By Ron Nehring
Nehring served as chair of the California Republican Party and was the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor in 2014. His website is ronnehring.com.
Californians need a competitive, two-party political system. Today’s uncompetitive environment for Golden State Republicans leaves the most extreme elements of the Democratic Party free to pursue their most extreme pet issues and fever dreams with little fear of being held accountable by voters. The result is a continuous downward spiral driven by higher taxes and a more intrusive government determined to micromanage every facet of our lives.
For California Republicans to be competitive again, we need to have a conversation, both here in the state, and in Washington, D.C.
Political parties are defined nationally. There is no “California” Republican Party brand distinct from the national party brand. The ceaseless stream of political news coming out of Washington, compared to the trickle coming from Sacramento, ensures that.
Let’s face it — the national Republican brand has taken a beating in precisely the communities that are critical to California’s political balance: in the suburbs, and among Latinos.
California has big cities, but in reality our cities are more like suburbs with a city limit drawn around them. Relatively few Californians live in mammoth apartment and condominium buildings like in New York, Boston or Chicago.
For Republicans to win again in California, and nationally, will require a concerted effort to win back the suburbs. Today, that means making clear we have a way out of the pandemic, and we have the answers to improving schools and lifting the burden on the middle class and those trying to reach it.
Making the state competitive again also requires making significant gains in our Latino communities, and that can only be accomplished if a candidate with the word “Republican” next to their name is seen as a friend, and not an adversary.
My father joined the Republican Party after he came to this country from Germany because he saw the party as the embodiment and protector of opportunity. Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger tells a similar story. That message, however, has become diluted of late. We can be the party of a safe, secure and modern border — and the party of legal, healthy immigration — at the same time. Reminding people of the later, as well as the former, would be a good start.
Finally, we need good candidates with a demonstrated ability to win the support of Republicans and non-Republicans alike. Our recent, painful experience with the attempted recall of Gov. Gavin Newsom demonstrated in the starkest possible terms that a Republican cannot win with just “firing up the base.” Candidates whose appeal is limited to the party’s base often end up equally firing up the Democratic base. And when you’re outnumbered by two to one, driving partisan divisions as the only strategy guarantees a loss.
Equally true, a Republican cannot win statewide without securing the support of the vast majority of Republican Party members as well. And it’s for this reason we need to have a conversation about what victory looks like.
Do we only want a candidate who makes us feel good, or do we also look for those qualities that enable a candidate to reach beyond the Republican base not with partisanship, but by building bridges on issues where independents and some Democrats agree with us, like on taxes, crime and homelessness?
Ronald Reagan had this ability — combining solid conservative ideas with a style and demeanor that opened doors to many voters who had gotten used to voting for the other team. A simplistic “just get the base fired up” strategy would have meant no “Reagan Democrats” in 1980, and Jimmy Carter would have gotten his second term.
It’s time for a conversation — a real one, not one where each side is focused on responding, as social media trains us, rather than on listening or understanding.
Make no mistake — Republicans are in a tough spot in California. Climbing back to competitiveness requires a party that can constructively change to work out a pathway to a majority. Our party must be principled, and smarter. We must be focused, yet welcoming.
The alternative is more years of unbalanced state government trapped in myopia and minutiae while the big issues driving so many residents to leave — taxes, crime, homelessness and affordability — continue to be ignored.
Photo Cred: San Diego Union Tribune file photo