in limited government.

There’s more to this than the sleazy Gloria Allred smear against Meg Whitman regarding Whitman’s former housekeeper, Nicky Diaz Santillan. That stunt reinforced existing perceptions, and those perceptions help explain why Latino voters vote Left even though they tend to have political attitudes that should fit more neatly in the Republican mainstream. The Democratic Party, through its anti-growth agenda of environmentalism and gargantuan government, is the enemy of California’s working-class residents – many of whom happen to be of Latino origin. The GOP has a great case to make, but it is not able to make it to a large bloc of voters who are convinced that the party is “anti-immigrant.”

“I said to a Republican group, ‘Your message doesn’t resonate with Latinos because it’s patronizing,’” said Martha Montelongo, a Republican activist and commentator. “It’s the way immigration is discussed in California by Republicans; it’s as if we are an irrelevant minority. Yet it’s conservatives who are an irrelevant minority. Too often, Republicans come across as if they don’t like us. Conservatives are right on the issues – about the rule of law and the integrity of the border – but they are getting crushed at the polls. Most Latinos are concerned about the border. But they aren’t going to back a party whose activists talk about how Latinos want to reclaim the state for Mexico.”

I don’t know how the party can resolve this problem, but it can start by facing up to it and thinking about ways to address it – before it’s too late.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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