No “Struggle For the Soul of GOP” in the States, Either

One of the themes I’ve been talking about since November 6 is the frantic search of Republicans in Washington for something, anything to change other than its ideology in order to improve its political standing. There’s endless talk of technology, tactics, outreach efforts, and minor tweaks in selected policy positions involving non-core issues like immigration (where the “change” Republicans are timidly considering actually just involves a partial return to policies championed by the George W. Bush). But none of the real stuff on taxes, entitlements, education, the environment, labor policy, anti-discrimination laws, abortion, foreign policy–or for that matter, the belief that “socialists” are taking the country straight to hell.

Well, maybe they think Democratic errors and a much more congenial midterm electorate in 2014 will save their bacon. But that’s a less compelling excuse in states where the GOP is not only losing ground but has become virtually irrelevant–most notably the largest state, Ronald Reagan’s state, California.

With that in mind I was interested to read an assessment from the veteran reporters at Calbuzz of the most promising and ambitious of candidates to become the new California GOP chairman, a former legislator named Jim Brulte. It’s generally a very positive account of his tripartite strategy for party renewal that includes rebuilding its fundraising infrastructure, focusing on grassroots organization in parts of the state where Republicans are under-performing, and recruiting candidates for local offices now going to Democrats by default. But then there’s this:

[T]he California GOP’s problem isn’t just a failure to communicate – it’s the underlying message that’s being communicated that’s a problem. The GOP brand is poison – among most white voters but especially among Latinos, Asians and black voters. Oh, and women. This is because as long as the Republican federal and state officeholders and candidates espouse misogynistic, anti-immigrant, anti-gay, no-tax-ever ideology, no amount of lipstick will gussie up that pig.

It will be endlessly entertaining to watch Chairman Brulte handle the screwball California Republican Assembly members who want to introduce resolutions for the CRP to adopt at its conventions, declaring that any candidate who votes for any tax increase or any candidate who supports choice or a pathway to citizenship cannot have GOP backing.

Brulte can fix the operational flaws in the California GOP — and his election as chairman would mark a huge leap forward for the state party. But until the Republicans in California — especially those seeking to represent legislative districts at all levels — moderate their politics to more closely align with the mainstream of political thought in the state, The California Republican Party will remain a pariah. No matter who’s chairman.

In other words, if the steak is tough and unappetizing to the taste, all the sizzle in the world won’t make people buy it. If Republicans haven’t figured that out in California, where they are on life support, I’m not sure if they’ll figure it out anywhere absent a few more electoral beatings.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.