Feature 07.26.2021 6 minutes

Does California Matter?

Aerial Photo of Sacramento State Capitol Building Demonstration

A tale of two recalls.

Does California still matter? It does and it doesn’t. But not in the way most people think.

I came to California to go to college. I fell in love with the place.

It used to seem to me that if you’re a wandering soul roaming the continental United States, you eventually end up there. The Great Plains and their fickle skies are swept up into the crescendo of the Rockies; the Sierra Nevada serves as a second protective barrier of sheer, dizzying beauty; and then a land of light unfolds on down to the sea.

To live in California is to become a connoisseur of light, and its clarity emphasizes the enormity of everything. Redwoods. Death Valley. Tahoe. Mt. Shasta.  A land for giants. Canaan on the edge of a continent.

Besides, as I used to say, if Western civilization is going to die you may as well watch it from the best seat in the house. Exploring Los Angeles was once my favorite pastime, and I used to proselytize about the virtues of Los Angeles County to anyone who would listen. But I also studied its vices.

After over a quarter century mostly lived in the Golden State, my family left it all this year for Texas—and we haven’t looked back.

It turns out that when you have kids, you don’t want to be in Venezuela when it collapses. Old friends now ask us about the hot Texas summer. But, like so many others, I’m not at a stage in life where I give a damn about refined weather. As you may have noticed, we have some work to do to save America. And weather and geography do not matter when you are ruled by people who hate you and your family and everything you stand for—when the rule of law is routinely bent for one side and not the other.

The bottom line is this: California is a corrupt one-party oligarchic state and there is no longer a group of people willing and powerful enough to oppose and defeat the corrupt cartels that run it.

If California leads the nation, and it often does, we are about to fall off a cliff into a churning sea. Maybe we already have.

Recall, 2021

Yet it is notable that even in California, with the backing of no prominent group of mega-donors and no support in the mainstream media, an organic movement arose last year and proposed a recall of the sitting governor—one of the most prominent and widely-hailed Democrat politicians in America—and succeeded. The recall election is now set for September 14.

Does it matter? This depends on your premises. Speaking for myself, I think hope for a good result is delusional. But if you still think California possesses a democratic form of government, you might think there’s a chance. There is still a path to victory, some say. And true, there is always a potential path, no matter how improbable.

Let’s trace it out: for a competent person to fight back and win against the west coast’s vicious ruling class, what would have to happen?

The Candidates

First, you’d need a politician who did not speak as a “moderate” but was bold on select “controversial” issues, with a vibrant public image. And not the usual conservative Republican, either: a Trump, in other words, but not Trump.

Since Bill Simon lost to Gray Davis by five points in 2002, however, California Republicans have thought the path to victory was running a “moderate”—by which they generally mean a person with a boring public image who is socially liberal and fiscally conservative. Never mind that Gavin Newsom beat carpetbagger John Cox in 2018 so bad you have to look back to Earl Warren’s win in 1950 to find a comparison. Cox is running again, but he’s going nowhere.

The moderate of the moment is Kevin Faulconer, former Mayor of San Diego. Faulconer is the typical Neel Kashkari, Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina-type candidate except, unlike them, he at least has won political office before. He is the sort of candidate that California Republican donors still love to write checks for—which means he is almost certainly guaranteed to lose.

The idea that Caitlyn Jenner is going to win is attractive to the accelerationist in all of us: what better candidate to represent the Golden State in 2021! But this seems a bridge too far, despite what the ruling class pretends, especially given Jenner’s foolish missteps.

Conservative talk show host Larry Elder is entertaining, and no doubt an actual conservative of a sort. He has a star quality and likeable belligerence about him that makes him far more interesting in the public eye than most others. But he’s about to turn 70, and he’s a libertarian at heart. Can he match the rhetorical moment in the midst of the ongoing national political realignment and speak to the future? Doubtful.

Perhaps the most interesting candidate is Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, who has impressed many on social media for his sharp attacks on Newsom over the last year. Kiley is not only bright but young, which sets him apart from the rest of the pack. There’s a chance he could say some of what’s needed. Regardless, he could easily become a new national star this year if he is given a platform.

The Campaign

To beat Newsom, you’d need to run a furious opposition research campaign behind the scenes, seeding stories revealing the rampant corruption of the various factions who run the state, strategically tied to key campaign issues. This meta-narrative (which has the benefit of being both true and politically salient), would then need to be used shrewdly to play the corrupt factions off each other, exploiting the divisions within the one-party state coalition. Like a big, overripe tomato, it’s always in danger of implosion.

You’d need to campaign with a razor-sharp focus and a firm handle on the data and demographics in order to thread the needle. The key to finding the votes to beat the California cartel is still, as it was for Republican governors in the past, to win over enough Latino votes in the southern California metroplex (the Bay Area is impossible), with a special focus on working-class regions like the Inland Empire.

You’d also need to rely heavily on national and online media in order to get the job done, since the state and local media is effectively a propaganda arm of the government.

Finally, lacking the infrastructure the Left has firmly established throughout the state for decades, any serious challenger will have to build an insurgency movement from scratch in a matter of months.

The Odds

Even if this is not impossible, it’s highly unlikely. True, Californians are not happy with the way things are, which is why so many are moving out. Going directly to the unhappy people in the wake of a year of disastrous governance could theoretically make up for the lack of infrastructure for any oppositional ground game. And having examined California political systems for years, I still believe there are divisions within the one-party state that could be exploited.

But let’s face it: there are few examples of any opponent of the progressive Left in recent history successfully running such a complicated campaign at this scale. For years, no one seemed interested in the game plan I outline above. Even if that’s changed, the powerful oligarchy at the head of a large woke bureaucracy that is firmly in control—of virtually everything—has no intention of letting go of power.

More to the point, there is no obvious candidate that truly threatens Gavin Newsom, and there is no obvious elite coalition that would oppose him. Who will support his opposition? Where will even half of the money that Newsom will spend come from? To beat Newsom, one would need a clearly-defined group of powerful interests, singly devoted to all-out political combat.

This is partly why I left. It seems there is neither the will nor the united talent and resources to mount a serious counterattack. Yes, the recall in California is one of many signs that people on the ground are very upset. Yes, there’s a growing backlash. But it is foolish to assume that one-party states like California effectually possess a democratic form of government. In other words, the backlash won’t matter.

Further, all of the above is a rearguard action. California matters because this one-party oligarchy is what they are now building in Washington, D.C. But the battlefront for the soul of the nation is no longer in California. The only major institutions that the Right controls in America are ostensibly red states. For us, the frontline of American politics is to push often complacent red state Republicans to lead nationally with bold new words and deeds. In other words, I came to Texas to help keep Texas, Texas.

In red states you can still build new things. New things we now need desperately.

The Other Recall

Los Angeles County, however, does contain one new thing that bears watching—perhaps even more so than the gubernatorial recall. Against my better judgment, because it may get your hopes up, I will close by pointing toward a dynamic that, if anyone does want to beat Gavin Newsom, they will no doubt be following closely.

Note that, nationally speaking, even NPR is saying that “Latino Voters Are Leaving The Democratic Party” on account of what Trump hath wrought. True, Trump doesn’t play in California. But.

Though he was relatively unknown when he won election in 2018, it was apparent to close observers from the start that L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva was no woke warrior. He comes straight from the heart of Los Angeles law enforcement and with the heavy support of their unions. In a strange and unique political moment, he saw his opportunity and he took it. It wasn’t just that he was Latino—people were licking their chops at having the first Democrat in 138 years become Sheriff. So they turned a blind eye to the obvious.

But a funny thing happened after Sheriff Villanueva took office: he became one of the most interesting men in American politics today. He is L.A. District Attorney George Gascón’s worst nightmare—as opposed to the George Soros-backed radical, Villanueva has taken every step he can to protect his officers. Without apology. Without compromise. In fact, he was one of the first people to sign up to recall Gascón. That’s right—there’s another recall effort going on in California. And Villanueva is for it.

BLM hates him. In the midst of the explosion of violence of last summer, while celebrities like Lebron James were broadcasting their support of the not-so-peaceful protests, two of Villanueva’s officers were shot in the head. Outside the hospital, people yelled “We hope they die!” Villanueva, on the other hand, gave a riveting update from the heart on live TV: “we have people fanning the flames of hatred and just turning up the volume…Particularly our elected officials and civic leaders and sports figures, they need to start emphasizing trust in the system, due process.” He later went on the radio and called out King James, asking him to contribute to the reward his Department was offering to catch the shooter.

L.A.’s elites and the national media convulsed into an extended, outraged uproar.

Recently, Villanueva said he and his officers would not enforce L.A.’s latest reversion back to masks: “the underfunded/defunded Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department will not expend our limited resources and instead ask for voluntary compliance.”

The county’s powerful Board of Supervisors want to remove him. The ACLU wants him to resign, as does the L.A. Democratic Party. Activists have protested outside his house.

The media has never stopped signaling how shocked and appalled they are at his existence. Los Angeles Magazine called him the worst epithet that could ever be hurled on the west coast: “The Donald Trump of L.A. Law Enforcement.” The Los Angeles Times can’t stop sputtering about him and his unfolding 2022 campaign: “We’re running against the woke left, and we’re going to win,” said Javier Gonzalez, a campaign consultant for Villanueva. “It’s going to be a revolt of the regular people who want things done.”

Can you imagine the nerve of this guy? To say and do what Republicans in safe districts don’t have the stones to utter out loud? In Los Angeles? His opponents hardly know what to say, other than to point to his unwokeness and scream.

Villanueva doesn’t have a political background. But he knows the way things work. He’s spent a lot of time in areas governed by the Latino political machine. The cities of east Los Angeles are not exactly known for their civic propriety. Neither is the Sheriff’s Department. Hell, neither is the entire state. The tension between woke ideology and the machines in our major cities is one of the dirty Democratic secrets that the media covers up. Wheels have to actually turn if they are to siphon off some grease.

“Intersectionality” only exists in graduate schools. The increasing list of cities voting “no confidence” in Gascón includes heavily Latino Pico Rivera, where Villanueva was once watch commander. Even in L.A., people of all ethnicities are not giving a thumbs up to the increasing homeless and medieval diseases in the streets. Even in L.A., most people don’t want to defund the police.

Of course, none of this matters to the overlords who run things. Villanueva calls them the “very wealthy west side of town folks.” As Gavin and his super-friends are about to wage ruthless political war to ensure they win in September, it is clear that the powers that be in L.A. want to fend of the recall of Gascón (“Impossible!”, they say) and get rid of Villanueva in 2022—if not before then. If I had to bet I would predict, sadly, that they will find a way to dislodge him. Let’s hope I’m wrong. About all of the above.

But I must admit that the Left is certainly worried about how popular Villanueva is. The Los Angeles Times says that “it is impossible to know.” We’ll find out soon enough.

I’ll be watching in the Republic of Texas.

But for those who want to fight on behind enemy lines, here’s the best friendly advice I can give: convince Alex Villaneuva to run for Governor.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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