Consultants: How CA GOP Might Become Relevant


Even before we offered our blinding insights into how the latest PPIC poll shows that California Republicans are wholly out of touch with mainstream opinion in the state, Calbuzz asked our brilliant California Consultanate to tell us what the GOP can do to become relevant once again.

The Republican members of our Calbuzz Advisory Board of Leading Authorities on Practically Everything were a lot less eager to take up the challenge than some of our chortling Democratic panelists. And no one spelled out a comprehensive rehabilitation program like Calbuzz set forth following the GOP’s pasting in November 2010.

But while none of them held out much hope for the official California Republican Party itself, several suggested ideas for how Republicans in general can reclaim some standing in California politics. They offered notions like recruiting women, Latino and Asian candidates; working across party lines to actually govern; nurturing leaders who are socially moderate and fiscally conservative, and focusing attention on public employee salaries and pensions.

One of our more pragmatic Republican panelists opened with a one-liner and then offered some powerful advice:

Move to Texas . . . Seriously: Learn to talk and listen in Spanish, starting with “We’re sorry.” Recognize that Latinos are the ones standing in front of Home Depot ready to work.  Go to Disneyland to see that half the visitors are Latinos who are working hard, then investing their earnings in family experiences. Focus on economic issues, because as Latinos and other ethnics succeed economically, they’ll be looking for a party that rewards their hard work, instead of picking their pockets. Let the Democrats tax the shit out of the producers, and be ready to welcome the victims.  Give the social issues a rest; that battle is done.

Or, as another GOP panelist put it a bit more succinctly:

[We] may want to figure out how to avoid alienating Latinos and younger voters going forward. That will put one finger in the dam.

(We think he meant dike, but probably didn’t want to risk offending anyone – like the Dutch.)

GOP flacks on GOP hacks: A couple of Republican panelists wanted to be sure to make a distinction between the California Republican Party and California Republicans.

Let’s separate things out. The CRP is not relevant and there is nothing they can do in the current campaign law environment, which empowers Super PACs to take the place of the Party, even as a legislative fundraising vehicle, to become relevant. But they could behave so as not to decrease their relevance, and there are signs (the minority outreach efforts and lack of really stupid resolutions at conventions) that they at least get that.

California Republicans — the voters who in general are more sensible that the CRP members — could start by putting Mitt Romney over the top, if there is still a contested campaign in the June primary.  And by voting for candidates for the Legislature and Congress in the top-two primary who have a chance of winning.  And then voting for them again in the general election, or in case the top two are Democrats, voting for the more centrist Democrat.

This notion of electing Republicans who are dedicated to actually participating in governing Sacramento — as opposed to serving as anti-tax protest voices — was a common theme.

I do think that the literal party organization is fully incapable of leading the party to success in the future. Its on the verge of becoming anachronistic. Thats why money is flowing to new committees where the donors have higher confidence of successful strategies being implemented.

The path forward for the party is in candidates who are focused on governing. Candidates need to be offering solutions for California’s future.  Theres no sign that Democrat rule is about the prevent the continued decay of the state. So GOP candidates need to be innovative and realistic on immigration solutions, restructuring of government and efficient delivery of government services.  This will also require tax reform which might appear messy in the context of Norquist style politics.

Look, the Democrats are not fixing the state. There will be a moment, probably in crisis, where voters look elsewhere for solutions. GOP electeds have to be ready.

We want Pete Pedro: While they believe their own party is a mess, our GOP consultants are loyal Republicans who believe Gov. Jerry Brown and the Democrats are doing a lousy job of running California. It’s their belief that if they can just get the right kind of Republicans into office (and frankly, we have no idea who they’re talking about), things will turn around for their side.

The California Republican Party needs candidates who are socially moderate and fiscally conservative as well as committed to taking a soft tone on immigration. We have lost ground over the past 20 years because we alienated ethnic voters — not just Latinos — and are too socially conservative for educated whites. Latino and Asian candidates should be supported by the party establishment in the few safe GOP seats left and encouraged to run statewide as well. The party needs to become more aggressive in vocally opposing the wacky policy coming out of Sacramento. Republicans do have one major thing in their favor — the Democrats are doing a terrible job running this state. You name it — fiscal policy, job creation, education, water, public safety — the Democrats are failing badly. Given the apolitical and disengaged nature of the California electorate, it’s tough to gain attention for state politics but Republicans need to maximize social media to get the word out.

Not all our Republican panelists are so confident, in part because they see the national GOP (and the candidates seeking the presidency) as alienating not just mainstream California, but significant numbers of California Republicans as well.

Regardless of any steps taken, drastic or otherwise, the greatest challenge here is youve got a national Republican Party that is nearly offensive to Californians and, frankly, to many California Republicans. So, as long as were making assumptions, lets assume theres some way to address that challenge, nationally.

Here’s the program this consultant laid out:

1. Aggressively recruit Republican women to run. Businesswomen, young women, retired women, women of every hue. Not rich Republican women with no experience (ahem) but women who are already on school boards and planning commissions and local utility boards. It would be a game changer and, more importantly, support the notion that California Republicans are a different breed than their national brethren.

2. Recruit and train a new breed of consultants.

3. Establish a more systematic approach to campaigns and campaigning (this may not be popular with veteran consultants, hence the need to train new ones).

4. Develop a narrative one that speaks to a vision for a better California, that addresses our diversity and (no surprise here) one that has nothing to do with social issues. This, I know, is a long shot.

5. Find and anoint a few good moderates to work across party lines. It would do wonders for the brand.

One Republican referred us to an article that consultant Jeff Randle wrote for the Sacramento Bee which, sadly, pretty much just said the GOP needs to soften its tone but offered little in the way of substantive change.

Tick, tick, tick: And then there’s the Machiavellian strategist among the GOP types, who sees recovery for the Republicans as a function of the issues they focus on:

The GOP in California should become singularly focused on one basic issue: Controlling government employee salaries and public pension costs. This issue cluster is the proverbial ticking time bomb and positions the GOP on the side of taxpayers and positions Democrats as status quo under control of government employee unions.

I am suggesting this as a means for the California GOP to become relevant and repair perceptions. Obviously if they make progress it serves as springboard to other mainstream issues that connect with the California electorate.

(Hmm. Isn’t that what former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger tried to do until he got his head handed to him by the teachers, nurses, cops and firefighters? Just sayin’).

Which is why a couple of the Democrats on our panel had little to offer other than the back of their hand. “Secede from the national party,” said one. “Move to Texas and join the Texas Republican Party,” said another.

Purge the purgers: But some of the Democrats were willing to offer sensible strategic advice.

As a Democrat, I am thrilled that the California Republican Party continues its clueless slide to irrelevance. But since you asked…it’s not that complicated.   Moderate voters decide contested general elections and Republicans won’t win until they connect with those voters with a moderate policy platform.  

Private and public polling reveals that moderate voters in California believe they pay too much in taxes, bureaucracies filled with overpaid public employees waste money and under-perform, and the current crop of elected officials are not doing a very good job. Hear that sound, Republicans? Those views are opportunity knocking.

The problem for Republicans is that moderate voters also believe that government should invest in education, protect the environment for the next generation, give immigrants a fair shake, and stay out of our bedrooms.  

Surely there are still Republicans who share those views and might want to run for office. But Republican Party leaders can’t tear themselves away from the Tea Party activists and other fringe elements in their party long enough to understand what most Californians want from their government and recruit candidates who are in step with those views. And when slightly more moderate candidates do run, they seem to be shunned by activists, donors and leaders.

Elections are in the hands of the voters, not a small group of activists. It’s not hard to find out what the voters want. Republican Party leaders just aren’t listening.

And this, from another Democratic panelist willing to share:

The “what” is well-covered at this point — get serious about revenue, come to some sort of compromise on immigration that reflects the changing demographics of California and the overwhelming belief that a path to citizenship is the right thing, and embrace a conservative environmentalism that is consistent with how Californians see the world. Debate from right of center, rather than far-right.

It is the “how” that is tough. Clearly the majority of Republicans currently occupying seats in the Legislature have no interest in moderating anything. You have to elect different Republicans. To do that, the institutional support on which Republicans rely has to move. No more money for right-wingers who damage the party, no money for leadership unless they pursue and recruit electable candidates, no more underwriting the state convention if the convention is going be a circus of the damned. The purge of moderates started at the grass roots, the purge of crazies has to start at the grass tops. 

Beyond fixing: And then there were those Democrats who just don’t believe the GOP can ever make itself relevant again.

Republican Overlord, Grover Norquist, has taken away any leverage the Republicans have in the Legislature. They have no room to negotiate for tort, pension or CEQA reform. And even when multi-billion dollar cuts they demanded were passed last year, not one Republican voted for the cuts.  The national moral issues debate doesnt fly in California. How can you sell Californians on family values when three-time philander the Newt is the flag waver. Californians now support gay marriage overwhelmingly. Republicans dont. Californians rely on immigrants — legal or not — to do the work others wont do. Republicans want to run them out of the state. Soon, the independents will be the second party in California. The Republican brand does not fit the emerging demographics of California and the leadership is far-right. It cannot be fixed.

Or this, from another Democrat who sees no future for the GOP.

The California Republican Party is essentially irrelevant, and other than Arnold in the recall, hasn’t won a non-incumbent statewide race since 1994. It will only regain viability in California if it is willing to jettison its more extreme positions on issues and begin better reflecting where mainstream voters are on those matters. The chances this will happen? About the same probability that sexually active women will start using an aspirin between their knees as birth control. There’s a reason that CRP actually spells “crap”!

The plane, the plane! Finally, there was one Democrat willing to suspend disbelief for a few moments, before snapping back to reality.

Well, this should be an easy one: How ’bout just for yucks — and because it’s re-election time — they actually put their heads together and tell Grover Norquist he doesn’t pay their salaries. And become a real part of the budget process. Vote for an actual budget that doesn’t decimate programs.

I know, I know, how silly of me.  But the truth is, voters are beyond fed up with the partisan insanity in Congress. The Legislature is polling at 11%. Open primaries and Super PACs California style mean that incumbents here have as much to fear as Rebublicans who are losing in other parts of the country. For once, taking responsibility for actually doing their job may mean something at election time. So being a responsible part of the process could help.

Ok, I’ll get off Fantasy Island.

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There are 5 comments for this post

  1. avatar Bruzzone says:

    With more posts like this one, you may find a more Republicans visiting CalBuzz — and tolerating your endless GOP browbeating.

    The challenge is like turning a NFL last place team into a contender.

    The Dems know this. They’re constantly developing the farm team. The Cal GOP currently attracts too many misfits and big-ego wannabes. I was a CalGOP officer. I saw them at the conventions. They’re like the walking dead — They have no life except their zealot idealism.

    So how do you build a contending NFL team? Plan for a multi-year effort. Hire a strong, proven head coach (executive director not chair). Commit you’ll do what it takes to win. Develop discipline exerted from the top. Draft talent (develop local elected republicans), bring in pro talent (non-California consultants who turned other states around). Start with several smaller wins that are news worthy (one or two statewide offices. and one or two successful ballot measures). Most important relate to the fans. Give them what they want to see..not what the owners wants to see. Build a brand, a game style (a ‘West Coast Offense’ built around saving the state through fiscal integrity, for example)..and, once originated, stay with the plan.

    Fortunately, history is on the side of the GOP, no matter how utterly incompetent the Cal GOP is currently. The pension obligations will preciptate the crisis. A ticking time bomb. If the GOP builds the team (per above), they’ll be ready. The dems will be stuck with a securely fastened lead weight around their necks (as in pension, entitlement spending). Of course, the dems could start developing fiscally conservative leaders…but their zealots will have something to say about that. Thanks for this article..

    • avatar Andy says:

      But every league has an owner or two content with filling seats at the status quo. Does the GOP have ownership remotely interested in winning?

    • avatar tegrat says:

      The big problem for the GOP is that you can’t be fiscally conservative and not acknowledge taxation as a tool of fiscal conservatism. This is the big disconnect. Until some brave GOPers challenge Norquist, they are done for.

  2. avatar ReilleyFam says:

    The whole plan blows up when the stock market bounces back and PERS goes to 90+% funded. Then you have no issue.

    Even if you did, the GOP is notorious for overplaying their hand and would undoubtedly go for too much, appear cruel – even by crisis standards – and turn off the electorate & push them right back to the DEMS. It’s what has happened at the national level between 2010 & 2012. You’ll see a noticeable backlash against the tea party types nationally and the GOP will lose the house…..again.

  3. avatar tegrat says:

    “There’s no sign that Democrat rule is about the prevent the continued decay of the state.”

    When someone makes a statement like that, you should just stop listening. The pejorative use of “Democrat” and the pretending that its the Democrats fault that the GOP is not interested in governing (which is exactly why “Democrat” rule has been so ineffective, duh) is indicative of a feeble mind.

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