SACRAMENTO ‚?? Most of the activists, insiders and lobbyists I talked to¬†during the recent California Republican Party convention in Sacramento¬†expressed optimism about their party despite blistering election¬†losses and falling voter registration levels that will soon ‚?? I‚??m only¬†half-joking here ‚?? have the party competing with the Greens and the¬†Peace and Freedom folks.
Their optimism came from the election of former lawmaker Jim Brulte of¬†Rancho Cucamonga as party chairman. ‚??California Republicans have¬†chosen a former state lawmaker known for his fundraising work to lead¬†the party back from the brink of irrelevance in a state that once was¬†a GOP stronghold,‚?Ě according to the Associated Press report.
Given Brulte‚??s financial connections and vast Capitol experience, he¬†was able to unite the conservative and moderate wings of the party.¬†Unite might be too strong of a word. The GOP has its back against the¬†wall, is deeply in debt, has no blueprint for regaining momentum and¬†is thoroughly lost ideologically. It was more of a ‚??If you want it,
you can have it‚?Ě situation.
Also good news, the party event featured less of that internal¬†bickering that has plagued past California GOP events (although it did¬†have a couple of scandals, including yet another one that involved¬†some party member talking about rape). The old saying about academic¬†battles being so vicious because the stakes are so small should be¬†refined. The stakes are so¬†minuscule¬†for the state GOP now that it‚??s¬†not even fun to fight with each other anymore.
Convention cynics joked that the theme was, ‚??Republicans love¬†Latinos.‚?Ě Almost every public event was designed to highlight the¬†party‚??s embrace of the state‚??s burgeoning Latino community. The party¬†finally has recognized that it can‚??t win without deep support from a¬†group that doesn‚??t vote for Republicans in large percentages, that it¬†is now paying the price for its past approach to immigration issues,¬†and that its outreach efforts are a joke.
Sending GOP emissaries into Latino neighborhoods to convince them to¬†vote for the GOP worked as well as if left-wing Latino activists sent¬†emissaries to Newport Beach to sign them up for the Democrats. The new¬†efforts are designed to ‚??grow‚?Ě candidates and send them through the¬†Republican pipeline. Unfortunately, it‚??s hard to launch this effort¬†without it smacking of pandering. I‚??d feel better, also, if the new¬†candidates were more about principles, less about ethnicity and¬†values.
If I were giving the convention a theme, I‚??d borrow the name of the¬†2009 movie, ‚??He‚??s Just Not That Into You.‚?Ě California‚??s voters just¬†don‚??t care about the party. Ginning up fund-raising by nominating a¬†deal-cutting former lobbyist makes sense from a party-structure¬†standpoint. But where are the GOP leaders who engage in the battle of¬†ideas? And do they even know what ideas to engage in?
The Saturday luncheon featured Karl Rove, who blasted the Obama¬†administration for increasing the federal government‚??s debt and¬†failing to deal with the crushing entitlement burden from Social¬†Security and Medicare. But as former President George W. Bush‚??s top¬†adviser, Rove led policies that doubled the national debt and worsened¬†the entitlements situation under the faulty idea that voters would¬†embrace the GOP if the party handed out goodies. Delegates in¬†attendance should have at least walked out of the room or booed¬†loudly.
Assemblyman Chuck DeVore of Irvine spoke at a lunch event. He is a¬†solid conservative, but one who fled the state for Austin. He makes¬†great points about Texas policy, but California Republicans will take¬†away a different lesson: How do I find a good job in Dallas?
Some of the politicians were even championing their newfound¬†willingness to reach across party lines. That sound nice, but the¬†Democratic Party is committed to expanding regulation, increasing¬†taxes, blocking reform to union entitlements and creating new¬†government programs and agencies. Once in a while, an occasional¬†‚??point of light‚?Ě will emerge ‚?? i.e., a growing consensus for reforming¬†the project-halting California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). But¬†the Dems don‚??t need Republican support for that or anything else.
What‚??s an irrelevant party to do? Its new approach will take many¬†years to change the state‚??s political climate at best, and California¬†is in desperate straits now.
Instead of worrying about process, the party needs to build ideas that¬†resonate with the public. Republicans will never compete with¬†Democrats in the game of government give-away. They need to¬†boisterously rebuild that old ‚??Leave Us Alone‚?Ě coalition and point out¬†why government is the main obstacle to every Californian‚??s freedom and¬†prosperity, although I‚??m not sure how many of the party‚??s leaders or¬†activists believe that.
Look at how Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul single-handedly rammed the issue¬†of the Obama administration‚??s police-state policies on drone attacks¬†into the forefront of the national discussion. Likewise, courageous¬†and visionary California Republicans ‚?? OK, that‚??s probably an oxymoron¬†‚?? must engage Californians about how the union-controlled Democratic¬†majority is turning our state into North Korea with palm trees.
That might not make the GOP lobbyists and consultants happy, but the¬†party needs ideological leadership now even more than political¬†leadership.