CAGOP Should Not Burn Up the Recall Jungle

The latest hot rumor, circulating among the disaffected rebels, the insiders, and the wanna-be insiders (guilty), is that the California State GOP is going to endorse Kevin Faulconer as the official Republican candidate in the upcoming Newsom recall election.

Officials at CAGOP have dismissed this rumor as unfounded, claiming the process has just begun and the outcome is uncertain. Apparently the party’s rules committee will convene later this week, and then the party’s executive committee will meet over the weekend. If these committees approve an endorsement process, then candidates will be asked to each collect 200 endorsements from among the roughly 1,400 party delegates. Since party delegates will be permitted to endorse more than one candidate, this was represented as a reasonable requirement.

But coming at the last minute, this is not reasonable. It’s also a flawed strategy. GOP voters who feel burned may stay home on September 14.

Candidates with strong ties to the state party organization and established relationships with party delegates will have a decisive advantage acquiring delegate signatures, especially since the petitions themselves, apparently, won’t be available until the party decides they’re going forward with an endorsement selection process. Therefore, if they’re only given a week or two to go track down delegates, it is possible that candidates that have already invested a lot in this contest will be froze out of even being considered.

One of the things that may elude officials at CAGOP is that in order for the recall ballot’s question one (should Newsom be recalled, yes or no?) to attract 50 percent plus one “yes” votes, the more candidates that are in the race, fighting all the way to the finish line, the better. Every candidate has some base of support that does not overlap with any other candidate. There are people who will vote for Larry Elder, or Kevin Kiley, who will not cast a ballot if their candidate is not on the ballot. Ditto for Major Williams or Kaitlyn Jenner. Some of these candidates might not poll very well. But the thousands of votes that only they can attract will make a difference if question one is a cliffhanger.

There’s also a faint whiff of rigging in the possibility of sudden new rules. Why now? Why not months ago, as soon as it was certain there would be a recall election? Candidates that are party outsiders, like John Cox, are going to have to drop everything to try to track down 200 delegates in a matter of days. Where is the respect John Cox deserves? This is a man who stepped up when nobody else was willing or able to step up. He invested his time and his fortune and earned a spot on the 2018 ballot against Newsom. Where was CAGOP back then? If there were better candidates, where were they? Why didn’t they run? In this recall, Cox was one of the first candidates to go to work. His television ads have relentlessly attacked Newsom. What’s that worth?

There’s more. Cox is good on the issues. While Faulconer’s polished campaign operation releases poll tested bromides about cutting taxes, Cox’s editorials are specific, talking, for example, about how housing prices cannot come down until construction costs are brought down through deregulating the building industry. Win or lose, John Cox deserves respect. People who dismiss his candidacy are invited to step up and run for office themselves.

What is the upside of the CAGOP endorsing a candidate, when the focus ought to be on question one? Consider the what-ifs. For example, what if the CAGOP endorses Faulconer? To suggest CAGOP would endorse anyone else insults the intelligence of anyone familiar with the dynamics of the state party. So how does this help? Does this somehow empower Faulconer to raise more money, which can then be deployed against Newsom to increase the chances that Newsom does not survive question one? That’s a valid argument, but it is a dangerous gamble. Faulconer does not excite the right wing of the CAGOP. Kevin Kiley does. So no matter how hard they try to legitimize it, if CAGOP proceeds with the endorsement process they will embitter thousands of grassroots supporters, they will burn off entire county committees; at the least they will derail what had been a growing opportunity to unite the establishment and the grassroots.

If CAGOP is trying to reimagine the party as more inclusive, capable of attracting independents and disaffected Democrats, they aren’t going to accomplish that objective by backing Kevin Faulconer. And to state this is not meant to take anything away from Faulconer. He is a moderate Republican who, theoretically, should be able to attract people on the fence. But his choreographed gestures and coiffed hair make him look like another Newsom. CAGOP needs excitement and authenticity, and for all his viability on paper, Faulconer is not exciting. It’s good he’s in the race. He’ll get votes that the other GOP candidates will not get. He will help in the quest to move the yes vote on question one to 50 plus one. But he is not a breakthrough candidate.

The candidate that represents a true opportunity to realign the state is Larry Elder. Not because Kiley, Cox and Faulconer aren’t good candidates, each in their own way. But because Elder is something completely new. He is passionate, persuasive, a professional communicator, a Los Angeles native, and an African American with the ability to unapologetically explain the virtues of conservative values to everyone. Larry Elder has the credibility and charisma that California’s Republicans need. He isn’t Newsom lite. He is a revolution. CAGOP should focus on getting Larry Elder past the roadblocks that a terrified bureaucracy have put between him and the ballot, and then just let every one of these worthy candidates fight it out.

This article originally appeared in the California Globe.

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