What Jim Brulte Can and Can’t Do as GOP Chairman


Now that Jim Brulte has nailed down the imprimatur of Jon Fleischman, the avatar of California’s right wing, the coast is clear for the former legislative leader to run for and win the chairmanship of the California Republican Party without noisy grunting from the Neanderthals who have long held sway over the party.

Brulte won’t make a formal announcement of his candidacy for party chairman until at least sometime next week, after he has completed talking to every California Republican in the House, state Senate and Assembly – a few of whom he still has to reach.

But Brulte has told people he’ll be seeking election to party chairman and he has studiously avoided talking to the news media about it. What he has made clear to those he’s spoken to is that he will have one simple goal: to rebuild the California Republican Party from an operational standpoint.

Calbuzz wanted to discuss with Brulte his personal views on immigration, abortion, the split roll, gay marriage and the whole concept of compromise and deal making. But alas, Brulte won’t go there. Not yet anyway.

Of course, his legislative record in the 14 years he served in the Assembly and Senate on these kinds of issues is fairly unambiguous: he’s pro-life (ahough since he doesn’t endorse shooting abortion doctors he’s something of a moderate in the California GOP on this issue), he’s tough on illegal immigration (although we have no idea if he’d support a pathway to citizenship); he’s anti-tax and pro-Prop. 13 and he doesn’t like gay marriage.

But Brulte has always been a pragmatist, too. And if he could get something for the Republicans in exchange of allowing the Democrats something on their side, he’d make a deal. When Gray Davis was governor, for example, Brulte, then the leader of the GOP in the Senate, was not nearly as big a problem for the Democratic governor as was John Burton, the unreconstructed liberal leader of the Democrats in the Senate.

Brulte was always more interested in governing than he was in making ideological stands on issues – which made him a principled, conservative legislative leader of the ilk that’s in short supply in Sacramento these days. Oh, he’s also smart.

Unlike his immediate predecessor, current chairman Tom Del Beccaro, Brulte will be spending more time with donors and grass-roots organizers than he will on radio and TV talk shows.

Brulte’s Intentions He’s telling people in the GOP that he’ll set out to do three things:

1. Get the party out of its half-million-dollar debt and build a fundraising infrastructure that can sustain the GOP and finance the programs Brulte believes are necessary. The California GOP is down to three full-time staffers, two of whom work from home. It’s a pathetic, bush league operation.

2. Rebuild the grassroots party organizations in targeted districts where the GOP has, or could have, an advantage. In the last election, for example, the party was so short-staffed at the grassroots level, it could not even mount efforts to challenge provisional ballots in some very close races.

3. Recruit quality local candidates for school board, water board, weed-abatement board, city council, county supervisor, whatever – Republicans who can grow into jobs in public service so that in future years they can run for Assembly, state Senate and Constitutional offices statewide. To the extent possible, he wants the California GOP to provide technical support to those candidates – people who should represent the diversity and complexity of their neighborhoods, districts and regions, not just ideological clones.

The medium is not the message Which leads us back to the flaw in this plan, as Calbuzz sees it. Brulte has an excellent program for rebuilding the operational weaknesses of the California GOP – at least as we understand what he’s been telling people.

This search for a way to revive the Republican Party is occurring on the national level, after the shellacking the Republicans got in the 2012 general elections. Some in the party believe all that is really needed is better outreach and communications — studying the Obama campaign’s brilliant effort as a model.  “The [Obama] ground game was the message,” one Republican operative told the Huffington Post.

As if Marshall McLunan had come back to life and the medium is the message.

But as we’ve argued before, the California GOP’s problem isn’t just a failure to communicate – it’s the underlying message that’s being communicated that’s a problem. The GOP brand is poison – among most white voters but especially among Latinos, Asians and black voters. Oh, and women. This is because as long as the Republican federal and state officeholders and candidates espouse misogynistic, anti-immigrant, anti-gay, no-tax-ever ideology, no amount of lipstick will gussie up that pig.

It will be endlessly entertaining to watch Chairman Brulte handle the screwball California Republican Assembly members who want to introduce resolutions for the CRP to adopt at its conventions, declaring that any candidate who votes for any tax increase or any candidate who supports choice or a pathway to citizenship cannot have GOP backing.

Brulte can fix the operational flaws in the California GOP — and his election as chairman would mark a huge leap forward for the state party. But until the Republicans in California — especially those seeking to represent legislative districts at all levels — moderate their politics to more closely align with the mainstream of political thought in the state, The California Republican Party will remain a pariah. No matter who’s chairman.

BTW: Brulte is one of the original members of the California Consultanate, otherwise known as the Calbuzz Advisory Board of Leading Authorities on Practically Everything — our incredibly brilliant panel of political experts whom we occasionally ask for wisdom on weighty and not-so-weighty issues. Our staff psychiatrist and ethics-schmethics advisor, Dr. P.J. Hackenflack, will be consulting with himself to determine whether Brulte can remain on the panel or whether his presence means we also have to invite Democratic Party Chairman John Burton to join.

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There are 14 comments for this post

  1. avatar Sideline says:

    If I had the opportunity to sit down for lunch at Chops with any three Sacramento politicos, I cannot imagine who I might choose beyond Governor Brown, John Burton and Jim Brulte. There’s plenty of brute passion in Sacramento, and an equal supply of timid intelligence, but for sheer strength of will and acerbic smarts, I would happily take these three.

    My only question is this: Is the GOP still smart enough to know that they have a real problem, and that Jim Brulte can help? He hasn’t called for secession or armed insurrection, so he may be too much a moderate for the less-Grand Old Party.

  2. avatar Ernie Konnyu says:

    Former Senator Brulte has some problems such as his personal appearance but working successfully within the general ideology of most California voters is not one of them. That means in your case that the nasty party platform issues that drive you up the wall are unknown to the electorate because any Republican candidate with a hope of winning in Novembers does not campaign on them.

    Republican candidates in California with any real hope of winning generally campaign only on those conservative issues on which voters agree with them. So it’s yes on fighting tax increases, yes on reducing government spending, yes on workfare and so on. Republican winners never campaign against gays, or against Latinos, Asians or Blacks as you write.

    You are brilliant at political analysis so why don’t you use your brain power to show readers the practical side of what really goes on in election fights.

    • avatar stevefromsacto says:

      The Republicans are against gay marraige and iimmigration reform and in favor of slashing safety net programs for the poor. But Republicans “don’t campaign against gays, Latinos, Asians or Blacks”?


  3. avatar stevefromsacto says:

    “But as we’ve argued before, the California GOP’s problem isn’t just a failure to communicate – it’s the underlying message that’s being communicated that’s a problem.”

    You are right. But as long as Brulte has to depend on ideologues like Jon Fleischman, the chances he will be able to change this message to a more moderate one are slim and none.

    • avatar Ernie Konnyu says:

      Yours is a mischaracterization of Republicans. Our candidates don’t campaign against gay marriage; we just oppose it because, as good as it is for the involved individuals, among other things it is unproductive for our country. In my eight years in the California Legislature and the U.S. Congress I NEVER heard a single Republican lawmaker speak out against the gays.

      As to immigration reform, the House passed it in December but it was buried and therefore killed by the Senate under the guise that the Obama 2013 Demo immigration bill will be more comprehensive.

      As an aside, I’ll be attending another immigration reform meeting tomorrow morning thrown by a Republican Latino elected official in San Jose. We are really trying!

    • avatar Donald from Pasadena says:

      Mr. Konnyu, are you really that obtuse and tone deaf? What an incredibly silly statement to offer, “[G]ay marriage … is unproductive for the country.” As opposed to what, exactly — straight marriage and divorce?

      That’s just flat out offensive. Who are you to pass such self-righteous judgment regarding whose personal relationships are productive, and whose are not?

      And yet you actually have the chutzpah to insist — in the very next sentence, no less — that you “NEVER heard a a single Republican lawmaker speak out against the gays.”

      I mean, are you for real? You just called gay couples unproductive for the country, without offering any evidence to that effect — and yet, you apparently can’t even fathom why tha’;s actually a pretty vile slur, can you?

      Honestly, and I’m speaking as someone who comes from a Republican family, you guys are really freaking me out, because in terms of responsible social policy development. you just don’t seem to grasp the fact that it’s 2013 and not 1953.

      And quite frankly, I’m not the only former Republican who feels this way.I don’t even recognize the party I once respected anymore. Yours is a party that handily disposed of a genuine statesman in Richard Lugar, and then sought to replace him in the U.S. Senate with a crackpot who insisted that pregnancy resulting from rape is God’s gift to women.

      You guys need to wise up, dude. Seriously.

  4. avatar David Salaverry says:

    Tom Del Beccaro, current chair of the CA-GOP, has been a McLuhan-esque “communicator” but discovered The Medium Isn’t Always the Message. In this cycle, Content Is King.

    An honorable man, Del Beccaro has fallen on his sword. Brulte enters the field with a clean slate, and I’d argue a mandate to do more than fix the broken nuts and bolts.

    Dr. Hackenflack and the Calbuzz gurus were correct in their Nov 17 and Nov 19 op-eds that the CA-GOP needs fixing. But the prescriptions were ALL WRONG. As one astute commenter said, “Calbuzz wants the Republicans to become Blue Dog Democrats.” Thanks but no thanks!

    Brulte seems capable of fixing the nuts and bolts, his three tasks (money, organization, candidates) are critical. But a redefinition of CONSERVATISM (as opposed to mushy moderation) is also needed. Watch us as we accomplish this.

    And then watch as the CA-GOP pulls even with, then ahead, of the Dems, who are stuck in a bizarre, outdated ideology arrogantly puffed up by temporary wins. As if demographics were the only political reality; as if moral systems and metaphysics a trifle.

    There is a huge opportunity in defeat. Defeat creates clarity and renewed purpose. Watch us.

    • avatar tegrat says:

      Hi David,

      What exactly is the “moral system” that motivates the GOP? Bigotry? Religion over science? Misogyny? Xenophobia? Corporatism? Well, at least, we can’t add ageism to the list.

  5. avatar Alan from Berkeley says:

    Of course there are no permanent wins in politics — even outright coups don’t last forever. However, decisive wins can change the field for a generation, as we may learn in years to come.

    And saying “defeat creates clarity” is equivalent to saying “there’s nothing better for the economy than a nice cleansing financial crash unmitigated by government intervention.” Another orthodox republican notion we’ve had recent chances to argue over. It’s the ideology that’s behind the fiscal cliff strategy and the future cliff do-overs we are about to enjoy.

  6. avatar chuckmcfadden says:

    “Our candidates don’t campaign against gay marriage; we just oppose it…” Ernie, I have seen nuance; I flatter myself I have even on occasion used it. But I have never seen nuance like you display. Now, I suppose the politically untutored might conclude that Republicans don’t campaign on what they believe in, because that would be a sure loser, since most voters don’t believe what Republicans believe. But then, those folks lack an appreciation of ….nuance.

  7. avatar chuckmcfadden says:

    “As if demographics were the only political reality; as if moral systems and metaphysics a trifle.

    “There is a huge opportunity in defeat.”

    David, given that line of reasoning, I don’t think California Democrats have a thing to worry about.

  8. avatar chrisfinnie says:

    Thank you all for a very entertaining discussion.

    For starters, Republicans don’t just campaign against demographic groups, they campaign against reality. Though they’re not from California, who can forget former congressman Joe Walsh saying that women never die of pregnancy complications? Or the Georgia congressman and physician–and chair of the House Science and Technology committee–who said that all the science he learned in school was “lies, straight from the pit of hell”? Or senator James Imhofe from Oklahoma, who has frequently opined on camera that climate change is a scientific hoax? Or all the elected Republicans at every level who continue to assert that cutting taxes will lead to economic growth, evidence of the Bush tax cuts and the great recession be dammed?

    These are not just differences of opinion. They are demonstrable facts. A dentist in Ireland died while having a miscarriage and it was against the law for doctors to give her the medical help she needed. This state has a huge economic stake in science and technology of all types. Science is not only true, but it is the basis of successful companies from Apple to Genentech. Folks who lived through Sandy believe in climate change, as do farmers who suffered through this summer’s historic drought. Huge tax cuts during the Bush administration accelerated income inequality, gutted our social safety net, created huge deficits, and threw millions out of work.

    Some voters have noticed. Not all. Not enough. But some.

    Personally, I think it’s swell that the GOP insists on running campaigns based on an alternate reality fewer and fewer voters believe in. Keep up the good work guys!

  9. avatar tegrat says:

    In some ways it is admirable that Ernie continues to defend a party which either a) he’s completely lost touch with, or b) he doesn’t really belong to anymore. Ernie, get a clue.

  10. avatar Noozeyeguy says:

    On a somewhat-related vein, longtime moderate-GOP stalwart Bob Larkin died this past weekend at his home in Westlake Village. Ventura County Star State Bureau Chief Timm Herdt breaks it down :http://www.vcstar.com/news/2013/jan/22/herdt-he-rang-a-bell-state-gop-didnt-hear/

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