California’s warning to the Republican Party


U.S. Policy and Policy Updates

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Gavin Newsom was a plausible Democratic candidate for the White House. When the California governor broke his own lockdown rules last year, prompting the failed recall election on Tuesday, a rising trajectory appeared to be over.

How revealing then that his “victory” speech – the outcome will not be certified for weeks – had national reach. He warned that Trumpism was “not over” in the United States and compared democracy to an “ancient vase” in its fragility. A cynic might sense an attempt to revive his aura of an old man of fate.

In reality, Newsom’s line is the one Democrats are pushing elsewhere. The party is increasingly confident that most voters, whatever their grievances with Joe Biden’s presidency, do not want any return to the style or content of the Trump years. Tying Republicans to the semi-retired demagogue is the plan for next year’s midterm elections and beyond.

It is reckless to deduce much from an election in one of the bluest states. But it’s also worth watching what’s going on in the most competitive corners of the republic. In his race to reclaim the post of governor of Virginia, Democrat Terry McAuliffe challenges Donald Trump to campaign for the Republican candidate. He cheekily offered to cover the gasoline cost of his visit. Seeking re-election in New Jersey – led by Republican Chris Christie until 2018 – Gov. Phil Murphy is trying to do something similar to his own right-wing opponent. Democrats believe that apart from his main supporters, Trump is a winner – for them. It motivates liberals to vote (turnout has been crucial in California) and pushes suburban moderates away from the Republican brand.

This leaves Republicans in a political situation that only a few of them are willing to admit out loud. Distancing itself from the former president, and the party base is seething. Embrace it, and voters who are otherwise persuasive back down. Christie himself, with some knowledge of what it takes to win as a Tory outside the Red States, recently warned the party not to “tie our future to a bunch of lies.” An accomplice in Trump’s rise, he is a far from ideal messenger. But the message is good.

Because Trump’s breakthrough in 2016 surprised so many, his overall election record may be clouded. He never won the popular vote in a presidential race. He oversaw the loss of both houses of Congress to the Democrats. He was the first president to serve in a generation and lacked George HW Bush’s excuse of a divisive third candidate like Ross Perot. As president, his approval rating never reached 50 percent in the Gallup survey. He must still be reckoned with, both as a presidential candidate three years from now and as a crowd agitator today. As he prepares to declare his intentions for 2024, the evidence suggests that Trump and the populism he represents are a clear drag on the party.

California was a good example. If Newsom’s victory was no surprise, the nice margin was. If Republicans had summoned such a moderate candidate as Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2003, the incumbent might have had more trouble. As it stands, the party featured Larry Elder, a radio shock jock, among a larger gallery of eccentrics. Disgruntled voters couldn’t risk such a change at best, no matter in the midst of a pandemic. Biden, for whom Newsom’s victory was a relief after a difficult summer, described Elder as a “clone” of Trump. Republicans should expect this line to hunt them down in other states until they give up on the man himself.


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