At the risk of revealing our rather advanced age, we admit to remembering a time when the Republican party used to win some significant elections in the populous state of California. The California born-and-bred Richard Nixon won the state’s electoral votes in a failed bid the year after we born, then famously lost a race for the state’s governorship, prematurely taunting the press that they wouldn’t have Nixon to kick to around anymore, but went on to win the state’s presidential electoral votes in both the close call of ’68 and his landslide reelection year of ’72. The quintessentially Republican Ronald Reagan then won two gubernatorial elections in the state, served the state well in both terms, and in our young adulthoods thus won the state’s electoral votes in the 1980 presidential race, and California was among the record 49 states he won in his record landslide reelection in ’84.
Since then the Democrats have kept winning the state’s presidential votes every four years, but the Republican party at least kept a significant foothold among all the the Okies and Arkies in the central part of the state and the well-educated and well-off and over-taxed and over-regulated Republicans in Orange County and other suburban congressional districts. The California Republicans were always outnumbered by the California Democrats, but populous California has such an outsized number of congressional districts that there were usually enough Republicans to bolster the off-and-on Republican republican majorities in the House of Representatives. At the moment California is a big reason that the Republican House majority is once again off, however, with even those suburban districts flipping to the Democrats, and Orange County now entirely blue, and for the foreseeable future the Grand Old Party seems out of business in the Golden State.
A big part of the Republican party’s problem is the changing nature of California, of course. The state is a bit blacker and a whole lot browner than it was back when Nixon and Reagan were winning the state’s electoral votes, a large number of those Central California Okies and Arkies have moved back to Oklahoma and Arkansas, and a bigger chunk of the remaining white folk work in Hollywood or have high-tech jobs in the San Francisco area and are thus obliged to vote Democratic no matter how over-taxed and over-regulated they might be. California’s a crazier state than ever, too, from our old-fashioned conservative and entirely sane Kansas Republican perspective, and we must admit we can’t quite see how the party should accommodate it.
Even so, we must acknowledge that the Republican party has changed in ways that even the craziest Californian can rightly object to. These days the Republicans are openly the party of white inland Americans reasonably terrified by the California-ization of America, and although there’s a compelling argument to be made to those mostly hard-working black and brown Californians that they’re also over-taxed and over-regulated, the party lately seems less interested in making that argument than whipping up the same sort of odious identify politics among the state’s remaining white folks that California’s Democratic party has has long whipped up among its black and brown and guilt-ridden white folk.
Meanwhile, the Republicans have managed to lose almost all of those once reliably California Republican districts in the mostly white white and well-educated and well-off Republican suburbs. Part of that is probably that that big tax cut bill that the Republicans hoped to run on, which capped the tax deductions that high-property tax states such as California could deduct, thus leaving a lot of over-taxed Republicans in California and other high-tax Democratic states with an even higher tax bill. We remember discussing the matter with a Kansas Republican friend who thought that was a good idea, as those damned Californians deserved it for living in a Democratic state, but at the time we thought it was easier for him to say than a Republican congressman running for reelection in California or some other high-tax Democratic state, and after the Republican bloodbath in the past suburban Californian midterms we feel vindicated. We also suspect that the current Republican party’s suddenly unabashed sexual piggishness had something to do with all those well-educated and well-off yet over-taxed and over-regulated Republican women voting for Democrats,and claim vindication about that.
At the moment much of California is on fire, and the fires don’t seem to care much if you’re black or white or brown or male or female or rich or poor or somewhere in between, and we can’t blame any crazy Californian for concluding he Republican party largely seems to believe they had it coming. Republican President Donald Trump’s first “tweets” about the tragedy didn’t mention any sympathy for the victims or support for the first responders, but instead emphasized the state’s poor forest management policies and threatened to further withhold federal funding the emergency. When Trump at last appeared over the weekend at the fire’s edges he had kinder words for the firefighters, and was backing off his threats of withholding federal relief, but he continued to blame the state for its troubles. Trump couldn’t explain how he’d acquired such expertise in forest management during his real estate and reality show career, and all the people with real credentials about it said he didn’t know what he was talking about, and even the Finnish head of state that Trump cited as a consulting expert didn’t back up his claims, but as always he stood his ground.
The Trump-run feds have more jurisdiction over California’s public land than the state does, and according to longstanding Republican principles most of California is still privately held, however, so by now we can’t blame even the craziest Californian for believing that the Republicans in the other 49 states figure they had it coming. As much as we hope that Kansas never gets quite so crazy as California, we only wish that crazy state well. There are more Americans there than in any other state, and they contribute a similarly outsized share of our nation’s economic output, and we have to admit that at least some of those Hollywood movies and high-tech gadgets are beneficial to our lives. We also have some beloved kinfolk remaining in California, and although they’re up-to-date Republicans who probably figure the state had it coming we hope their houses don’t burn down, and we wish them all well. Even so, we can’t blame any of them for worrying and that the Republicans in the other 49 states will pitch in if worse comes to worst.
At the risk of sounding downright ancient, we’re still hopeful for an eventual post-Trump 49-state Republican majority for low-taxes and light regulations and stick-together national unity that includes even some of those crazy Californians.
— Bud norman