The headliners for the California Republican Party convention in Los Angeles this weekend – newly re-branded U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY, and U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield – fit the profile of modern Golden State Republicans that Chairman Jim Brulte would like to popularize: well-spoken GOP celebrities who don’t sound like fire-breathing evangelists.
But when their actual records are examined, Paul and McCarthy are wholly in tune with Tea Party terrorized Republican orthodoxy –and some of the most whackjob extremists — on the most divisive issues for California voters: immigration, abortion, gay marriage and health care. (Not to mention climate change or the minimum wage.)
When it comes to projecting an image that doesn’t frighten moderate and independent voters, Paul and McCarthy are top-notch picks. But – whisper aside – they’re both opposed to a pathway to citizenship and a woman’s right to choose, against gay marriage and would – even now — repeal Obamacare.
Wisdom of Yoda Rhetoric does not supplant action; good words are no substitute for good deeds. As Calbuzzer Yoda explained to young Luke Skywalker: “Try not. Do or not do. There is no try.”
Paul, in particular, as a potential 2016 candidate for president, has sought to soften his image on a variety of issues, especially immigration. He claims to have sympathy for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, has said he favors giving work permits to all of the country’s illegal immigrants and he says he’s for immigration reform.
“I’m actually a moderate on immigration,” he said in one interview.
But not really. He voted against the comprehensive bill that was passed by the Senate last year, he previously opposed the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program, which allowed up to 500,000 undocumented minors to be exempted from deportation. And he sharply criticized Texas Gov. Rick Perry for embracing in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. His “sympathy” for “the DREAM Act kids” only goes so far.
“I’m very open to discussing that I think there should be some kind of immigration reform, but I don’t think you can do it without first securing the border, and that’s the problem with the president doing this unlawfully,” Paul has said. And he’s left no doubt that he’s opposed to giving “amnesty” to undocumented immigrants.
How they dodge Paul and others have made two critical sidesteps in hopes of finessing the immigration issue:
1) They no longer talk about a pathway to citizenship but discuss a pathway to legalization, meaning undocumented immigrants already here might be able to get some form of residence status short of citizenship (and the right to vote);
2) They’re all for comprehensive reform but only after the “borders have been secured” – whatever that means and however that would be measured. Which it can’t, which is why it’s a phony form of support for immigration reform.
In other words, Sen. Paul talks a good game on immigration – hoping to sound less threatening to Latino voters – but in the end, he’s an impassable boulder on the pathway to citizenship.
The 100% compromise: The other keynote speaker, Kevin McCarthy, likewise says he supports some form of legalization of undocumented immigrants, but he opposes a pathway to citizenship and, as Majority Leader of the House – the No. 2 leadership position – he has failed to bring immigration reform to the floor for a vote.
He, too, uses border security as a way to dodge pushing for reform. As he said in an interview with Fox News:
I’m on record saying nothing about immigration, until we secure the borders. The borders are not secure. Look at the humanitarian crisis that is happening right now along the border states. These are children coming from three major countries in Central America. They’re going across. Kids are dying. Who knows what’s happening when it comes to human trafficking and others, it’s because our borders are not secure. Until you secure the borders, you cannot have the conversation about anything else.
When Chris Wallace asked, “That must come first?” McCarthy replied, “That must come first.”
That’s not reasonable compromise, As MSNBC’s Rachael Maddow put it, McCarthy’s approach is that “Republicans should get 100% of what they want, he says, while Democrats get 0% of what they want. Once the GOP is satisfied with having everything, Republicans will then consider related policies.”
Bowing to GOP Taliban Paul and McCarthy may be in tune with the jihadist Republicans who attend GOP conventions, but they are sharply out of touch with California voters at large. As the Field Poll reported last February:
There is now nearly universal support among California voters to allow undocumented immigrants who have lived here for a number of years to stay and become citizens if they have a job, learn English, and pay back taxes. Statewide, 90% of voters now favor this policy.
Just last week, the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll reported that 72% of likely voters in California – including 72% of Republicans! – agreed with a plan including a provision that would boost border security and “allow illegal immigrants already in the United States with no serious criminal record to apply for legal status, learn English, pay taxes and a penalty and then go to the back of the line to work toward citizenship.”
Paul and McCarthy are not even in synch with the majority view throughout the country where a recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution, nonpartisan research groups in Washington, found 62% of Americans in favor of a path to citizenship for immigrants living in the United States illegally.
But they sound reasonable when talking about the issue. And that’s the image Brulte is hoping to project as he tries to rebuild the California GOP.
Likewise on abortion, Paul and McCarthy like to sound reasonable, but they’re not.
Paul, for example, says he wouldn’t try to overturn Roe v Wade but in Congress he introduced the Life at Conception Act, which would grant legal personhood rights to zygotes from the moment of fertilization. The bill would ban abortion entirely and could affect the legality of some forms of birth control and in-vitro fertilization.
McCarthy is in lockstep with National Right to Life on the issues surrounding abortion and favored cutting off funds to Planned Parenthood.
What you cannot fake Immigration and abortion are not just important wedge issues – they’re threshold issues that have a dramatic effect on Latino and women voters in particular. While few Latinos or women argue that immigration or choice on abortion are the No. 1 issue facing the nation, huge proportions of these voters don’t even want to hear a candidate’s stand on other, more important issues, if he or she (or a party) is on the “wrong” side of these threshold issues.
Gay marriage and Obamacare are other high-profile issues on which both Paul and McCarthy may appeal to the Republican shock troops who attend GOP conventions, but not the broad mass of California or even U.S. voters.
“It’s the dilemma of appealing to the base versus winning elections,” says lobbyist Bob Naylor, the very smart former Assembly leader and state GOP chairman. “To the extent that those issues are defining issues, I don’t think you can finesse it.”
We can’t wait to see how far the headliners are willing to go on any of these issues when they speak to delegates on Saturday. The smart money says that Paul, at least, will be keeping the national impact of his words in mind, even if it means sounding a bit “moderate” to the red meat crowd of conventioneers.
P.S. Our National Desk and Political Swag Collection Department will travel to the fabulous L.A. Airport Marriott Hotel for the convention to provide the Special Brand of Journalism you’ve come to expect from Calbuzz.