Opinion

To adapt, California GOP needs to move beyond Reagan

One of the more curious post-election commentaries came from the Orange County Register and the supposition, by a Republican consultant, that John Cox’s gubernatorial campaign deserves praise, not burial.

Cox slipped past Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom in Orange County despite GOP misfortunes there (since the column was published, Newsom has taken a slim lead). Statewide, in GOP bastions, Cox tended to run ahead of his fellow Republicans – even incumbent members of Congress.

Then again, California Republicans looking for a silver lining in this election is sort of like Longstreet bragging he was the better general than Pickett at Gettysburg. The math: The results aren’t final, but Newsom approaches 62 percent of the vote in what will be the most lopsided result since 1950.

The governor-elect’s margin of victory: about 2.8 million votes. Take away every vote Newsom got in Los Angeles and San Diego Counties and he still wins by a Floridian 100,000 votes. That’s due in part to Newsom’s 1.3 million-vote advantage in the nine counties surrounding the Bay Area.

Ronald Reagan liked to joke the Orange County, with its conservative perma-class, was where “Republicans went to die.” That’s precisely what happened – Republican congressional candidacies perished countywide. But Reagan last sought office in 1984. If you voted for the man as an 18-year-old first-timer, congratulations: you turned 50 in 2016.

The point: Times change and so do demographics. Bill Clinton might still believe in a place called Hope; earlier this month, 80 percent of voters in that Arkansas town voted for a Republican congressional candidate. Lyndon Johnson rests in peace near the banks of the Pedernales River and a stretch of central Texas that voted against Beto O’Rourke, the new Democratic sensation, by a 4-to-1 margin.

This isn’t to gloss over the Republican meltdown in California. The challenge, as talk of rebuilding begins, is to move past Reagan nostalgia and focus on the here and now.

For starters: Newsom’s Bay Area fortress.

Twenty years ago, the nation was in the midst of an impeachment saga. Registered Republicans living to the immediate south of San Francisco – outraged either by Kenneth Starr’s meandering or Bill Clinton’s mendacity – had an outlet in the form of Tom Campbell, a GOP congressman in a San Jose-based district representing part of Silicon Valley. Campbell was a perfect fit for his district: intellectual, socially moderate with a libertarian fiscal streak.

Now, to talk Trump impeachment with the nearest Republican member of Congress, you have to drive past Sacramento and into the Mother Lode where Tom McClintock holds sway?

While Democrats celebrate Orange County as the “new blue” (let’s see if that holds up once Trump departs), it’s the Bay Area that intrigues. Move past the San Francisco bubble and it’s a story of a GOP disconnect with an electorate that’s educated, evolved and in search of solutions to everyday problems like health care, housing and transportation.

Republicans need to figure how to address that electorate and those concerns.

Bill Whalen is a Hoover Institution research fellow and former speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson.

  Comments