Five important things Calbuzz learned at the California Republican Convention:
Lady Gaga and Ann Coulter were separated at birth. The Northwest Ordinance is one of the nation’s founding documents. Michele Bachmann believes chains are the key to freedom. Pat Boone knows for a fact Barack Obama was born in Africa. Ron Paul thinks life was better before World War I.
Those are a few highlights from the CRP’s weekend convention in Los Angeles, where a dozen TV cameras focused on public events featuring the stylings of the GOP’s No. 3 and 4 presidential wannabes and their Tea Party faithful.
At the same time, however, there were more serious and rational conversations, many behind-the-scenes, about issues like the electability of a Republican president, how the state party might begin to reverse its recent movement towards irrelevance and its troubled relationship with Latinos.
“The word ‘Republican,’ unfortunately,” observed one participant in a crowded discussion about the latter topic, “is repugnant to Latinos.”
Political junkie alert: First the more substantive stuff (those wanting to cut straight to the entertainment may skip this and the following two subheads).
New party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro predicted, in a lengthy press conference that opened the weekend, that the GOP is poised to make gains in California in 2012, given the recession-wracked economy, Gov. Jerry Brown’s leadership failures and President Obama’s flagging popularity.
So Del Beccaro said the GOP is energetically reaching out to women, Asians and especially Latinos. “We have to directly communicate with voters,” he said, adding that the GOP is currently defined by Democrats and the media.
But when we asked how the state GOP can attract Latino voters while it steadfastly opposes any sort of path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already here, Mr. Chairman dodged the question, saying the party must concentrate on a message of jobs, education and public safety.
All well and good. Del Beccaro is a nice guy, sincere and earnest, and give him credit for understanding the problem he has to address. But will Latinos hear the economic message if Republicans remain tone deaf on immigration?
A stacked “town hall” meeting about Republicans and Latinos, which Del Beccaro engineered with Univision on Saturday, underscored the problem.
Like Strother Martin as the Captain, and Paul Newman’s title character in Cool Hand Luke, who says ironically, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate,” GOP panelists unanimously said the party simply needs to get better at the way it shapes its message, rather than changing what it is communicating. But if the underlying message remains “No citizenship for you” it’s unlikely Latinos will ever hear what else the GOP might have to say.
Presidential pragmatists: Other practical-minded delegates meanwhile were more focused on processing the pros and cons of Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, the actual GOP presidential contenders, neither one of whom bothered to show up. While Bachmann and Paul drew lots of coverage, their lack of electability made them more a sideshow for realpolitik apparatchiks.
“If you’re not elected, you can’t change things,” said Ron Edwards, of Stanislaus County, chairman of the Republican caucus of the California Teachers Association.
“The rest is just people just yelling,” he added, pointing to a noisy Ron Paul demonstration echoing inside the atrium lobby of the downtown J.W. Marriott Hotel (plenty of expensive parking, although the Emmys awards show setting up across the street took most of it).
Summing up the assets and liabilities of the two leaders, Edwards said he’s leaning towards Perry because of his policies on job creation in Texas, but also worries about Perry’s volatile statements on Social Security. He sees Romney as much more polished, but worries that as a Mormon, he can’t carry the base of evangelical Christians, especially in the South.
“The religion issue, for whatever reason, hasn’t been put to bed by Mitt,” he said, reflecting the fact that some evangelicals do not consider Mormons to be Christians and some even see the LDS Church as a cult.
Like other Republicans at the convention, Edwards is unsure whether the GOP – which normally wraps up its nomination fight early, avoiding nasty, protracted struggles — will close ranks behind one candidate before June, when California’s 172 delegates will be at stake.
It’s hard to envision either Perry or Romney – both of who will have plenty of money – dropping out unless one or the other pulls off a blow-out. And with Florida (with its huge retired population) a major player in the still-unsettled calendar, and in the wake of Perry’s attacks on Social Security, the notion of an early finish is far from certain.
Challenge for Difi? Some Republicans also discussed whether Senator Dianne Feinstein might suddenly be vulnerable – if the GOP can produce a credible challenger. The latest Field Poll found only 41% of voters support re-electing Feinstein while 44% are opposed. And her job approval is only 41-39% positive.
Among top-rank Republicans who could conceivably mount a serious challenge, Calbuzz favorite daughter Meg Whitman, the former eBay CEO and failed candidate for governor, told us a while back there is no way in the world she would enter that race. Boo hoo.
Carly Fiorina, who came up way short last year against the diminutive Senator Barbara Boxer, has become vice chair of the GOP’s Senate campaign committee, but we’re pretty certain Dianne would clean Carly’s clock.
That leaves longshot scenarios, long one being spun about former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, or perennial window-shoppers like Representative David Dreier of the San Gabriel Valley, a potential contenders that senior GOP professionals might lean on.
“We’ve been trying to get Dreier to run for a while,” one top Republican consultant told Calbuzz.
Other names bandied about over the weekend included Michael Reagan, RR son and former radio host; whackjob birther Orly Taitz (Difi’s dream opponent); over-the-hill crooner Pat Boone (more below) and former Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner (our Commish camp sources say he won’t get in the race).
Mondo bizarro: As for the weirder side of the convention, Tea Party diva Bachmann was the star of the show on Friday night — 10 TV cameras! — combining her routine right-wing shtick with some truly original political thinking.
Calbuzz was instantly offended by the video used to introduce Bachmann, a low-rent piece of propaganda called “Fire From the Heartland: the Awakening of the Conservative Woman,” which cast Lady Gaga as the symbol of America’s cultural corruption, playing her off against Ann Coulter as the embodiment of strong moral values. Ann (How do I offend you? Let me count the ways) Coulter? Seriously? Talk about your bad romance.
Bachmann’s 40-plus minute stemwinder was replete with tried and true paeans to the Founding Fathers, as she went all dewy-eyed over Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence (“God answered his prayers for our nation”). She caught us up short, though, by declaiming on the collective wonders of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights “and the Northwest Ordinance.”
As every school child knows, the Northwest Ordinance was passed by the Continental Congress in 1787 and paved the way for the westward expansion of the union. Known more formally as (all rise) “An Ordinance for the Government of the Territory of the United States, North-West of the River Ohio,” it lay claim to new territories and provided that they could become new states, instead of simply adding to the size of the original 13.
As a practical matter, kind of a big deal, to be sure. But equal in importance to the founding documents? We don’t buy it, and think that Bachmann’s home girl Minnesota bias has clouded whatever shred of judgment she has left in that huge lacquered melon sitting on top of her neck.
Chain, chain, chain: At one point, Bachmann also ripped President Obama for purportedly conceding control of space to China.
This surprising allegation involves the Chinese “blinding a critical component of our overhead architecture,” she assured the gathered Republicans; despite a typically wide-ranging Calbuzz investigation that yielded some interesting background about the government’s long-range space planning, we finally decided that puzzling out whatever the hell it was she was talking about was way beyond our pay grade.
A few moments later, she called on Republicans to cast a “wide net” to attract independents and disaffected Democrats; this net, she added, would then become a “glorious umbrella” that would allow the country to “forge a chain” and “birth a new beginning.” Warning: do not try this at home.
“Forging” was a key part of her big rhetorical flourish of the evening, an elaborate and extended, if utterly contrapuntal, metaphor about “chains” as the defining symbol of, uh, freedom.
As in: The Founders “faithfully forged a chain of liberty” that has grown longer (and presumably heavier) through the following generations so that today, “People all across America can’t wait to fashion that chain.”
This just in: long lines form early outside Home Depot amid reports of widespread chain hoarding.
Maybe it’s just us, but the whole chain thing seemed slightly offensive, especially when she railed about the need to “take our country back,” presumably from the current occupant of the White House who’s apparently claimed it on behalf of Kenya, in order to claim it for those chain-totin’ Tea Party overseers.
Friendly persuasion: Speaking of Kenya, we were delighted to have the chance post-Bachmann to interview Pat Boone, the 77-year old erstwhile pop crooner who, back in the day, was our parents’ goodie-goodie answer to Elvis, and who’s since become a white bread Christian Republican icon. (Hard to believe some of us made out to his tunes).
Along with Old Chroniclers Carla Marinucci and Joe Garofoli, we had an intriguing colloquy with Boone (they’ve got major video of it on their site)
The bullet points: a) he’s personally traveled to Kenya where he found sufficient evidence to convince him Obama was born there (i.e. a bunch of people, including Obama’s grandma, told him so); b) all the documentation proving that Obama was born in Hawaii proves no such thing (the president is “spending millions” on lawyers to keep the truth from coming out); c) the president’s claims to be a Christian are very shaky (he grew up “reading the Koran in Arabic” and does not celebrate Christian holidays in the White House). Except when he does.
Boone, who substituted his trademark white bucks for a pair of white patent leather ankle boots, also said that while he’s opposed to gay marriage, he’s “not a homophobe,” because he knows and has cared for lots of people with AIDS, including his late friend Rock Hudson.
Further fashion note: along with the white boots, Pat wore a 5-button khaki suit, pink shirt, American flag tie and a US/Israel pin. This could become known as the Full Boone.
Is that a doubloon in your pocket or are you just glad to see me? Although worn out by our exertions of trying to make sense of Bachmann’s big night, Calbuzz was up early the next morning to catch Ron Paul’s speech about monetary policy, silver and the gold standard.
His bottom line: Forget the eradication of diphtheria, polio and smallpox, “things have not improved since 1913,” the year the Federal Reserve was created.
In an exclusive huff-and-puff hallway ambush interview with the candidate, as he was rushed away, Calbuzz learned that Paul thinks the state of California does have the right to prevent children from being enrolled in public school if they’re not immunized for polio and whooping cough — “but there should be no federal mandates.”
And late Saturday the excited word spread that Paul had swept to victory in the CAGOP’s Mickey Mouse Straw Poll in which a total of 833 votes were cast. Indeed, the Congressman from the Great State of Texas captured (drum roll please) 374 votes — or
.0107% (that’s point zero one zero seven percent) of the Republican vote in California. .0070468% of the 5,307,411 registered Republicans in California.
Hey, it’s a start.