A Vision for California’s Visionless Republican Party

About a month ago, the California Republican Party apparently harvested my email address, because since then I’ve been the lucky recipient of an email avalanche from “CAGOP.” Every day now, sometimes twice a day, their messages turn up in my inbox with subject lines such as “Are you as tired of Gavin Newsom as we are?,” “Are YOU watching this impeachment sham, Edward?,” “Nancy Pelosi continues to drag on the impeachment SHAM,” “Will the impeachment sham ever end?,” and “Nancy Pelosi is Obstructing the Senate.”

A few weeks ago, CAGOP sent a “Sustaining Membership Statement” in the mail, complete with a “Member ID” and “Member Code,” and a “2020 Election Year Sustaining Membership Renewal, Requested Contribution” of—get this—either $290, $435, $580, or “other.” Check a box. Enclose a check. Huh? I’ve never been a “sustaining member” of the CAGOP. And what’s with the odd amounts of money? Did a focus group indicate that putting weird amounts into a letter would get our attention?

The letter, like the emails, was filled with short, single-sentence paragraphs, liberally sprinkled with words written in all capital letters, or underlined, or in bold type. Written in a style that would not challenge the average third-grader, all of them were designed to serve red meat to knee-jerk conservatives but offered nothing in the way of a policy agenda. We push buttons. You give money. Me Tarzan.

This is condescending, hypocritical garbage, coming from a party leadership run by consulting firms whose mission is not to save California, but rather to stay in business.

For starters, the leadership in California’s Republican Party doesn’t like Trump. If they did, they wouldn’t confine their endorsements of Trump to fundraising letters and emails to “sustaining members.” Instead, they would proclaim their support publicly, loudly, proudly, often, and everywhere. But they don’t.

This is not just a failure of courage and vision, it is a strategic blunder.

California’s Republican Party has declined from 31 percent of registered voters in 2009 to 26 percent in 2017 to only 24 percent today. Yet an astonishing 35 percent of all Californians approve of Trump’s job performance—that would equate to 7 million registered voters. A November 2018 Public Policy Institute poll put Trump’s support at 39 percent among likely California voters.

The last time California’s GOP had a share of California’s voters in excess of 35 percent was over 30 years ago. Until and unless CAGOP registration comes anywhere near to Trump’s approval rating in the Golden State, they cannot point to his presidency as the cause of the party’s continuing decline. CAGOP has nothing to lose in publicly supporting President Trump. Sending private emails gushing over Trump while avoiding any public mention of him is pathetic.

A Policy Agenda and Political Strategy

To be fair, it isn’t easy for the CAGOP in California, where leftist oligarchs and public-sector unions are willing and able to spend hundreds of millions of dollars every election cycle to support Democratic candidates and causes. But courage and vision are free. You don’t have to spend $900,000 on focus groups and polling if you have a good idea. You just go out and sell it.

It should go without saying, that you can support Trump’s policies without having to agree with every one of his tweets, which sometimes number over 100 per day. You don’t have to defend every action he’s taken, and you don’t have to agree with all his policies. But what you can do is visualize and articulate how Trump’s overall policy agenda is rooted in common sense centrism, and identify specific examples of how it is relevant to California’s challenges.

State-funded infrastructure projects, for example, can make libertarian heads explode. But Trump, along with most California politicians, supports infrastructure projects. And Trump, unlike most of California’s politicians and bureaucrats, actually understands the construction business. Why not invite him to lead a symposium in Los Angeles on tunneling to solve transportation gridlock? Bring in Elon Musk’s Boring Company and turn him loose on 3-D traffic solutions the same way he was turned loose on rocketry.

Energy and the environment are another area where Trump’s gut calls on what makes for practical policy are echoed by many common-sense politicians and experts. There is no reason why California isn’t building desalination plants on the Southern California coast. As relatively late adopters, California’s utilities can install pre-manufactured modular plants that are becoming the norm worldwide, and cost far less to engineer.

Similarly, there is no reason California should be importing gas and oil from Venezuela; surely there are some in-state reserves that could be tapped without creating the environmental havoc that the plaintiff’s bar . . . oops . . . the environmentalist lobby constantly alleges.

On the environment, why hasn’t the California Environmental Quality Act been repealed? It is one of the biggest reasons housing is so expensive in California. Why aren’t Californians widening and upgrading every highway and freeway in the state, and getting them smart-vehicle enabled, instead of blowing through billions on a bullet train? Why aren’t Californians allowed to build whole new cities along Interstate 5 or Highway 101? Why aren’t the connecting east-west roads—such as Highways 198, 41, and 58—being widened and improved? Why aren’t we building beautiful new suburbs that could bring to life what is now arid and underutilized cattle range?

No discussion of the environment in California can ignore the catastrophic mismanagement of forest and wildland, where for decades, environmentalist regulations ended or greatly reduced the ability for landowners to do selective logging, salvage logging, controlled burns, cut and maintain firebreaks and access roads, and create defensible space. Imagine how much could be done, fast, if Trump’s Department of the Interior got involved. Imagine the benefit if federal regulations were rewritten to permit commercial timber companies to harvest viable lumber in exchange for performing thinning operations?

Exposing Progressive Lies, Offering Centrist Alternatives

If the CAGOP had vision, party leaders would embody these projects in candidates willing to push unapologetically for their implementation. They would resolutely proclaim, accurately, that energy development, suburban expansion, public spending on infrastructure, and sensible reforms to environmental regulations are moderate centrist positions.

At the same time, these candidates can expose the stunning, corrupt hypocrisy of Democrats in California, who for years deliberately have enacted policies that have made California unaffordable to all but the wealthy elites.

You want affordable homes? Build suburbs again on open land. You want affordable energy? Keep the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant open and once again drill for oil and gas. You want, for that matter, affordable tuition? Then fire 75 percent of college administrators, who suddenly, and for no good reason, nearly outnumber classroom instructors.

Republican candidates can explain that the people most harmed by these Democratic policies are the low-income communities who, even so, constitute the strongest and most reliable support for the Democrats. They’ve been conned. For example, public schools have been ruined by the teachers’ unions. Don’t pussyfoot around, fighting over how many charter schools the legislature will “compromise” on. Call for school vouchers so parents can send their kids anywhere they want!

An effective message from the CAGOP wouldn’t just spew carefully curated sound bites, pretending to dislike Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff. It would offer a specific policy agenda, and not only propose candidates but also offer citizen initiatives sponsored directly by the party to fulfill that agenda. That’s a message that would not be deleted. That would be a message from an organization with a genuine mission, instead of yet another rote ejaculation from a diminishing fiefdom of supposedly conservative consultants, past their prime, hanging on to dwindling donor dollars.

A California Republican Party with imagination and courage would emulate President Trump, fiercely defending his policy agenda, fearlessly calling for policies in California that are consistent with what he is trying to do nationally, and stating, over and over, that they are the moderate ones, and that the Democrats are the dangerous extremists.

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About Edward Ring

Edward Ring is a senior fellow of the Center for American Greatness. He is also the director of water and energy policy for the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. Ring is the author of Fixing California: Abundance, Pragmatism, Optimism (2021) and The Abundance Choice: Our Fight for More Water in California (2022).

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