In politics, nothing concentrates the mind like crushing defeat. Which is why what emerged at the California Republican Party convention in Sacramento last weekend is so potentially pivotal — a new strategic approach to reviving the GOP that places electoral success above ideological purity.
Three key speakers at the convention — Karl Rove, Jim Brulte and Ruben Barrales — all made the same point that many delegates embraced: It’s time for the CRP to rid itself of ideological litmus tests and concentrate on electing Republicans, from mosquito abatement boards and city councils to Sacramento and Washington.
As Barrales argued, this is not about “outreach,” which was the watchword of the outgoing GOP chairman Tom Del Beccaro, and all those who had gone before him. Rather, it’s about “inclusion” — which is the goal of his Grow Elect PAC that seeks to recruit, train, assist and elect Latino Republicans without regard to their stands on divisive policy issues.
Non-Partisan Races By concentrating first (and this is important, Calbuzzers) on non-partisan local elections — Grow Elect hopes to build a farm team and, over time, evolve “a Republican Party that reflects California.”
Sure, the party is still host to ideologues like our friend Jon Fleischman of the Flash Report, who want to maintain the conservative purity of GOP candidates and official positions. He’s not about to buy into electing Latino Republicans just because they’re registered Republicans. “Nobody wants a lying, unethical, Republican Hispanic,” he said of former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, whom he’s never forgiven for voting to raise taxes after pledging not to.
And the CRP has more than its share of racist whackjobs, like Gail Neira, who attacked fellow San Franciscan Harmeet Dhillon, a savvy, conservative Sikh lawyer running for vice chair, because she “repeatedly tries to undermine and tarnish integrity (sic) of U.S. born patriotic Republicans.”
But if Brulte, the chairman elected over the weekend (with Fleischman’s endorsement), has his way, their causes will no longer consume the GOP.
“I refuse to buy into this Democratic plan, which is perpetrated by the media, which is that we ought to spend the next six months arguing with ourselves about what we believe,” Brulte told members of the Northwest Regional caucus, blaming Democrats and the media for what is uniquely an internal GOP battle.
“We’re Republicans — we know what we believe,” said Brulte, in this variation of his stump speech. “We’re the party of Abraham Lincoln, we’re the party of Ronald Reagan. We’re the party that believes in individual liberty and greater personal freedom and individual rights. We believe in smaller government and lower taxes and greater parental control and more local control. We believe, as Ronald Reagan said, a government that’s big enough to give you everything you want is a government that’s big enough to take away everything you have. We know what we believe.”
“Get Off Your Ass” Or as Rove put it at the keynote luncheon, President Obama is “more concerned with beating his Republican opposition, breaking it apart, putting it at war with each other, creating a civil war among Republicans, making us dispirited, disorganized and on the sidelines.”
“We’re Republicans not because we believe in interests; we’re Republicans because we believe in universal values — liberty, freedom, personal responsibility, limited government, opportunity, the ability of every human being to dream a big dream and rise,” Rove said. “We have an obligation to argue on behalf of those values in every corner, every crevice and every community in our great country. And let’s be honest — we haven’t been doing that pretty well in recent years. We’ve been talking to each other.”
Of Barrales, said Rove: “His message is my message . . . We need to be asking for the vote in the most powerful way possible, which is to have people asking for the vote who are comfortable and look like and sound like the people they’re asking the vote from . . . We need to have the diversity that is America. And if we do, we’ll have success.”
(Aside: Yes, this is the same Karl Rove who had no compunction about using every racist trick in the book to destroy John McCain in 2004. But like a cockroach, Rove is a survivor.)
The Long Road Ahead As Calbuzz explained before the convention, Barrales understands that it will take years to alter the California Republican Party.
“Hopefully we’re recruiting candidates who are reflective of their communities, so hopefully they’re addressing issues of importance to their communities,” Barrales argued. “If you get more Latinos who are Republican officeholders, in a way you’ll change the party – they’ll be setting the agenda for the party. It’s a long range effort – I want to change the face of the people running the Republican Party and the people who are elected officials.”
This incremental – non-ideological — approach is already bearing results. Grow Elect helped 30 Latino Republicans throughout California win elective office in 2012. And at the GOP convention last weekend in Sacramento, where Latinos have often been an afterthought or shuffled off to a special session on “outreach,” Barrales and Grow Elect were hot attractions.
On Friday night, the Lincoln Club of Orange County hosted a reception for Grow Elect. (We’ll overlook the stereotypical mariachi band and taquitos because of the excellent hosted margaritas.) Barrales was welcomed by Robert Loewen, president of the club, which had recently adopted a position on immigration reform calling for secure borders, a crackdown on employers and a guest worker program allowing undocumented workers to transition to legal guest worker status.
It ain’t a pathway to citizenship, but it’s a long way from rounding ‘em up and shipping them home. Or self-deportation.
Overflowing Interest On Saturday, a session hosted by Grow Elect drew so many attendees, the Hyatt Regency staff had to open a folding wall to double the size of the meeting room where Barrales, Maldonado and others explained in detail what the PAC is about and what it hopes to accomplish. The audience applauded Maldonado when he said Grow Elect’s mission is “to start changing the brand of the Republican Party for Latinos.”
The case of Ignacio Velazquez, elected mayor of Hollister with Grow Elect’s help with a couple of mailers, is a perfect example: He’s a Latino Republican elected to a non-partisan office. He won huge support from Latinos and plenty of votes from whites. “People are willing to cross over and vote if that person represents them,” he said, explaining how he got Latino Democrats to support him. If and when he moves toward a partisan office, he’ll have a record, a resume and a base – or at least that’s the Grow Elect model.
To hold back this kind of grass-roots effort, Democrats and their labor allies, will have to spend money partisanizing local elections.
In the meantime, candidates sporting a scarlet “R” on their foreheads, will have a tough time – as long as the CRP stands opposed to a pathway to citizenship, choice, gay marriage and other social views that are growing in popularity in California.
Attracting voters to the GOP brand – as opposed to an individual – is a far more daunting prospect. And there is little evidence that the state party has the stomach for the internal fight it would cause to confront those issues. Not on Brulte’s watch, anyway.
The only philosophical issue on his mind right now, he said, is the old metaphysical question: whether a tree that falls in a forest makes a sound if no one is there to hear it – because the California Republican Party has failed to make a sound in entire communities throughout the state. As chairman, he promised, he’ll make sure the GOP makes noise in every community, at every level of politics.
Prince Gavin Elected Governor
The Real Action however was not actually at the convention but at the fabulous Lucca Restaurant a few blocks away, where Dr. P.J. Hackenflack, Calbuzz’s resident social psychologist, organized another of his infamous dinners for hacks, flacks and other assorted political drainpipe sniffers.
After a happy hour and a half or so, the assembled journalistic glitterati – including such low-lifes as George (Mr. Happy) Skelton and Seema (Ms. Marriott) Mehta of the ByGodLA Times, the electrifying Dan Morain and Torey (The Tulip) Van Oot of the Sacramento B Minus, Costco Carlo Marinucci and Joe (I Got a Guy) Garofoli of the SF Comical — mingled and schoomzed with Very Important Republicans like Bob White, Ruben Barrales, Rob Stutzman, Amy Thoma, Bob Naylor, Bettina Inclan, Duf Sundheim and Jon Fleischman. To name a few of the 30 or so who gathered for drinks and/or dinner of vegetarian risotto, chicken saltimbocca, pan roasted salmon or grilled bistro steak.
As is the custom at Hackenflack dinners – going back to 1987 after the Alan Cranston-Ed Zschau Senate race – a question was posed to the assembled wise and unwise persons. This time: Who will be the next governor of California after Jerry Brown?
The results of the secret ballot: Gavin Newsom, 9; Kamala Harris, 5; Alex Padilla, 2; and 1 vote each for Ruben Barrales, Anne Gust Brown, Wendy Greuel, Condi Rice, Tom Donnerly, Jim Brulte, Leon Panetta and Kevin McCarthy.
Although records were lost in the barrel of Maker’s Mark that Dr. Hackenflack had held in safe keeping for the late Kam Kuwata, it is believed that no one chosen at a Hackenflack dinner has ever been elected to higher office.
P.S. Only half of the Calbuzz World Affairs and Barbecue Excellence Desk was represented at the dinner as the other two-thirds is dealing with medical issues, utterly without complaint.