California Republican Convention Reveals Stunningly Out Of Touch Party
By Robert Cruickshank
Walking around at the California Republican Party convention in Santa Clara on Friday night, I could see signs that the GOP has renewed confidence going into 2010. But I also saw signs that this confidence is misplaced and frankly delusional. Although 2010 might be more favorable to California Republicans than most elections since 1994, the extreme right-wing nature of the party, their desire to undermine everything President Obama has done, and their insistence on attacking anyone who needs government assistance - especially if they aren't white - combines to produce a set of candidates that should be outright unelectable, if California Democrats are able to run quality campaigns that motivate and mobilize their base.
One of the more telling moments at the convention was, as Brian noted, the chilly reception Abel Maldonado's plea for genuine outreach to Latinos received. That has to be juxtaposed with the scene of both Meg Whitman and particularly Steve Poizner spending a lot of time bashing immigrants.
The immigrant-bashing shows that the California Republican Party is certainly nativist - but it is the hostility to Latino outreach that proves what we've all known: Republican immigrant-bashing is little more than Latino-bashing dressed up in seemingly more acceptable clothing. Anyone who's spent time among conservative social circles in this state knows this to be true. Anti-immigrant sentiment is almost always linked to criticisms of Latino culture, values, or Latinos themselves.
Even though Republicans have generally failed to win elections in California on an immigrant-bashing platform ever since they used that sentiment to win a classically Pyrrhic victory in 1994, they appear set to try again in 2010.
Republican candidates also continued to spout far-right statements, including Carly Fiorina's embrace of global warming denialism. Tom Campbell called President Obama's policy of using the federal government to address the economic crisis "soft socialism", which I'm sure all those enjoying extended unemployment benefits and COBRA coverage will be pleased to hear. In a state that voted for Obama by 20 points and still gives him strongly positive approval ratings, Campbell's anti-Obama message is a truly bizarre way to try and win a statewide election.
All of five of the GOP candidates for governor and US Senate appeared to agree that the growth of the federal government was somehow a "problem." This is part of their bid to win over the teabaggers, whose promised strong showing at the convention turned out to be a bust.
It's also part of their overall political strategy of growing and solidifying corporate power and the position of the wealthy over everyone else, at the expense of everyone else. For Republicans that is entirely consistent with their attacks on immigrants and Latinos. Republicans believe anyone who receives government support of any kind is somehow deviant, a leech, and deserving only of scapegoating - unless of course that recipient is a large corporation or a wealthy individual, in which case it's perfectly fine.
That's not the mentality shared by most Californians, who support using government to provide aid to those who need it, especially in a recession. If and when the Congress finally gets around to passing a good health care bill, it will likely be popular in California. And though these Republican candidates will convince themselves that Scott Brown had the right idea and so they'll oppose the bill, that's not likely to play well in a state that has shown deep outrage over the unaffordable rate increases from the health insurance companies.
What the aptly-named CRP convention showed Californians is a party that is so far to the right that they've gone over the horizon of what is considered acceptable by the people of California. Deeply out of touch with both the needs and values of the people of this state, the Republican candidates are unapologetically selling an agenda that would have made even George W. Bush look less radical in a state that has shown nothing but hostility to such extremists over the last 14 years.
That doesn't mean Democrats will win by default. Far from it. Because these Republicans have a truly staggering amount of money, they can afford to run campaigns that are bigger than their true base of support, and can afford to bombard California with their slick TV messages that generally mask the extremism they displayed over the weekend in Santa Clara.
Nor does it help that Democratic voters, especially the base and the Obama voters of 2008, are not enthusiastic or highly motivated right now. Fear of the right-wing will only do so much to get them to the polls. Democrats will need to not only point out how radical and out of touch their Republican opponents are, but offer a plausible positive vision for the future. Barbara Boxer and Jerry Brown will have to show voters how they will deal with the institutional and political forces that blocked progressive change in 2009. And they will have to do intelligent, targeted outreach to the key elements of the Democratic base - including the Latino voters who were persistently insulted and derided by Republicans this weekend.
There's no reason that 2010 has to resemble 1994, except in the deluded fantasies of the Republican convention-goers. As Ethan Rarick explained in the LA Times last week, California Democrats have a built-in advantage with the electorate. If both Boxer and Brown run strong campaigns that motivate and mobilize that advantage, they should be able to prevail in November.
Robert Cruickshank is a historian, activist, and teacher living in Monterey. He is a contributing editor at Calitics.com and works for the Courage Campaign, in addition to teaching political science at Monterey Peninsula College. Currently he is completing his Ph.D. dissertation in US history, on progressive politics in San Francisco in the 1960s and 1970s. This article was originally published in Calitics.