Via Jason Zengerle at TNR’s The Plank, we learn that Fred Thompson on Fox News last night said he’d decided to delay his announcement as a presidential candidate until September because: “August is kind of a down month, not much going on, so it wouldn’t make sense to do it in August.”
That may be true in Washington, but not so much in, say, Iowa, where August features the State Republican Party’s big Straw Poll (which Thompson apparently won’t contest), not to mention the Iowa State Fair, where presidential candidates will be so thick on the ground that you won’t be able to stir them with a stick. Indeed, Thompson’s “not much going on” dismissal of the opportunity to eat corn dogs and deep-fried twinkies and admire the Butter Cow sculpture is a good sign that he has decided to skip Iowa altogether.
More generally, Thompson’s “what happens in August stays in August” attitude is another example of the strangely retro feel of his campaign. Among most political practitioners these days, it’s become a truism that New Media have largely reshaped the political calendar in ways that have sharply reduced “down time.” That was one of the big lessons learned from the Swift Boat saga of August 2004, which caught the Kerry campaign off guard in part because they assumed no one was paying attention. And you can even go back to 1998, when legal developments in the Lewinsky scandal broke in mid-August, at a time when most Washington bigfoot journalists were vacationing in the Hamptons or Martha’s Vineyard. (The sudden demand for punditry led me to half-joke at the time that anyone in Washington with a law degree had a chance to go on television and pontificate, during “Open Mike Night At Monica Beach,” the colloquial name for the media stakeout area near the federal court building. When President Clinton himself traveled to Martha’s Vineyard after his grand jury testimony, it looked like a Journalists’ Relief Mission).
Maybe ol’ Fred and his handlers are smarter than they look right now, and his dissing of the Dog Days really just represents his own shrewd timetable. But I dunno. Also at the New Republic site today is an absolutely devastating piece by Jonathan Chait summarizing Thompson’s handling of allegations (soon shown to be true) that he did some lobbying work for a pro-choice outfit back during the first Bush administration. Chait concludes from the general indifference of conservatives to this news that they’ve picked Fred as their savior. We’ll see. But Thompson’s reputation for laziness won’t be improved by his decision to take August off while his rivals dutifully press the flesh and munch pork chops on a stick in Iowa. Maybe like George W. Bush he’s just a late bloomer.
A couple of new polls indicate that the Democrats are sinking deep roots in key constituencies. a Democracy Corp/Greenberg Quinlan Rosen survey “Republicans Collapse Among Young Americans,” conducted 5/29 to 6/19, finds Dems doing very well with young people, ages 18-29 (Survey questionaire and results here). Ann Friedman of The American Prospect‘s Tapped blog sums it up succinctly:
Young people think Democrats can do a better job on youth issues (+39 net margin), the environment (+38), healthcare (+35), Iraq (+33), energy independence (+32), the federal budget (+25), the economy and jobs (+24), the war on terrorism (+21), values (+15), taxes (+13), and guns (+4). No issue polled was thought to be better handled by the GOP.
Regionally Democrats are winning with solid margins in the West (+17), the Northeast (+14), the Central Plains (+12) and the Midwest (+11). Republicans lead outside the margin of error only in the Mountain states (-7), though their lead there is reduced. The South and South Central regions fo the country are even battlegrounds at this point (-1 and tied, respectively). If this remains the case going into the lections, the consequences for the GOP could be disasterous. Democrats are winning urban areas by 7 points, and losing rural areas by just 4 points.
Currently, Democrats are doing a better job of consolidating their base, winning 89 percent to 4 percent. By comparison, Republicans convert just 81 percent of their party faithful and fully 8 percent are defecting to the Democrats. Among the swing independent bloc, Democrats lead by 10 points, 41 percent to 31 percent, though a substantial number are undecided.
With no end to the the Iraq quagmire in sight, record gas prices and mounting scandals, these numbers could get even worse before the GOP gets any relief.
(Note: This is a cross-post from a piece I did today for TPMCafe.com, in response to Josh Marshall’s suggestion that Bush’s defiance of Congress on the U.S. Attorney Firing Scandal may make impeachment talk a lot more serious, even for people like him who’ve never liked the idea. I guess this is High Controversy Day at TDS, based on this item and the earlier staff post encouraging Court-packing).
Citing the Clinton precedent, M.J. Rosenberg writes:
“[I]mpeachment is no longer the political nuclear bomb it once was, especially if one knows in advance that conviction and removal from office is unlikely to occur. Accordingly, impeachment proceedings are essentially the best means of getting information to the public which is otherwise unavailable.”
I’m glad M.J. is beginning with the premise that actual impeachment and removal of Bush ain’t happening, at least based on the current dynamics. I do not share his optimism about impeachment proceedings serving as a “lever” to bring Bush to heel, given everything we know about the man. Nor do I really understand Josh’s suggestion that initiating a pre-doomed impeachment effort will somehow serve as a legal precedent reducing the impact of Bush’s scofflaw behavior.
So the fundamental question remains whether Democrats want to take up the “I-word” as a political exercise. And other questions quickly follow.
From the Clinton experience, we know that public opinion turned decisively against the impeachment effort once it became obvious the Senate wasn’t going to convict him (which wasn’t entirely obvious at the beginning of the saga), for the simple reason that the whole thing looked like a waste of time. So what will happen to the current, surprisingly strong public support for impeachment if the extreme unlikelihood of a successful outcome is conceded from the get-go?
A second question, which everyone understands, is what to do about Dick Cheney. A dual or sequential impeachment effort is entirely without precedent, and every single problem with a late-term impeachment would get vastly more complicated.
A third question is the scope of impeachment articles. Josh seems to assume that Bush’s defiance of Congress and his quasi-imperial notions of executive privilege are the trigger. But many Democrats would be outraged if the administration’s behavior before and after the invasion of Iraq were not included; others might well argue that the abandonment of New Orleans was an impeachable offense. With a presidency this bad, where do you draw the line?
And a fourth question is how to impose party discipline during an impeachment fight. Like it or not, it’s a certainty that a sizable number of Democrats in both Houses of Congress will be reluctant to “go there,” some simply because of the Clinton experience.
[More after the jump}.
It’s entirely possible that I’m the only person registered to attend both the DLC’s National Conversation in Nashville this weekend, and the YearlyKos gathering in Chicago next week. I plan to blog from and about both events, and maybe even conduct a couple of interviews.
Since this site is devoted to an ecumenical spirit among all types of Democrats, I will dwell more on the points of unity than on the usual factional differences. And I will be alert to the truly strategic discussions as they emerge amidst the inevitable focus on 2008.
Even under the most optimistic electoral scenarios for ’08, it appears that Democrats will be stuck with an extremely conservative Supreme Court, which will likely invalidate key reforms passed by the Congress. It could be similar in some respects to the frustration FDR experienced when hidebound SCOTUS reactionaries gutted a number of his New Deal reforms.
It’s actually worse in some respects today than the obstruction FDR confronted (read his “fireside chat” on the topic here). Six of nine SCOTUS justices FDR faced were over the age of 70. His efforts to “pack the court” failed, but, before too long the elderly SCOTUS justices were retired and Roosevelt appointed more liberal justices.
Today, however, the conservative majority is much younger, and will likely be around for decades. Some of them may become more moderate over time, but it would be a mistake to count on it.
Emily Bazelon’s SLATE article “Throw Restraint to the Wind” discusses the possibilities for changing the prevailing SCOTUS philosophy, but the article doesn’t really deal directly with the promise suggested by her subtitle: “And other ways for the legal left to rein in the Roberts Court.” Bazelon points out that the upcoming American Constitutional Society and the Yearly Kos Convention will address the future of the Supreme Court and she kicks around the idea circulating among some liberal scholars and legal writers that progressives should now take back the philosophy of ‘legal restraint’ and make it their own. In any case it’s hard to imagine Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas and Kennedy being much influenced by such a trend.
Bazelon also notes that even the “liberals” on today’s court are more like moderates. As Cass Sunstein, quoted by Bazelon put it “Something has gone badly wrong if the Court has a strong right-wing without any real left.” It is a High Court without liberal firebrands like Douglas, Brennan or Marshall.
Supreme Court Justices can be impeached by Congress, but none have ever been convicted and removed.
All of which leads one to wonder whether enlarging the court with just two more justices to restore some balance might be an idea that could fly, should Dems win the presidency and a filibuster-proof majority of congress. As Jean Edward Smith, author of “FDR,” points out in a NYT op-ed today, there is no constitutional provision for any precise number number of Supreme Court justices — It’s up to the Congress. Nothing particularly sacred about the number 9 — Congress has enacted laws establishing 5, 6, 7 and 10 Supreme Court justices in U.S. history. As FDR explained in his aforementioned ‘fireside chat,’
The number of justices has been changed several times before, in the administrations of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson – both of them signers of the Declaration of Independence – in the administrations of Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and Ulysses S. Grant.
Of course there would be much whining, weeping and gnashing of teeth on the right and some opposition from ossified traditionalists. There would be a lot of belly-aching about “packing the court.” But if they want to invoke memory of FDR, a Democrat who knew how to win a war, save a devasted economy and provide hope for the nation and world, bring it on. Yes, it would take a huge fight to get it done. But, if the alternative is getting progressive legislation stuffed by Roberts and Co. time and again, where’s the downside?
Despite congressional Democrats’ efforts to draw sharp lines between Ds and Rs on Iraq, the intra-Democratic debate on Iraq rages on, as illustrated by several sharp candidate exchanges during Monday’s CNN/YouTube debate. And it’s as good a time as any to take stock of where that debate stands, and where it might soon go.
One issue that used to divide Democrats–the advisability and winnability of the Iraq misadventure–has obviously been resolved, assuming you exclude Joe Lieberman from the discussion.
A second issue–whether to impose a deadline for withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq–has also largely been resolved, given broad Democratic support for language establishing a deadline in the suppmemental appropriations bill that Bush vetoed earlier this year, though some antiwar Democrats opposed it as insufficiently mandatory. The exact deadline date, however, still hangs fire, particularly in the presidential contest, mainly because of Bill Richardson’s efforts to distinguish himself by halfing the withdrawal timetable. During Monday’s debates, Richardson’s “six months and out” position gave Joe Biden the opening he sought to angrily claim that it’s logistically impossible to withdraw that quickly without dire danger for U.S. troops and/or civilians.
The third issue, which is steadily emerging as a dividing line among Democrats even though most Americans probably haven’t heard or thought much about it, is the question of residual troops commitments to Iraq once “combat brigades” (defined rather hazily) are withdrawn. Many antiwar activists, especially in the blogosphere, have made this a virtual litmus test, arguing that any sizeable residual military force in Iraq represents a continuation of the war, not a post-war safeguard. Among the presidential candidates, Biden, Clinton and Obama have embraced Iraq plans that include a significant residual force. Richardson, Dodd and Kucinich have explicitly opposed residuals. Edwards, best I can tell, hasn’t completely ruled it out or in, though it appears he would oppose the kind of robust residual force that Hillary Clinton is talking about, and would probably limit it to embassy security. (For an unusually explicit pro-residual argument, contemplating a lengthy if smaller troop commitment, check out PPI president Will Marshall’s post today at the DLC’s new-and-improved Ideas Primary site).
And the fourth issue, which flared up sharply during the spring, and is almost certain to return in the fall, is the question of whether congressional Democrats should take the dramatic step of cutting off funding for the war to force the administration to start withdrawing troops. As was nicely articulated by Dennis Kucinich in the Monday debate, this is the one step that Democrats, theoretically at least, could take in Congress that does not require Republican support. Ironically, this issue is highly emotional precisely because it is essentially tactical. The reluctance of Democratic congressional leaders to pursue a funding cutoff to the bitter end reflects, in the eyes of many netroots activists in particular, the timidity or even cowardice that “DC Democrats” have exhibited throughout the Bush administration.
There’s still another tactical-but-contentious issue lurking in the background of all the intra-Democratic debates over Iraq: the fear that Democrats will enable Republicans to blur partisan differences on the war, reducing its salience in the 2008 elections. This is clearly the thinking behind Harry Reid’s determined efforts to oppose any bipartisan resolution in the Senate endorsing the Iraq Study Group approach, which many observers believe Bush himself will ultimately embrace, however insincerely.
And finally, there’s significant disagreement among Democrats about how, exactly, to judge public opinion on Iraq. Pollsters have not done much to shed light on the insider “residuals” debate, and public opinion on the impact of a protracted funding cutoff debate remains murky, though support for that strategy has clearly grown this year as Bush’s intransigence on Iraq has become more obvious.
Moreover, as Chris Cillizza points out today in a fascinating glimpse at the internals of the recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, support for “immediate” as opposed to “gradual” withdrawal from Iraq among Democrats doesn’t follow any predictable pattern of ideological self-identification, age, or candidate preference (though region does seem to have an impact, with support for immediate withdrawal strongest in the West and weakest in the South). Most notably, the Post found that those favoring immediate withdrawal are a larger percentage of Hillary Clinton’s base of support than of Barack Obama’s. This finding alone is one that will almost certainly contribute to an escalation of efforts by Clinton’s rivals to make Democratic differences over Iraq front and center in the nomination fight. Where that leaves the ultimate nominee going into the general election is a question that all Democrats should begin to ponder.
UPCATEGORY: Democratic Strategist
Last night’s Democratic presidential debate, sponsored by YouTube and CNN, has become an instant legend, with the most frequent comment being that future debates will never be the same. In case you missed it, the debate was organized around thirty-nine YouTube videos posing questions (culled from over 3,000 submissions) to particular or all candidates, with moderator Anderson Cooper occasionally supplying follow-ups.
The most obviously different thing about the format was that the questions were not framed in the ostensibly objective voice of journalism. While a few questioners adopted the Concerned Citizen tone of pre-selected Real People at campaign events, most took a very personal approach. There was lots of humor (singing questions, faux rednecks, and one representative of the “snowman community”) and drama (a man sitting in front of the burial flags of three family members, a cancer victim removing her wig, a question sent from a refugee camp in Darfur). And more generally, the questioners were as complicated as the electorate itself, reflecting very different political perspectives (frustrated base voter, disengaged cynic, earnest swing voter) and levels of knowledge.
You do have to wonder, however, if the positive reaction to the debate among journalists and bloggers is mainly about its sheer entertainment value, particularly for political junkie viewers who have come to loath candidate debates. I mean, it’s nice if this debate was a lot more fun to watch, and maybe that will eventually help engage voters, but it’s not necessarily grounds for widespread civic celebration. Moreoever, the apparent spontaneity of the event was partially artificial, given CNN’s role in selecting and ordering questions. And as in all recent debates, the need to spread questions among the candidates produced some serious distortions and reduced opportunities for candidate interaction. (I’m sure I’m not the only Democrat who’s fed up with the endless whining for equal time by Mike Gravel, whose Potemkin Village campaign is entirely composed of his opportunities to be the Angry Man of the debates).
With these reservations, however, the YouTube format did have some important and arguably positive effects on the informational value of the debate. For one thing, the personalization of the questions made them harder to dodge or deflect. One of the most dramatic moments of the debate came when John Edwards had to explain his position of “personally” opposing gay marriage on religious grounds while supporting civil unions. I’ve heard him do this many times, very fluidly. But last night, his answer was preceded by videos of two lesbians plaintively asking if the candidates would let them get married, and then an African-American minister specificially asking Edwards if religion is ever a legitimate reason for tolerating discrimination. Whatever you think of Edwards’ response–and some observers thought it was very effective–it was telling that the Joe DiMaggio of Trial Lawyers visibly struggled with the question.
More generally, the video questions, whether earnest or humorous, inevitably made it more noticable when candidates utilized their decades of “flag-and-bridge” training to quickly shift into their pre-ordained campaign messages. In traditional debates, the dynamic is often one of the men-in-suits on the stage trying to outwit the men-in-suits asking questions; it sounds and feels quite different when the questions are framed by wary citizens seeking a straight answer. For the same reason, candidate use of insider and legislative language was more jarring and unappealing in this format, which I’m sure the handlers of Senators Biden and Dodd noticed to their chagrin.
Yet another unusual feature of the debate was CNN’s decision to let each campaign screen its own YouTube video. Some simply cut-and-pasted campaign ads; others tried hard to get edgy, reflecting different levels of commitment to the New Social Media trend. (HRC’s campaign actually posted a video on YouTube during the debate, featuring her exchange with Obama over presidential negotiations with famous dictators).
One of the imponderables is whether the format leads to different assessments of candidate performances by junkies and pundits on the one hand and actual voters on the other. I’ve certainly read enough Drew Westen by now to understand that the College Debate Model of “scoring” candidate interactions may have little to do with their actual impact. And we got a glimpse of that disconnect last night. Immediately after the debate ended, and even before the self-congratulatory talk about CNN’s genius in partnering with YouTube, CNN’s commentators highlighted the Clinton-Obama negotiations exchange as the Big Moment (reflecting the belief that it showed HRC’s savvy and Obama’s inexperience, a big campaign talking point for Hillaryland). Seconds later, a CNN analyst called the debate’s real story “Gladys Knight and the Pips,” reflecting HRC’s total domination. Then next thing you knew, a CNN-sponsored focus group of undecided Democrats in New Hampshire declared Obama the overall debate winner.
MSM perceptions, of course, do influence public perceptions, so we may have to wait a while to see who was right. And we’ll also have to wait til September to watch the Republican candidates deal with the same format.
But for now, it looks like the Medium was the Message last night, with the candidates learning another lesson in the difficulty of holding onto the stage in the New Media era.
Opinion polls have indicated for a while now that increasing numbers of Republicans have soured on the U.S. role in the Iraq war (see for example TDS’s post here). Among GOP activists, however — especially young Republicans who have been indoctrinated by the neocons who started this mess — it’s a different story. Max Blumenthal ventures into the College Republican National Convention, overlooking Arlington National Cemetery no less, to videotape their testimony in support of the Iraq disaster. You can not only read about it, but watch the video clip at Blumenthal’s HuffPo post “Generation Chickenhawk: the Unauthorized College Republican Convention Tour.” Blumenthal describes the experience thusly:
In conversations with at least twenty College Republicans about the war in Iraq, I listened as they lip-synched discredited cant about “fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here.” Many of the young GOP cadres I met described the so-called “war on terror” as nothing less than the cause of their time.
Yet when I asked these College Republicans why they were not participating in this historical cause, they immediately went into contortions. Asthma. Bad knees from playing catcher in high school. “Medical reasons.” “It’s not for me.” These were some of the excuses College Republicans offered for why they could not fight them “over there.” Like the current Republican leaders who skipped out on Vietnam, the GOP’s next generation would rather cheerlead from the sidelines for the war in Iraq while other, less privileged young men and women fight and die.
Don’t take his word for it. Go to his HuffPo post and see for yourself.
In case you’ve missed it, George W. Bush has picked a major fight with Democrats, many Republicans, virtually all of the governors, and most health care advocacy groups from left to right, over health care policy.
The context is the about-to-expire SCHIP program, the ten-year-old initiative, which has enjoyed strong bipartisan support, that helps states provide health coverage to children whose parents don’t qualify for the restrictive low-income Medicaid program. SCHIP is currently struggling to meet its original goals; more than 3 million eligible kids aren’t being covered, and thanks to rising health care costs, the current level of federal SCHIP funding is certain to create a serious erosion of past coverage.
The Senate Finance Committee has reported, on a 17-4 vote (with ranking Republicans Chuck Grassley and Orrin Hatch strongly in support) a SCHIP reauthorization bill that strikes a compromise between the funding levels supported by most Democrats, and those necessary just to maintain current coverage. The cost of the bill would be paid for by a substantial increase in the federal tobacco tax.
And now Bush has clearly signalled he’d veto this bill, not, as you might expect, on grounds of its cost, but on “philosophical grounds,” because he views SCHIP as a threat to private insurance coverage and sort of a Trojan Horse for “government-run health care.” Instead, he’s demanding congressional action on his own proposal to replace the employer tax break for health insurance with an individual deduction for purchase of health insurance in the chaotic and expensive individual market.
This, my friends, offers Democrats a heaven-sent opportunity to wedge Republican on health care and expose the extraordinary radicalism of Bush’s (and by extension, that of many of the GOP candidates seeking to replace him) approach to health care. The government/private distinction Bush is trying to draw here is completely specious. The vast majority of those covered by SCHIP (and for that matter, by Medicaid) are actually participating in private health plans that contract with the states. The government’s role is simply to finance and organize coverage. Since Bush’s own plan would obviously continue the federal role in financing coverage for those without employer-sponsored coverage, the real “philosophical difference”‘ is over government’s role in creating an insurance pool that holds down premiums, prevents discrimination, and spreads the cost of health risks.
But it gets worse. Bush’s proposal is for a tax deduction for health insurance purchasing, which is highly regressive to begin with (since deductions have a greater value to those in higher tax brackets) and useless to poorer families with little or no tax liability. Since the proposal is explicitly designed to undermine employer-sponsored health insurance, it represents a radical attack on the very idea of pooled purchasing, and would send the U.S. health care system back towards the 1950s, when individual plans, and/or non-insured direct payment of health care costs, was the norm. With the exception of Mitt Romney, who appears reluctant to talk about the Massachussets coverage expansion initiative he signed, the Republican presidential candidates have generally embraced the same sort of “thinking” tilting towards tax-driven individual insurance purchasing.
Will Democrats effectively expose this retrograde GOP approach to health care? They should, but some will be tempted to reinforce Bush’s government/private distinction, to the extent that they support a single-payer system that would radically reduce or eliminate the public role of private insurers and/or providers. It’s a classic dilemma: do you hold the GOP responsible for the evils of the status quo, and propose a decisive break with it, or focus on the GOP’s intentions to make a decisive break with the status quo in precisely the wrong direction?
The entire subject may well offer a fateful decision for both parties.
Mark Nickolas at davidsirota.com flags a Zogby poll released today that is surely giving GOP leaders a mess of worry. What makes the poll especially interesting is the size of the survey sample, 10,387, which translates into a +/- 1 percent margin of error. As Nickolas lays it out:
– War: 62% blamed Republicans vs. 14% Democrats
– Global Warming: 56% blamed Republicans vs. 10% Democrats
– Prejudice: 52% blamed Republicans vs. 22% for Democrats
– Poverty: 49% held Republicans accountable; 29% Democrats
– Corruption: 47% blamed Republicans vs. 31% Democrats
The only problem the public blamed Dems more for was crime, by a margin of 42 to 23 percent. All in all, “Not exactly the branding the GOP was hoping for as they head into the 2008 presidential and congressional elections,” as Nickolas puts it.
After looking at some of the recent developments in the nation’s largest state, I wrote this assessment for New York:
As recently as 2010, California’s governor, lieutenant governor, and state treasurer were all Republicans. Now Democrats hold every statewide elected office. In 2010 there were 19 Republican U.S. House members in the state. Now there are 14. In 2010 there were 15 Republicans in the State Senate and 32 in the State Assembly. Those numbers are now down to 13 and 25. The losing Republican presidential nominees each won 37 percent of the popular vote in California, in 2008 and 2012. The winning Republican presidential nominee took 31 percent of the vote in California in 2016.
Bad as these trends look for the GOP, they are very likely to get worse this November — possibly a lot worse. In a thorough analysis of California’s political climate, Reid Wilson describes 2018 as a “perfect storm” for Democrats. The term we will soon begin to hear is tsunami, to distinguish California from the Democratic “wave” that’s developing nationally.
As Wilson notes, the few assets Republicans carry into the midterms nationally probably won’t help much in California. The GOP’s signature piece of legislation, the tax bill, is viewed very negatively in California, where it will limit or deny state and local income and property deductions to an estimated 2.5 million taxpayers. And the humming economy is more likely to be credited to California’s own Democratic leadership than to Trump, partly because the state is so large and partly because state leaders have defied Trump’s policies wherever possible.
Trump himself is extremely unpopular in the state:
“In California, his numbers threaten to become an anchor that weighs down his own party: Just 28 percent of adults approve of Trump’s job performance, according to a December survey by the Public Policy Institute of California. Just 30 percent told pollsters at the University of California, Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies they approve of Trump.
“Two-thirds of independents disapproved of Trump’s performance, and 57 percent of all voters said they strongly disapproved.”
Aside from the tax bill’s unique unpopularity in California, Trump has definitely damaged his and his party’s brand in the state with the Interior Department’s recent announcement that the state’s coasts will probably be reopened to offshore drilling in federally controlled waters. There haven’t been any new federal leases for offshore drilling in California since 1984, and the very idea tends to produce strong bipartisan opposition. Inadequate or tardy federal response to California’s horrific wildfires by the Trump administration or the Republican Congress is another big potential problem for the GOP.
Most ominously for Republicans, the state’s top-two primary system, which places the top two finishers in a nonpartisan primary on the ballot in the general election, is very likely to produce a November ballot with no Republicans running for the top two positions, governor and U.S. senator. No prominent Republican appears likely to run against Dianne Feinstein and her Democratic challenger state senate leader Kevin de Leon. And Republicans are divided between Trumpist and “moderate” candidates for governor, neither of whom has much of a chance of getting more votes than Democratic front-runners Gavin Newsom and Antonio Villaraigosa, and might finish behind Democrats John Chiang and Delaine Eastin as well. Having nothing but Democrats at the top of the ballot could be disastrous for Republican turnout, while contributing to what will probably be high levels of Democratic enthusiasm in the state.
The top-of-the-ballot vacuum will add to the many problems of Republican U.S. House members from marginal districts, seven of which were carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016. Two of them (Darrell Issa and Ed Royce) have already announced retirements. Another, Duncan Hunter, who has been fighting ethics allegations, is under pressure to hang it up, and Dana Rohrabacher is perceived as being in deep trouble. Other somewhat stronger incumbents like Mimi Walters and Jeff Denham are being endangered by demographic changes, as Wilson notes:
“Walters’s district has grown by 33,000 residents, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures. Of those new residents, 30,000 are nonwhite. The white population actually declined in Royce’s district while the overall population grew by 10,000 residents. In Denham’s district, 17,000 of the 21,000 new residents are nonwhite.”
In theory, the top-two system could benefit Republicans in some House races, particularly the open seats where many Democratic candidates could be shut out of the general election while two Republicans sneak into it. But on the other hand, having no incumbent eliminates the guarantee that even one Republican will survive the primary. So there’s no particular reason to believe the election system will give Republicans a break they desperately need. Indeed, California’s move toward a system in which most voters automatically receive mail ballots could erode one remaining GOP advantage: the tendency of Republican-leaning voters to participate at higher rates in non-presidential elections than their Democratic counterparts.
If a Democratic tsunami does develop, it could also reinforce the party’s supermajority control of both chambers of the State Legislature, which has been temporarily endangered by some resignations and one potential recall.
With all these problems, California Republicans are in real danger of becoming a marginal factor as voters become accustomed to Democrats as the natural governing party in the state — particularly if they succumb to the temptation of going Full Trump and spending their time lashing their fellow Californians for being godless hippie terrorist-coddling sanctuary city supporters. Republicans self-destructed in the state once before, in the 1990s, when Pete Wilson identified his party with anti-immigrant policies. If they now become the loud-and-proud “deplorables,” then their exile in the political wilderness could last for a long, long time.