California is the epicenter of Democratic power in the United States. The ultra-blue state backs up its progressive agenda with a state legislature that commands a Democrat “mega” majority in both the State Assembly (62-18) and the State Senate (32-8). Every higher office in the state, from Governor down to State Superintendent of Public Instruction, is occupied by Democratic politicians. California’s last Republican governor was Arnold Schwarzenegger, a RINO whose legacy includes his 2006 signing of the Global Warming Solutions Act, an authoritarian, economic power grab that has further concentrated the wealth and all but destroyed upward mobility in the once golden state.
By now every American who values their political and financial freedom should know that what happens in California does not stay in California. At $3.6 trillion, the state’s GDP is not only by far the largest in America, but the wealth imbalance in the state – only edged by New York among among large states – spells even more billions for California’s plutocrats. There are an estimated 186 billionaires living in California, almost all of them Democrats. As Mark Zuckerberg proved when he deployed over $400 million to “get-out-the-vote” in Democrat-heavy urban precincts in crucial swing states, California’s billionaires aren’t shy about using their financial clout to buy national elections.
And then there is the music and entertainment industry, still centered in California, along with all the new high-tech giants that have come to dominate communications and online finance in America: Facebook, Google, Apple, Netflix, and PayPal. Elon Musk may have disrupted the space with his purchase of Twitter, and there are a few other mavericks left in Silicon Valley, but it’s not the haven of free thinking it once was. California’s once eccentric, individualist culture has given way to compliance. In the epic – and very recent – shift by Democrats from antiwar, anti-corporate, pro free-speech zealots into pro-war, pro-corporate, anti free-speech zealotry, Silicon Valley has led the way, abandoning everything it once represented.
Can Conservatives Ever Win Again in California?
The one-sided war being fought by conservatives in California ought to animate every conservative in America. It isn’t as if there isn’t a conservative base. In 2020, six million Californians voted for Donald Trump, up from 4.5 million four years earlier. This total exceeded that of any other state, narrowly beating #2 Florida (5.3 million) and #3 Texas (5.2 million). This total also exceeded the entire Republican registration in California at the time, 5.3 million. California may be a Democratic stronghold, but there are millions of Californians who’ve had it with Democratic rule. With crime, homelessness, violence, and the cost-of-living all rising since November 2020, one would think Democrats would be starting to lose their grip. So why aren’t they?
To answer this question, it’s useful to compare registration by party in California today to where it was ten years ago, and then identify geographically where the Democrats have increased their numbers, as well as the places where they have lost ground. In October 2022 there were 10.3 million registered Democrats in California, and 5.2 million registered Republicans. Ten years earlier, there were only 7.9 million registered Democrats in California, and 5.4 million registered Republicans. It isn’t hard to see that trend. Democrats went from having a 14 percent registration advantage over Republicans ten years ago to having a 23 point advantage today. Statewide, that is an insurmountable barrier. But what about individual counties? Were Republicans successful in any of them?
The answer to this is unequivocal, and revealing, because it echoes what is in store for the rest of the country if the Democrats – and the RINOs – aren’t stopped. California’s Republicans gained ground in 16 of the state’s 58 counties. All of them are rural, all of them are geographically huge, and none of them have populations big enough to matter in a statewide election. In Lassen County, for example, there was a 15 percent shift, increasing the Republican advantage in that county to an overwhelming 39 percent. But there are only 21,984 eligible voters in the entire county. In all 16 counties combined that were Republican ascendant in California, the net number of new Republican voters totaled a mere 32,822. This in a state with 21.9 million registered voters.
This pattern is felt around the U.S. Rural counties are Republican, urban counties are Democrat. In California, 25 counties have a Republican voter advantage. Every one of them is sparsely populated and rural. In actual numbers, the amount by which registered Republicans outnumber registered Democrats in these counties amounts to 144,235 votes. In state politics, they are powerless.
Being powerless has consequences. These counties are red and getting redder because their economy, which relies on ranching, farming, mining, and timber harvesting, has been under relentless and escalating attack for decades. Using state and federal environmentalist laws and regulations, often dropping eye-watering “grants” to enlist the support and unique legal standing of Native American tribal nations for additional leverage, a coalition of state agencies and billionaire supported “nonprofits” have been waging lawfare against every facet of their lives. Whether it’s dam removal, closing another sawmill or mine, rolling back the timber harvests to a fraction of their historical size (the real reason for California’s catastrophic fires), denying farmers their water allocations, cancelling property insurance in the pristine “urban/wildland interface,” exercising eminent domain to expand protected “green spaces,” or prohibiting ranchers from shooting wolves that prey on their livestock and are now threatening their children, California’s rural population is being driven off their land and out of their homes. This litany of abuse barely scratches the surface. The onslaught is endless.
In general, Republicans in California have failed to increase their registered voter numbers, actually losing 124,514 voters between 2012 and 2022, while during that same period Democrats increased their numbers by 2,316,836. California’s registered Republicans, statewide, are down by 2 percent over the past decade, while Democrats are up by an astonishing 29 percent. What happened?
California’s Urban Democrat Dominance is Coming to America
In a nutshell, California’s Republicans get shellacked by Democrats in every heavily populated county, starting with Los Angeles, and it’s getting worse every election cycle. Already a Democratic stronghold ten years ago, the Democratic voter advantage in Los Angeles County increased by 644,133 between 2012 and 2022. In the once solidly red Orange County, 242,315 voters shifted their allegiance to Democrats, giving that county a 4 percent Democrat advantage for the first time in modern history. The story is the same up and down the state; the big counties, already blue, got bluer still. San Diego went from a purplish 1 percent Democrat advantage to a decisive 15 percent Democrat edge. Big Santa Clara County, home of the Silicon Valley, went from 24 percent advantage Democrats to 35 percent. Without exception, Democrats wield a crushing advantage in California’s populous coastal counties.
This ought to be inexplicable. As California’s rural population endures a withering attack by Democrats that threatens their very existence, it isn’t as if California’s cities are getting a pass. As noted, crime, homelessness, violence, and an unaffordable cost-of-living disproportionately afflict the cities. Add to that worthless, failing schools, and escalating episodes of energy and water rationing, and you ought to have a recipe for Democratic political oblivion.
The problem is California’s GOP offers no solutions. Conservatives correctly complain about a biased media, as well as a lack of donor support to even remotely approach financial parity in campaign funds. They cite legacy stigmas still effectively exploited by Democrats, such as the GOP supported initiative all the way back 1994 that banned public benefits for illegal immigrants, or the 2008 initiative that banned gay marriage. Both of these were approved by voters, but the first, which is still used to tag California’s Republicans as racist, was overturned in court. The second, still used as evidence of Republican homophobia, was ignored by then state Attorney General Jerry Brown. And then there’s Trump, and according to Democrats, if you don’t like Trump, you don’t vote Republican in California. All of these factors are indeed disadvantages. But they don’t mean Republicans can’t win.
The reason all of these supposed fatal obstacles to a Republican resurgence in California are merely excuses for failure is because for every flaw facing a Republican, there is a flaw of equal weight pulling down Democrats. Most voters in California are now registered independents. Neither party is popular. What California’s Republicans need are messages that matter, and politicians with the charisma to communicate them. They’d better get busy.
It is important to note that California, a vast state, is nonetheless the most densely populated in its urban areas. Over 94 percent of California’s population lives in urban areas, which occupy barely 5 percent of its land area. This fact, a result of relatively late settlement, combined with remarkable investments in infrastructure back in the 1950s and 1960s to bring water and power to attractive coastal areas, puts California at the front of the forced-density pack. The agenda of Democrats, integral to the Green New Deal, is to densify every urban area in America, while simultaneously depopulating rural areas. Voters are being herded into urban areas controlled by Democratic political machines, fueled by public sector unions, billionaire supported nonprofits with armies of semi-professional militant activists, and grasping businesspeople desperate to get their hands on public money and public contracts.
How to Beat the Urban Political Machine
The key to winning back California, along with saving the nation, is to recognize the foundation of Democrat power is also its ultimate weakness. Democratic messaging relies on the politics of race and gender redress to overcome oppression, and politically contrived scarcity in order to save the planet. Their remedies are to abandon meritocracy and impose rationing on every essential good including housing, energy, water and transportation. These are false premises with destructive consequences. This destruction is manifested in every pathology afflicting California’s cities.
Convincing voters to fix California can rest on three messages that transcend identity, income, and in some cases even ideology:
Reduce crime and homelessness.
Restore quality education.
Lower the cost-of-living.
For each of these issues, there are specific policies that can be advocated without equivocation or compromise.
To reduce crime in California, repeal Proposition 47, the 2014 ballot initiative which downgraded penalties for drug possession and petty theft. To reduce homelessness, start constructing inexpensive shelters in inexpensive parts of California’s cities, instead of continuing to pay corrupt, politically connected developers to build “permanent supportive housing” on beachfront property at an average cost of $500,000 to $1.0 million per unit (yes, that is really happening).
To restore quality education, refuse to negotiate with the teachers union, end unreasonable restrictions on charter schools, bring discipline and standardized tests back to public schools, and implement vouchers or education savings accounts to give parents the option to send their children to private schools.
To lower the cost-of-living, deregulate the housing market, end the war on natural gas and nuclear power, and cancel the “bullet train” in order to invest the money instead in infrastructure projects that yield practical value and long-term economic returns.
That’s the message, and those are the policies behind the message. But who will carry that message? Who will fight for those policies? And more to the point, who will do more than just run another bait-and-switch, straight out of the RINO playbook, talking up these points to get elected then do absolutely nothing once in office?
Supporters of President Trump will accurately claim he would support all of these policies. And it would be a mistake to write Trump’s chances off in California if things get much worse, and if he were to decide to make it a priority to campaign in the state. But in a gubernatorial race what California needs is someone who can expose the woke and green foundations of Democratic policies as extreme, and do so in a way that embraces the inevitable controversy but deflects counter-accusations of extremism.
Someone like Vivek Ramaswamy, for example, could come to California and would not be tripped up by the biased media. Ramaswamy would rhetorically destroy, relying on facts and logic, any politician the Democrats might select to oppose him. Trump’s gift to America is the ongoing transformation of the Republican party into a party representing working people who are having their ability to achieve and maintain financial independence taken away from them in the name of woke and green ideals. Trump has exposed this as a special interest driven fraud. Ramaswamy’s gift is to embody a future for the Republican party that recognizes and extends Trump’s peeling away the Democrat façade, as well as mirror and extend Trump’s policy solutions.
California will turn purple, and then red, if and only if the Republicans still standing in that state decide to espouse a message, and policies, that attack the heart of the Democrat agenda. Instead of fighting an incremental, defensive battle, they must insist, without reservations, on tougher penalties for repeat drug and theft crimes, immediate transfer of homeless to popup, cost-effective shelters, school choice and restoring school discipline, standardized tests and teacher accountability in public schools, and radical deregulation of environmentalist laws that have crippled California’s housing, timber, food, cattle, natural gas, and nuclear power industries.
That agenda will save California, and nothing else will. It has the virtue of being the truth, ready for anyone with the courage to wield it against a corrupt political machine that runs on lies. This truth has the added benefit of offering anyone willing to listen to it a vision of a bright future in a state that works again, where people are safe, can pay their bills, and rely on a good education for their children.
This article originally appeared in American Greatness.
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.
To help support more content and policy analysis like this, please click here.