The California Republican Party doesn’t have to be irrelevant, but it likely will remain so for years to come.
That’s in no small part because this month’s election results show that party identification is very important, and registered GOP voters are outnumbered by 47 percent to 23 percent in that state, surpassed for the first time by those with no party preference who now vote 24 percent of registrations.
Even if a Senate seat and four Assembly seats are tied a week after the Nov. 8 vote, Republican lawmakers can rest assured they have no leverage when it comes to state taxes and other public policy.
That’s because, despite having those five seats up in the air, Democrats had already won two-thirds majorities in both houses of the legislature, everything it takes to impose new taxes, override governor vetoes and take some proposals into effect immediately to do instead of waiting until the end of the year.
Even when statewide Republican candidates are clearly better qualified, uncontroversial, and gaining approval from left and right, they still lose. That’s what happened to the GOP’s much-loved Lanhee Chen, a Stanford University faculty member who easily lost his candidacy for state controller this fall, despite recommendations from every major newspaper and TV network that bothered .
None of that stopped GOP state chair Jessica Millan Patterson from sounding like her party had won on election night. “We’re doing great,” she told a reporter. “Our candidates are doing better than they have in years.”
But the only place where the GOP made even marginal progress was in Orange County, where reshuffling some seats has made it easier to piss off targets than it was two years ago. The reallocation is why Buena Park’s Soo Yoo trailed just behind incumbent Democratic Representative Sharon Quirk-Silva, a former Fullerton mayor, just days after the election in a district that overlaps the Los Angeles-Orange county line.
It’s also why Democratic Congresswoman Katie Porter had just about 5,000 more votes on former Orange County Republican Chairperson Scott Baugh at the same moment, and why two-year Democratic Oceanside Rep. Mike Levin was in a tighter-than-expected contest with the repeat challenger was Brian Maryott in her district, which covers parts of San Diego and Orange County.
The percentages of Democrats and Republicans hadn’t changed much even in Orange County since the 2020 vote, but district lines were different.
That led to rejoicing and boasting from the GOP, despite its dismal statewide performance, in which it hasn’t won even one statewide office since Arnold Schwarzenegger’s last candidacy in 2006. That’s 16 years of constant failure.
And yet Orange County Republican Chairman Fred Whitaker made this statement the day after the vote, at a time when his party hadn’t flipped a single state or federal office even there: “Orange County Republicans had in the midterm elections yesterday An incredibly strong performance tonight… that was a fight we were ready for.”
But even in Orange County, where Republicans traditionally need — and used to get — a 250,000-vote lead to stand a chance at statewide office, the party has largely failed to improve its performance beyond what it did in the redistribution of constituencies had gifted .
All of this means California Republicans have work to do if they are to regain prominence. If they want to register more Californians as GOP voters, they could abandon their staunch opposition to abortion rights, where Proposition 1 passed 66-34 percent of the vote this month and such rights were written into the state constitution. That percentage is only slightly larger than the percentage by which registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans. The GOP could change its automatic opposition to any new tax or benefit program, regardless of its purpose.
It’s also time for top Republicans like Whitaker and Patterson to stop their happy talk after elections in which Republicans have had little influence but gained little or nothing new. If you are content to lose constantly and your only gains come from redistribution, your party will never regain much influence.
At the same time, responsible two-party government requires a loyal opposition capable of controlling the majority party’s heavily ideological approaches to problems.
So far, the California GOP hasn’t come anywhere near that far.
Email Thomas Elias at [email protected]