California Republicans in steep decline
By David Climenhaga
As goes California, so goes the nation – the nation in the normal scheme of things being what the world knows as the Good Ole U.S.A.
For many practical reasons that all of us instinctively understand up here north of the 49th Parallel, and even in those parts of Canada south of the 49th, as goes California, so goes Canada too.
I refer, of course, to the steep downward spiral in which the Republican Party finds itself in that large and populous West Coast state – a place big enough to be a leading nation all on its own and home, arguably to the American image, if not the American soul.
In the Republicans’ troubles in California, it is said here, we see a reflection of the coming decline of Canada’s Conservatives under Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Since the days when we started reading about Philip Marlowe, the chivalrous shamus, patrolling the mean streets of the City of Angels for 35 dollars a day and expenses, we’ve understood that social trends good and evil often originate on the West Coast of the United States. From there, they make their way insidiously and frequently invidiously throughout the world.
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The worst trends and the best are likely to stop off here in Canada – we are close, after all – well before they show up in the souk in Marrakech or even the Ginza in Tokyo.
And so it was soon after Ronald R. Reagan, former B movie actor and California governor with a shaky grip on reality, became president of the United States that the Republicanization of everything Canadian seemingly began. This unfortunate trend led in time to the reverse takeover by the Reform Party of the old Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, which traced its roots all the way back to our first prime minister, the great patriot John A. Macdonald.
The Reform Party, which should have been called the American Party of Canada, was then led by the Chief Americanizer himself, the scratchy voiced Preston Manning. Its adherents loved everything American except America’s good ideas. If Sir John could see what’s become of his patriotic old party since the Invasion of the Party Snatchers in 2003, he’d be spinning in his grave so rapidly he’d be throwing up wisps of unholy smoke!
But in the seeds of the Republican Party’s great success, the self-interested enthusiasms of its ideological elite and its willingness to adopt any tactic, no matter how unethical, to win, were also the beginnings of its current troubles.
That is, it had the natural inclination of all ideological political parties toward seeking perfection and the resulting tendency to put quasi-theological notions ahead of ideas that actually work.
Even now we see these same diminishing ideological returns at work in the Post-Reform-Party Canadian Conservatives under Mr. Harper – a party now based more than loosely on the American Republican model.
With this in mind, understanding where California’s Republicans are now headed is useful to plotting the near-future trajectory of our own Conservatives – and where the California Repugs are going is straight south, metaphorically speaking, not to Mexico.
In an interesting feature last Sunday, the New York Times chronicled the startling decline of the Golden State’s Republicans, and delves into the causes of it.
The Times quotes U.S. Representative Kevin McCarthy, the No. 3 Republican in the lower house of the U.S. Congress, who says of his state’s party: “We are at a lower point than we’ve ever been.” This notwithstanding the fact the state is in deep economic trouble (in part because California is only one Greece-like state in the American currency union) and Democrats are in power, and hence in a position to take the blame.
How low is that? “It’s no longer a statewide party,” says a veteran Republican consultant. “They are down to 30 percent, which makes it impossible to win a statewide election. You just can’t get enough crossover voters.” (Remember, this is a “two-party system,” so 30 per cent is not the magic number it can be in Canada with multiple parties.)
“They have alienated large swaths of voters,” he said. “They have become too doctrinaire on the social issues. It’s become a cult.”
If this doesn’t sound familiar to Canadians, it should. Because this is exactly the path to ideological reductio ad absurdum the Harper Conservatives and their provincial branches like Alberta’s Wildrose Party are heading down. Witness the recent attacks on Conservative moderates by party extremists over federal dollars being spent on a tourist trap for Chinese visitors honoring a Communist surgeon.
“The institution of the California Republican Party, I would argue, has effectively collapsed,” says another Republican consultant quoted by the Times. “The Republican Party in the state institutionally has becomea small ideological club that is basically in the business of hunting out heretics. When you look at the population growth, the actual party is shrinking. It’s becoming more white. It’s becoming older.”
Hunting out heretics? Well, Canadian Conservatives are still good at collecting money from corporate donors – something that according to the Times’s sources, the California Republicans are getting worse at. But give them time…
The California conservatives, the Times’s sources say, are identified with the wrong side of a series of issues that put them well outside the evolving American mainstream – immigration, the environment, abortion and gay rights – not to mention the wrong side of the continent’s demographic trends.
Add to that list a sane level of gun control, and you have a portrait of the Harper Conservatives – back up microscopically in one recent poll, but still describing a long downward trajectory.
If democracy continues to function in Canada – and with Stephen Harper at the helm, that premise cannot be taken as assumed – the Conservative movement will continue to be left behind by Canadians, just as Californians are leaving the Republican Party in their wake.
The Beach Boys are back together. Jerry Brown is Governor again. And Stephen Harper is finished – just you watch!