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

Friday, January 11th, 2013

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.