Over the summer, I interned for the Republican National Committee’s convention-planning team, where one of our projects was to propose a host city for the 2024 convention. I selected San Diego, California, with the goal of “expanding the frontier” and making the GOP the ascendant force in the West—as it was until the early 2000s.* This recommendation holds, but Republicans should commence their charge early by coordinating competitive gubernatorial and United States Senate campaigns in the Golden State.
Provided that current Senator Kamala Harris is sworn in as vice president, one of California’s Senate seats will become vacant come January 20, 2021. California’s other seat could be vacant in time for the 2022 midterms, as incumbent Democrat Dianne Feinstein—who is 87—may retire amid attacks from her party’s left wing and credible allegations of cognitive decline. Additionally, incumbent Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom is up for re-election in 2022. He faces a recall campaign that has accumulated 844,000 signatures out of the required 1.5 million, and is vulnerable electorally due to recent controversies.
The case for targeting California’s governorship and senatorial seats is trifold. For one, California is a beautiful and once-vibrant state that has been governed poorly by Democrats. Second, the Golden State is shifting to the right, with POLITICO’s post-election banner blaring: “The president got steamrolled statewide, but 2020 was the best year for California Republicans in more than a decade.” Finally, there are plenty of Republicans who would be credible statewide contenders in California.
A One-Party State with Predictable Results:
Since former Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s term expired in early 2011, California has not had a single statewide Republican official. Some would argue that Schwarzenegger himself was a “Republican in name only,” and that the last true Republican official was Governor Pete Wilson in the 1990s. Meanwhile, the California state Assembly and Senate have Democratic supermajorities.
The quality of this one-party governance is captured by California’s standing in the Electoral College: the state will be losing a vote as a result of the 2020 Census, whereas Republican-governed Florida and Texas will be gaining votes. These trends are attributable to Sacramento’s excessive mandates—taxes, burdensome regulations, and extremist climate policies—which have pushed people and businesses away from California and toward more hospitable states with similar climates.
In the past month alone, the Golden State has lost HP Enterprise, Oracle, and Elon Musk. And it appears that these defections are just the tip of the iceberg. Dispatches from Los Angeles and San Francisco, which are population centers controlled by the Democrats, indicate that homelessness, hard drugs, and human excrement are widespread. For example, according to a NBC investigation reported on by NPR, at least “100 discarded needles and more than 300 piles of human feces” were found in 153 blocks of San Francisco. In Los Angeles County, the homeless population rose by 12.7% between 2019 and 2020, and a simple calculation indicates that more than 1% of the people in the City of Los Angeles are homeless.**
San Diego is in better shape, thanks to the administration of Republican Kevin Faulconer. Among other things, the city government currently purchases hotels to house the homeless, maintains an app for reporting potholes and graffiti, and washes the city streets to alleviate the effects of sexually-transmitted diseases. Per the Washington Examiner, San Diego County was the only county in California to reduce homelessness in 2019, a striking contrast to Democrat-run cities upstate.
The governmental paradigm of Los Angeles and San Francisco, then, is poor governance with a potpourri of mandates—which are exacerbated by state taxes and regulations. Alternatively, San Diego maintains social order by embodying consistent, effective government. I propose that Republican statewide candidates adopt a “Revive California” mantra and ask people whether they would prefer the governmental model of San Francisco, or that of San Diego. The conservative platform should include a push for lower taxation and common-sense environmental solutions, which would ultimately arrest the housing crisis and rehabilitate the state’s economic condition.
Republicans should forcefully contend that California is a fiscal basket case in desperate need of reform. The state currently has a top personal income tax rate of 13.3%, which some Democrats have proposed increasing to 16.8%, and an 8.84% corporate tax. California’s 7.25% statewide sales tax is the highest in the country, and its detrimental economic effect is compounded by local assessments. Worse, once federal taxes are considered, California’s latest tax proposal would impose an effective top rate of 53.9%.
It does not take a doctorate in economics to see that multiple layers of government taking such a large portion of the pie makes a state economically radioactive. This point is not lost on Californians, who on November 3rd rejected a proposal to modify the state constitution’s cap on property taxes and allow for more taxation of commercial and industrial properties. The proposal, called Proposition 15, was defeated 56% to 44% in San Diego County and managed just 53.5% support in Los Angeles County.
Seeing that taxation is unpopular even in the Golden State, Republicans should proceed to make the affirmative case for state and federal tax decreases.
With regards to environmental protection, Republican candidates should embrace a conservationist ethic, while rejecting ineffectual and economically-catastrophic responses to climate change. They should make the case against renewable-energy mandates for state electricity providers, which have increased electricity costs, led to energy shortages, and catalyzed crippling blackouts. They should also reject elevated gas taxes and tighter standards for tailpipe emissions, whose effect on climate change is minimal. That said, for the purposes of electoral viability, the California GOP should champion the conservation of state and national parks and develop sensible approaches to climate change.
Between 2016 and 2020, President Donald Trump gained at least a million and a half voters in California, improving his share of the state’s popular vote from 31.5% to 34.3%. This may seem like a minor and inconsequential gain, but it is an improvement from the recent trend in the Golden State, in which Republicans have been hemorrhaging support with each passing election.
Moreover, Trump’s gains occurred among voters of color, who have been averse to the GOP for decades. Consider that in Compton, where 68% of residents are Hispanic and 29% are African-American, Trump won the largest share of the vote for a Republican since 1972 and the most raw votes since 1964. In the 1,544 Los Angeles precincts where Asian- and Hispanic-Americans combined make up 65% or more of the population, Trump increased his raw vote totals by 78%, relative to 2016. Meanwhile, Biden managed just a 23% improvement. In comparable precincts in San Diego, Trump increased his vote total by 59%, contra Biden, who increased his vote total by 21%.
A California Republican candidate who is capable of gaining suburban support, while maintaining the improvements the president managed among voters of color, will be a strong contender statewide. The possibility of a suburban revival is indicated by the fact that Republican congressional candidates flipped Democratic seats in Orange County, even as the president lost countywide by nine points.
Finally, the Golden State is shifting rightward philosophically. 2016 CNN exit polling indicates that liberals then made up 37% of the state, moderates 35%, and conservatives 28%. By the 2020 election, 30% of Californian voters stated that they were conservative, compared to 41% who identified as moderate and just 29% who identified as liberal. In short, the liberal portion of the Golden State’s electorate plunged by eight percentage points in four years—a truly remarkable rate of attrition—and forced the liberal ideology into third place.
The Right Candidates:
California Republicans have spent about a decade in the wilderness, mainly because of their failure to nominate exciting and electable candidates. In 2010 and 2014, their gubernatorial nominees (Meg Whitman and Neel Kashkari, respectively) were stolid corporate executives unprepared for the hand-to-hand combat of statewide campaigns. The same could be said for 2010 Senate candidate Carly Fiorina. And in 2018, the state party nominated John Cox, a faded perennial candidate who ran for offices in Illinois and California, against fresh and ostensibly qualified Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom. Predictably, Cox lost.
This time around, the California GOP has a deep bench of candidates for statewide office. It would make the most sense to nominate a legislator for the U.S. Senate, and an executive for the governorship.
For the Senate, U.S. House Representative Tom McClintock is a qualified and convincing option, and he came very close to winning statewide office in the past. It would also be worth considering Congresswomen-elect Michelle Steel and Young Kim, a pair of Korean-Americans who recently flipped Democratic seats in Orange County. Finally, Congressman Mike Garcia—who served as a fighter pilot in the Iraq War—won a special election in the Los Angeles suburbs by nearly 10 points, even though his Democratic predecessor won by nine points just 18 months before. Garcia won re-election in November 2020, albeit by a reduced margin.
The obvious Republican nominee for governor is former San Diego Mayor Faulconer, who has already signaled that he intends to run against Newsom. He would be able to highlight the San Francisco versus San Diego dichotomy that I discussed earlier, while emphasizing his successes at fulfilling the core functions of city government—something that his counterparts upstate have routinely been unable to do. Even the San Francisco Gate, which is hardly a conservative paper, is bullish on Faulconer’s chances. A recent headline notes, “[a]fter Gavin Newsom’s very bad week, his potential 2022 opponent is lurking.”
California’s Republican Opening:
Republican candidates have long been discounted in California, but their statewide woes are mainly a function of nominating unexciting candidates and then failing to provide them with adequate support. This fuels a feedback loop in which Republicans lose, the candidates worsen, and Republican chances even further diminish. The GOP, however, can stem its bleeding in the Golden State by nominating strong candidates for the California governorship and the U.S. Senate in 2021 and 2022. These candidates should adopt policies focused on regenerating California and seek out voters of color, in addition to the traditional Republican suburban base.
* In 2000, George W. Bush won every state west of Texas sans California, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. By 2004, he flipped New Mexico and tightened the Democratic margin in California from 11.8 points to the single digits (9.94 points).
** The City of Los Angeles has a population of 3,979,576, per the U.S. Census Bureau. The homeless population of Los Angeles is 41,290. 41,290 divided by 3,979,576 times 100 yields 1.04%.
*The views expressed in this article solely represent the views of the author, not the views of the Chicago Thinker.
Declan Hurley is the Chicago Thinker’s Publisher and Editor-in-Chief. A rising fourth year at the University of Chicago who is studying Economics and History, Declan is also a small-business owner, the editor of FDL Review, and an active participant in the politics of his home state, North Carolina. He loves to partake in the battle over ideas; and, in his free time, he likes to run, read, and review public-opinion polling.