CA GOP needs ideas, not just money

by Steven Greenhut | March 11, 2013 1:22 am[1]March 11, 2013

By Steven Greenhut

SACRAMENTO — Most of the activists, insiders and lobbyists I talked to during this month’s California Republican Party convention in Sacramento expressed optimism about their party despite blistering election losses and persistently falling voter registration levels.

Their optimism came from the election of former lawmaker Jim Brulte of Rancho Cucamonga as state 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,” pronounced an 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 at the convention.

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. Brulte’s election may have been more of a “If you want it, you can have it” 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 involving 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 now are so minimal, given the powerlessness of the state GOP, that it’s not even fun for them to fight with each other anymore.

Cynics joked that the convention theme was: “Republicans love Latinos.” 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 paying the price for its past approach to immigration issues, and that its outreach efforts are ineffective.

Sending GOP emissaries into Latino neighborhoods to convince them to vote Republican 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” 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 have borrowed the title of the 2009 Jennifer Aniston movie, “He’s Just Not That Into You.” California’s voters just don’t care about the party. Ginning up fundraising by electing a deal-cutting former lobbyist makes sense from a party-structure standpoint. But where are GOP leaders who want to engage in the battle of ideas? And do they even know what ideas to engage in?

Karl Rove

The weekend convention’s Saturday luncheon featured campaign strategist 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 pushed 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 for Rove’s speech should have at least walked out of the room or booed loudly.

Former Irvine assemblyman Chuck DeVore spoke at a lunch event. He is a solid conservative, but one who fled the state for Austin, Texas. He makes great points about Texas policy, but many California Republicans might have come away with a different lesson: How do I find a good job in Dallas?

Some of the politicians even were championing their newfound willingness to reach across party lines. That sounded 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” will emerge — i.e., a growing consensus for reforming the project-halting California Environmental Quality Act. But the Democrats don’t need Republican support for that or anything else.

New approach

What’s an irrelevant party to do? Its new approach will take many years, at best, to change the state’s political climate, and California needs help immediately.

Instead of worrying about the political process, the party needs to build ideas that resonate with the public. Republicans will never compete with Democrats in the game of government giveaway. They need to boisterously rebuild that old “Leave Us Alone” coalition and point out why government is the main obstacle to so many Californians’ freedom and prosperity, although I’m not sure how many of the party’s leaders or activists believe that.

Look at how Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster dragged into the national spotlight the Obama administration’s police-state policies on drone attacks on Americans. Likewise, California Republicans need the courage and vision to engage Californians about how the ways the union-controlled Democratic majority is degrading our state.

That might not make the GOP lobbyists and consultants happy, but the party now needs ideological leadership even more than political leadership.

Steven Greenhut is vice president of journalism at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. Write to him at: [email protected].

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