Former Gov. Pete’s Wilson’s Saturday endorsement of Ted Cruz for president laid bare the Republican Party’s fear of Donald Trump, how truly far to the right the GOP has evolved and how desperate conservatives are for relevance in California.
Wilson was the last successful career Republican in California. Despite his legacy of Prop. 187 in 1994 and the subsequent alienation of Latinos, he was essentially a moderate: pro-choice, environmentally friendly and willing to compromise with Democratic Assembly Speaker Willie Brown on policy and spending in order to govern the state.
Cruz represents everything Wilson was not: evangelical, pro-life, hostile to environmentalism and wholly uncompromising – willing even to rally back-bench conservatives in opposition to House Speaker John Boehner to shut down the federal government in pursuit of the unattainable repeal of Obamacare.
Wilson believed compromise was necessary to keep the wheels of government turning; Cruz believes flatly that compromise is capitulation. Even on immigration, Wilson’s Prop. 187 sought to cut off public benefits to unauthorized immigrants, not to deport them, as Cruz advocates.
Burning Man: Cruz’s No. 1 civilian cheerleader in California – Flash Report publisher Jon Fleischman – was part of a right-wing group that, in 1991, burned Wilson in effigy for raising taxes.
So Wilson’s decision to endorse Cruz is compelling witness to the shape of the GOP race for president, conditions in the Republican Party nationally and the sorry state of affairs for the GOP in deep blue California, with registration now hovering at 28%.
“We cannot afford a Republican nominee that brings us down-ticket decimation,” Wilson told the GOP delegates Saturday, referring to the effect Trump could have among women voters. And, he added, “Heaven knows what justices Donald Trump would pick. We can’t afford a wild card when it comes to the president who will be making critically important Supreme Court appointments.”
A genuine Republican Brahmin, the 82-year old Wilson gave voice to what the party elite fear most – that if Trump heads the GOP ticket in November, they may lose control of the Senate and perhaps even the House. Better to Lose with Cruz – to have Hillary Clinton as president and keep control of Congress – than to risk it all on the risky Trump.
White Fright: So strong is that fear, that a political grandee like Wilson is willing to support a presidential candidate who has vowed – if elected – to appoint justices who would obliterate his signature measure of moderation: support for a woman’s right to choose. How lamentable – and politically destructive – that the center has been blown so far to the right.
If Wilson’s endorsement of Cruz reflects the state of the GOP contest, the convention itself, drawing appearances by all three remaining contenders, was a near-perfect tableaux of the presidential campaign writ large.
Arriving on Friday, Trump’s motorcade was blocked by enraged protesters from reaching the Hyatt Regency in Burlingame, forcing the New York mogul to scramble down a drainage ditch, through a fence that had been cut away by security agents, up an embankment and into a hotel back door. (To see Trump’s immigrant experience in detail, check out the Calbuzz exclusive re-creation.)
Almost wherever he goes, Trump incites outrage and sometimes violence on the left and right. His response was to make light of the protests: “That was not the easiest entrance I’ve ever made,” Trump told the convention, “It felt like I was crossing the border.” As if.
He then proceeded to insult the GOP regulars there to hear him by calling for party unity and then saying he could win without it. He fleetingly mentioned two issues – trade and immigration – but spent most of his time bragging about his poll numbers and his brand of personality politics as if he was angling to be the party’s Vladimir Putin, who he so admires.
Putting His Best Right Foot Forward: Cruz presented himself for what he is – the logical conclusion of hard-right, evangelical conservatism in the tradition of the California Republican Assembly, the right-wing’s right wing, once run by Michael Schroeder – an erstwhile Wilson foe who now is running Cruz’s California campaign. The CRA has long been sure of itself and has won virtually nothing.
His choice of Carly Fiorina, the fired Hewlett Packard CEO who got creamed by Barbara Boxer in the 2010 U.S. Senate race, was a pathetic stab at trying to be relevant in California and to mitigate against women’s hatred of Trump. But as Fiorina demonstrated with her speech to delegates Saturday night, she is weak sauce that leaves a bad taste. The notion — pushed by Ted and Carly — that the race comes down to Cruz-Fiorina versus Trump and Clinton is plainly absurd on all fronts.
While Trump flies at 30,000 feet, Cruz is organizing at a granular level, district-by-district, block-by-block, hoping to win suburban, inland and Central Valley congressional districts and perhaps in heavily Democratic districts where a small number of conservative Republicans can make a difference in the closed GOP primary. But even if he gets to California’s June 7 primary (assuming he survives Indiana on Tuesday), Trump’s overpowering media whirlpool is likely to suck Cruz under.
The Afterthought: John Kasich, the Ohio governor, is, well, a remnant – a throwback to George Shultz Republicanism that is thoughtful and conservative but reasonable enough to consider ways to work with the opposition to get things done. In an era of the political equivalent of the high-speed chase, Kasich is almost certainly road kill.
The problem for all of them – Trump, Cruz and Kasich – is that California is a nation state and Republicanism in all its current forms is out of step with the broad sentiments of California voters.
Of course, someone will win the GOP primary and all the candidates will likely take a portion of the state’s 172 Republican delegates. But in the process of trying to round up those delegates, with their stands on abortion, immigration, environment and social services – and with Trump’s scorn for women and Latinos — the Republican candidates will further ensure that in November, California’s 55 electoral votes, will be for the Democrat.
So enjoy having GOP presidentials around while you can – it won’t last long.