California is so dominated by the Democratic Party these days that it’s easy to forget just how Republican it once was. Before the 1990s and the Bill Clinton era, California was a red state — from San Diego to Bakersfield to Glendale and Burbank. Orange County south of Los Angeles was a hotbed of right-wing Republican politics. But the GOP lost a lot of ground in California after the 1980s, and the American Enterprise Institute’s Brent Orrell — in an essay/think piece published by the conservative website The Bulwark on May 19 — argues that former President Donald Trump and the MAGA movement are creating a California-like effect in suburban swing districts all around the United States.
Orrell opens his article by noting that the “political outlook for Democrats” looks “grim” in the 2022 midterms and that between inflation, President Joe Biden’s low approval ratings and a “sour public mood,” election forecasts are predicting a major red wave that will put Republicans back in the control of both houses of Congress. But Orrell quickly adds that the Trumpified GOP is “bent on alienating itself from the political center of the country” and that “the decline of conservative politics in the Golden State is very much the model for the decline of Republican politics nationally.”
According to Orrell, the “political tragedy of California Republicanism” serves as a warning to the GOP in suburban areas all over the U.S.
“There are still pockets of the state where the GOP is strong,” Orrell writes. “But in most heavily populated urban and suburban areas, Republicans have become a pariah party, settling for semi-permanent minority status in a state over which liberal Democrats now have basically unchallenged hegemony…. Donald Trump’s candidacy, election and presidency set off a reenactment of the slow-motion California GOP debacle at the national level.”
Thanks to the MAGA movement, Orrell stresses, the Republican Party has been alienating “moderate” suburban voters more and more. But even though Trump was voted out of office in 2020, the American Enterprise Institute senior fellow adds, his stranglehold on the GOP remains.
“The Trump presidency may have been a failure, but Trumpism has proven to have real and enduring appeal,” Orrell explains. “GOP elected officials, whatever their private doubts, have overwhelmingly acquiesced and become complicit in Trump’s 2020 election fabrications and toed the line on anti-immigration policy out of fear of facing a primary opponent endorsed by the former president. As the 2022 field of candidates comes into focus, the cost of allowing Trump’s election lies to fester is becoming clearer. In state after state and race after race, Republican primary voters are opting not just for Trump-endorsed candidates, but the Trumpiest candidates, the ones most closely tied to Trump’s Big Lie of 2020 voter fraud, whether they have Trump’s endorsement or not.”
Orrell points to far-right Pennsylvania State Sen. Doug Mastriano’s victory in the 2022 Pennsylvania GOP gubernatorial primary as a prime example of how extreme and Trumpified Republican primaries have become.
Orrell observes, “Mastriano is known for his frequent sharing of QAnon-related materials via Twitter and for speaking at a recent QAnon-heavy conference in Pennsylvania.... The pattern in Pennsylvania and elsewhere is clear: The GOP frontrunners or near-frontrunners are, in almost every case, not just Trump-endorsed or Trump-affiliated candidates; they are Trump-consumed candidates with bellies full of that hot, hot MAGA fire. As Steve Bannon recently noted, referring to the Pennsylvania races, the contest isn’t between old-line Republicans and MAGA candidates, ‘it’s MAGA vs. ultra-MAGA.’”
Orrell wraps up his essay/think piece by stressing that Democrats’ “stranglehold on state government” in California serves as a warning sign for the GOP nationally.
“In California, where the radicalization of the GOP has had the longest time to work its way into hearts and minds, the Republican Party has reduced itself to rump status,” Orrell writes. “Once solidly conservative congressional and state legislative districts in suburban communities along the Pacific Coast have mostly adopted various shades of blue, while Republicans have largely receded to the inland districts in the Central Valley and other more rural areas of the state…. Unless Republicans find the nerve to call a halt, they risk seeing their party’s long-term political prospects devoured by xenophobia and conspiracism.”