On April 24 the California State Republican Party endorsed Brian Dahle as their candidate for governor. Dahle currently represents California’s 1st Senate District. His wife, Megan Dahle, currently represents California’s 1st Assembly District, and on April 22, Megan Dahle’s Assembly committee transferred $40,500 to the state party.
The timing of this transfer gave rise to allegations that Megan Dahle purchased the party’s endorsement for her husband, but this is just one of many controversies in a state party that has never been more divided or more impotent. As of April 8, 2022, the electorate’s share of Republicans voters in California, at 23.9 percent of registered voters, has never been lower. The decline has been unrelenting; from 34.9 percent in 2002 to 34.6 percent in 2006, to 30.1 percent in 2010, to 28.6 percent in 2014, to 25.3 percent in 2018.
The evidence for the impotence of California’s Republican party is reflected in every metric that matters. Their representation in California’s congressional delegation is 10 out of 53, which at 19 percent does not even reflect their voter registration. Similar underachievement plagues their showing in the state legislature: 19 out of 80 seats in the assembly, 9 out of 40 seats in the state senate. Of the eight higher state offices – Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, Treasurer, Controller, Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Insurance Commissioner – not one is held by a Republican. Every one of these office holders are Democrats.
The endorsement of Brian Dahle by the California Republican party might therefore be considered irrelevant. His chances of winning are zero. The machine that powers California’s Democratic party is so powerful, that for Newsom to lose, to quote from the irascible long-time governor of Louisiana, Edwin Edwards, “the only way I can lose this election is if I’m caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy.” And nowadays in California, even that probably wouldn’t be enough to get Dahle across the finish line.
The decision by California’s state GOP to endorse Dahle does have consequences, however. And the opportunity they passed up on, which would have been to endorse independent candidate Michael Shellenberger, exposes structural conflicts that afflict the GOP electorate across the nation. Within the diminished GOP electorate in California, these conflicts are fatal. In the rest of America, they will rob countless state and national GOP candidates of what would otherwise have been easy victories.
Shellenberger is pro-choice. He’s also supportive of gay marriage. As a former progressive, Shellenberger has retained positions that doom his candidacy among social conservatives. These voters will support Dahle, a politician that lacks the charisma or vision to attract anyone outside of reliable GOP voters. The state GOP may have found a $40,500 donation a helpful incentive to endorse Dahle, but their bigger fear was selecting someone that would alienate an already alienated base. This fear, however, was unfounded.
First of all, until the entire leadership of the state organization is replaced, the California state GOP will never get their base back. Since 2016, they have appeased their never-Trump donor base while antagonizing their grassroots which is overwhelmingly pro-Trump. So much so, in fact, that Trump’s vote count in California in 2020, at over six million, exceeded the entire number of registered GOP voters in California by nearly a million votes. By endorsing tepid candidates that don’t scare off their inadequate pool of donors, the state party officials keep themselves and a handful of consultants employed, but they do nothing to advance the interests of conservative politics in California.
Shellenberger, on the other hand, is one of the most interesting political aspirants to emerge in many years. His positions on the homeless are well documented in his recently published book “San Fransicko.” In his book, and in his campaign, Shellenberger not only exposes the almost criminal negligence and corrupt hidden agenda informing the Homeless Industrial Complex – whereby bureaucrats, developers, and “nonprofits” collect billions while homelessness just gets worse – but offers solutions. He promises to construct inexpensive shelters, unlike the “supportive housing” scams where the average cost is now over a half-million per unit. He promises to get addicts off the street into mandatory treatment, and place behavior conditions on homeless people in exchange for assistance.
Many people unfamiliar with Shellenberger point to his environmental credentials as a negative thing, until they realize how his position on environmental issues has evolved. In 2020 Shellenberger published “Apocalypse Never,” where he makes a compelling moral case for fossil fuel and exposes the catastrophic harm caused to low income communities all over the world that are denied access to affordable energy. In his campaign, Shellenberger explicitly calls for more development of California’s natural gas resources and expansion of nuclear power plants.
Can Michael Shellenberger beat Gavin Newsom? He faces a hostile press and one of the most powerful political machines in the history of democracy. But the summer of 2022 promises to be hot, parched, and expensive. Californians will be ready to listen to a candidate whose passion is matched by intellect, a command of the policy issues, and the courage to suggest controversial but necessary solutions to California’s economic and social challenges.
Will pro-life voters support someone like Shellenberger? They may not, but they should. If Shellenberger takes office, he will still operate within the context of a state legislature that is over 75 percent Democrat, as well as a progressive judiciary. With reasoned appeals to these politicians and judges, with the power of ballot initiatives, and via emergency orders, Shellenberger can begin to unravel the mess that progressive politics has wrought on California’s housing, transportation, energy, water, education, and homeless policies. That should be enough.
Unfortunately, he may not get that chance, thanks to the California state GOP, which has decided to throw what weight they have in favor of Brian Dahle. It isn’t as if California’s state GOP would break precedent by endorsing an independent candidate for higher office. They did it in 2018 when they endorsed a former Republican turned Independent, Steve Poizner for Insurance Commissioner. Poizner lost anyway.
If Brian Dahle edges Michael Shellenberger in the upcoming primary to face Newsom in the top-two runoff in November, conservatives in California will have lost an historic opportunity. In a general election campaign Shellenberger would be able to reach millions of moderate Democrats and independent California voters with a message that – at least most of the issues that matter – is militantly conservative. He would do it with intelligence and eloquence. A Shellenberger candidacy has the potential to realign millions of voters to realize that Democrats have become the party of established wealth, committed to chaos and scarcity because that serves their economic interests. He has the potential to redirect the passions of voters of all ideologies to issues where a new center can form, instead of pandering to the polarized extremes with focus group tested bromides.
The leadership of California’s state Republican party are smart enough to know all of this. But unfortunately, they are merely a miniscule copy of the Democratic machine they oppose.
An edited version of this article appeared in The American Mind.
Edward Ring is a contributing editor and senior fellow with the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. He is also a senior fellow with the Center for American Greatness, and a regular contributor to the California Globe. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, Forbes, and other media outlets.
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