As midterm results are finally finalized, some with ambiguous implications, the only clear takeaway is that our country is massively divided. While the GOP solidified its control of the Senate despite losing the House of Representatives, the Republican Party is now little more than an asterisk in the nation’s most populous state. Americans on the right side of our political divide in the rest of the country may gloat or lament the Golden State’s emerging single-party rule, but they ignore it at their peril.
Far from an electoral aberration or folly, California’s potential to reshape U.S. politics is only going to grow. Rather than ignore the bluest state in the Union, the GOP must re-engage the state and use it as a testing ground for flipping seats in blue states. If they do not, Republicans risk ceding the future to single-party governance and potential authoritarianism.
California’s leftward shift is not exactly news, but the state’s transition from a dependably red state, as it was between 1952-1988, to one of the bluest in the country should have Republicans worried.
The California GOP of the early 1990s allowed itself to be condemned as nativist and surrendered to Democratic efforts to frame it as an irreparably bigoted movement. This has steadily sapped the statewide party of all relevance. Now with Democrats holding supermajorities in both houses at the state level in California, Republicans have nowhere to go but up. Yet the party has a steep hill to climb in registering new voters and re-converting old ones. A recent poll found that 61 percent of Democrats nationally consider the GOP to be fundamentally racist. The state’s Republicans must convince voters in California that this disparaging opinion is not only false, but that Democrat policies such as the state’s increased taxes on gasoline actually hurt minorities and the poor—both of which are demographics claimed by the state’s dominant party. Engaging in this long-term battle may be inconvenient for Republicans, but is necessary for its survival.
Blue America Rising
The national dilemma for the GOP is that other states will only become more like California. In Arizona, Nevada, and even Texas, this process is already well underway. Recent data from the midterm elections indicate that the GOP continues to have a problem courting Latino voters. Millennial voters, now entering and climbing in the workforce and seeking affordable places to live and raise families, are migrating to traditionally red states like Arizona, Tennessee, and South Carolina. Carrying ideological orientations fresh from Left-dominated academia (another aspect of American life surrendered by conservatives) the GOP has no other option than to try radical new ideas in preserving their electoral viability.
Analysts and commentators are quick to point to demographic change as the driving force, but that is only part of the answer. Certainly, the changing social fabric of the electorate is conducive to Democrat campaign strategies centered around identity politics and socialist economic ideas.
But one must be blind to deny that the Left’s rapid rise in U.S. politics since Obama’s second term is only made possible by decades of Republican surrenders in areas of American culture and an ongoing refusal to try new strategies in predominantly blue states. Conservatives, effectively, have written off plans to regain relevance in the universities and in the media. While such surrender is not necessarily fatal in the electoral arena, the GOP is showing a similar inability to adapt when it comes to the ballot box.
As traditionally Republican states such as Texas become increasingly likely to flip blue in forthcoming years, the GOP will be faced with a potential shutout at the national level for a generation or more. Such an eventuality would help to fulfill the prophecy in the remarks of California’s Democratic governor-elect, Gavin Newsom: “so goes California, so goes the nation.” As single-party rule sets in nationally, Republicans will have wished they focused on California as a laboratory for scrapping traditional politicking in lieu of trying brand new ideas.
Revitalizing Republicans Requires Radical Thinking
If California is any indication, the Republican strategy of politics as usual with adrenal rush of Trumpism will not suffice to safeguard the GOP’s relevance. To make California a laboratory for party revitalization, the state’s Republican Party should not only divorce itself from partisanship at the national level, but look to other countries and study cases in which single-party dominance collapsed at provincial and regional levels. Revitalizing two-party strength in California is not impossible, but requires radically new thinking.
Daunting as it may seem, turning California from deep blue to purple is not only needed to safeguard against the loss of states like Texas, but it would threaten Democratic hopes of establishing an electoral lock on the nation as a whole. Single-party dominance is a form of soft authoritarianism and it can take root in a democratic system. For example, India’s Congress Party has dominated power in the world’s largest democracy since it won independence in 1947. In Italy, the Christian Democracy party was dominant in the country’s politics from the end of World War II until the early 1990s. In both cases, single-party dominance ended only as the result of strong regional showings from their rivals, economic mismanagement, and aggressive investigations into corruption surrounding both parties. In the case of California and other Democratic Party strongholds in the United States, it remains to be seen if the Republicans have the creativity or will to facilitate the collapse of single-party dominance.
California certainly offers the regional imbalance that provides the GOP beginning issues upon which to grow. The state’s political subservience to the Bay Area in the north highlights but one such disparity. It is not coincidental that Senator Dianne Feinstein and California’s governor-elect Gavin Newsom were both mayors of San Francisco. Nor is it coincidental that Senator Kamala Harris and Nancy Pelosi are products of Bay Area politics.
The GOP should not give in to the notion that it is the party of the “old rich white man,” as Democrats happily insist. In order to avoid being condemned to demographically driven political irrelevance, however, the state party must not only be creative, but also be bold and aggressive in ways it has not been in the recent past. While many will argue that spending Republican campaign dollars in blue states is a waste of money, such defeatist thinking must be disregarded as it is compared to the costs of socialist agendas such as single-payer healthcare, “free” tuition, a reduced military, and the high taxes it takes to underwrite them. Party spending in California should be considered an investment in containment, if nothing else.
It is possible for an increasingly diverse America to be nationalistic, based in republicanism, and Republican-led. But the party must look to new strategies that are long-term and that have worked elsewhere. America can survive as the metaphorical “New Rome,” but if it is to be strong, prosperous, and avoid socialism the Republicans must adapt and stop abdicating in states they have lost or are on the verge of losing. California’s population, strategic position, and natural beauty are too valuable to lose to the devastating effects of socialism. The Golden State is worth redeeming, but Republicans must have the gall, energy, and creativity to save it. If they do not, Texas may be the next California—and then it may be too late.
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