Demonizing war skeptics is wrong and wrongheaded.
Two Million Useless Republicans
If California’s conservative vote went elsewhere, it could make a real difference.
The hoped-for “red wave” has not engulfed America. Republicans appear to have taken the House; at this point it’s not clear where the Senate stands. We will have a divided, paralyzed national government for the next two years, with a president even more diminished in standing than he was before. Joe Biden’s one remaining responsibility is to protect America from a far worse president than he: Kamala Harris. Row well and live, Joe. Row well and live.
Regardless of how the votes wind up, Republicans put real pressure this cycle on governors’ races in Democrat haunts around the nation. And the GOP lapped the competition in supposedly purple states like Florida and Texas. Kevin McCarthy will be the next Republican Speaker of the House on January 3, 2023. Given where things looked after the Dobbs decision earlier this year, 2022 has turned out okay for the GOP.
But for conservatives in California, condolences are in order. The red wave, such as it was, ebbed at the Sierra Nevada Mountains and receded, leaving the Golden State boringly and predictably blue.
After every horrible thing that has happened in California during his tenure as governor, Gavin Newsom romped to victory by a 15 point margin. His campaign ads didn’t even bother to say he was running for reelection as governor, and his victory speech, early on election night, all but declared a primary challenge against Biden for 2024.
If you live outside California and can name Newsom’s Republican opponent, DM me, I have a prize for you. Unlike Zeldin and Drazan and Dixon and Lake, the GOP candidate for governor of California never became a household name among conservatives nationally, or caught much fire at home. He barely led in the “conservative” Central Valley of California in pre-election polls, while getting swamped in its coastal blue counties. Don’t get me wrong, I like the guy you have never heard of outside California. But he joins a long and lengthening list of lackluster challengers to Democrat hegemony in the Golden State.
With the exception of a few congressional seats that may yet turn red, it was not a good year for Republicans in California. Given the party’s relative success nationally, it was an even worse than usual year here: the same pathetic results in an environment of heavy headwinds for Democrats. Not only did Newsom effortlessly cruise to victory, no statewide race shows any prospect of a Republican win. Election night margins range from 7.2 percent behind for Hoover Institution think-tanker Lanhee Chen in the State Controller’s race, to 14.4 percent behind for Nathan Hochman (certified Pro-Abortion RepublicanTM) in the Attorney General’s race, to 19 percent behind for Mark Meuser running for U.S. Senate.
The bright spot for conservatives here was expected to be the non-partisan statewide race for Superintendent of Public Instruction, where Lance Christensen (disclosure: a friend) hoped to upset the incumbent teachers’ union candidate Tony Thurmond. Thurmond outspent Christensen by millions. But education policy is the one area in recent history where things have gotten so bad that voters have seemed willing to do something about it. Parent anger over lockdowns, masking, pressure to vaccinate, and collapsing test scores evoke the tax revolt of the seventies that was the backbone of Republican strength here for decades.
Christensen’s guerilla campaign dovetailed statewide with insurgent local school board campaigns (you know, the ones led by those scary domestic terrorists). As the dust settles and California digs into its weeks-long exercise in performative vote counting, we shall see how the merry band of local school board revolutionaries come out. But amazingly, the lackluster union backed do-nothing incumbent is leading Christensen by 25 percent. Yes—the state schools chief did even better than Newsom this year in California.
One would think, given the opportunity Republicans saw in the education races, that at least Christensen was well funded with donations and independent expenditures, given the golden opportunity to reboot a moribund state party around education reform.
One would be wrong. Donors showered more than two and a half million dollars on the GOP’s hapless candidate for governor. This was basically a sacrificial offering of cash, burned to create a pleasing odor to Gavin Newsom as his minions adore him. Christensen on the other hand was been supported with the princely sum of $159,100. Party donors and activists are far readier to fund and carry out recurring suicide missions at the top of the ticket than they are to focus on the one race that looked winnable, on an issue that is galvanizing a new grass roots movement.
In many localities, school activists are conventional liberals who have discovered by horrific experience just how little progressive policy they are willing to tolerate. The nationally noted recall of half of the San Francisco Unified School District Board in March was not remotely the work of Republicans or conservatives. The most pathetic thing about disgraced former San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin’s effort to fend off his recall was his incessant claim that a Republican coup was in the offing. In San Francisco? Please.
Some of the local school board mama bears are conservatives, but not all of them. They have shown great resourcefulness in building local campaigns more or less from scratch, and gathering broad coalitions with little to connect them except for not wanting their kids to be “transed” by their teachers or humiliated for their race. They are not necessarily or even likely to be Republicans, and many are not conservative. Most of them are new to local politics and don’t have strong political allegiances. They are first, foremost, and only loyal to their children.
They can be turned into a party base, though, if somebody does it. It would take a purposeful pivot for California Republicans to rebrand themselves around education and bring the new legions of local school board activists into the party’s coalition. That would take imagination, purpose, resources, and relentless effort. And while the party did invest in recruiting and training local school board candidates, so far, it’s been a lot easier to throw money on the bonfire of a self-evidently doomed governor’s race than support the statewide education candidate. Especially if, as a party, you are habituated to humiliating defeat.
Before I completely blackpill you on this state’s Republican apparatus, consider the context. California used to be purple. Then it went blue, then progressive, now woke. No matter how bad things are here politically, two-thirds of our neighbors want it, love it, and want more of it. They feel goooooood voting for Newsom and most other progressives, no matter how hard the adverse consequences hit home.
You might argue, on some theoretical basis, that the Right is not politically doomed in California, but on an empirical basis it certainly appears that way. If homeless camps, forest fires, crime, unemployment fraud, water shortages, electric blackouts, and making cars illegal isn’t enough to break the progressive stronghold on California’s electorate, I really don’t want to experience what would be enough.
If you are a conservative Republican in California who cares about better governance and policy, and sees a close connection between elections and outcomes, and wants to live where you have some real say in elections, you are going to need to go someplace where you can do that. If you want to make a difference on the statewide and national political level, you are not making it here. Not as a voter, not as an activist, not as a donor. If America’s future is close to your heart, you will have to emigrate from California to the United States to help build that future in the political order.
Maybe politics and governance aren’t everything to you. But don’t deceive yourself. It is more important than you think. It is more important than the weather, or than having been here for five generations. It is more important than commitments to “never giving up on [insert lost cause here].” If you have been unwilling to give up on California, I salute you. But if you can’t stomach living where official state policy is to attract children and expectant mothers from around the nation to come be sexually mutilated and abort their children on your tax dime, you need to choose. Because this is where you live, and your votes, donations, and activism will not change that in the foreseeable future. And if you are not prepared for virtuous dissident resistance and to endure real repression (it’s just getting started, friends), those of us who are staying may not want you around anyway.
Besides, think what you could do elsewhere. What all of you could do. California has more than five million registered Republican voters (half the number of registered Democrats). And about one and a half million of its registered Independent voters lean Republican. If just a third of you moved to the United States in strategic patterns, you could save the country. The margins of victory in the last two presidential elections were razor thin, boiling down to a handful of states in the Great Lakes and Mid-Atlantic regions. Two million conservatives who are motivated enough to abandon California to make a difference for their nation would change the tide in America. Spread across Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia, you would redshift the electorates of those states for a generation.
Just a third of California’s Republican and Republican leaning voters would have changed the outcome of the 2020 Presidential election if they had moved to these six swing states. They would also have swung five senate seats to the Republican Party in just the last two cycles, and four governor’s races in the last three cycles. Not too shabby.
So if you care most about the direction of the nation, and are committed most to the political order as the means of changing the nation’s direction, what are you doing in California? Go and save the country. You can’t do it from here, but you can do it from these destination states.
The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.