When it became apparent that Donald Trump could win the Republican presidential nomination it became incumbent upon serious observers inside and outside of the parties to inquire as to what it was that was propelling him. The Clinton campaign never really asked the question, and other than Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio, the aging leadership of the Democratic Party still is not interested in understanding why Trump earned 306 Electoral College votes. Good for conservatives; bad for liberals.
For those who see the current Republican ascendancy as a swing of the long term pendulum, it would be useful to understand why the revolt of the middle did not extend to the coast of California. Perhaps the national mood will eventually make it to the Pacific; more likely not.
- In California Clinton got the highest vote proportion of any state - 62.3%. She was the first presidential Democratic candidate to receive 70% of the vote in Los Angeles, and the first since 1936 to carry Orange County. Her 4.2 million vote advantage in the state dwarfed Barack Obama's performance in 2008 or 2012. Her margin in Los Angeles and four Bay Area counties accounts for more than her national popular vote margin.
- Other than Trump/Pence there were no Republicans on the state-wide ballot. The senate seat being vacated by Barbara Boxer was contested by two Democrats - the victorious (and more liberal) Camela Harris and Loretta Sanchez. Harris will soon be a national player.
- The Republicans lost two seats in the state Assembly and one in the state Senate, dropping below the one-third number needed in either chamber to block tax increases or a number of other nefarious acts. This despite focusing available resources in the key Los Angeles area seats.
- The Republicans held on to 14 of California's 53 House seats, with Darrell Issa - the former chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee - winning by a narrow few thousand votes in a traditionally safe Republican district. California Republican House members are prominent in Washington - Kevin McCarthy is the Majority Leader; David Nunez chairs the Intelligence Committee; Ed Royce chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee - but none would return to California to run for state-wide office.
- Some $500 million was spent on 17 ballot initiatives with the outcome raising the cigarette tax by $2, continuing increased "temporary" taxes on incomes over $250,000, legalizing recreational marijuana, banning single use plastic bags, and requiring background checks for ammunition purchases.
The rip tide continued to flow to the left.
And Some Conjecture
There are some mechanics at work which are unique to California.
- The "Top Two" primary system was established in 2010 with the hope that creating run-offs between liberal and moderate Democrats in place of a liberal Democrat trouncing a conservative Republican would yield a more moderate result. It did not work. Arguably, the lack of a Republican on the ballot diminished the overall Republican turn-out. Certainly, the Republican Party has not learned how to manage this system by coalescing around one candidate in the first round or endorsing one of the finalists.
- The party is split between the more liberal Bay Area and the more conservative members in Southern California and the Central Valley. Under current leadership the party is solvent, but does not have the resources to fight a multi-front campaign, utilizing much of it's capacity to develop local- level candidates for small town mayors, school boards, and the like. (The Grow Elect support group did help elect 50 additional Hispanic Republican candidates at various levels.) Conversely, the Democratic party has long been flush, fruitlessly spending some $3,000,000 on a non-descript candidate running against the Bay Area's only legislative Republican.
And California has a unique electorate.
- There are some 6.9 million eligible Hispanic voters in California - about 28% of the total. Republican Governor Pete Wilson's 1994 Proposition 187, denying government services to illegal immigrants, marked a milestone in the loss of this demographic for Republicans for a generation. Trump has repeated the offense, but the Republican problem goes deeper.
- The displaced blue collar workers who flocked to Trump in the industrial Midwest were Poles, Czechs, Italians, Irish, and other European nationalities - they do not exist in California; their counterparts are Hispanic. And there are no miners. And far fewer factory workers.
- Climate change is religion in California. From Arnold Schwartznegger to Jerry Brown; from cap and trade to electric cars and solar panels; to mandates that greenhouse gas emissions be 40% below 1990 levels by 2030; to housing and transportation policies forcing people out of cars and into dense buildings along main arterials; to prohibitions on oil drilling offshore and in major shale formations. This is popular stuff. The attitudes and political implications will not change.
- California is a state of immigrants and domestic migrants. In the heart of Silicon Valley some two-thirds of the people working in technology are immigrants, and half of the $1 billion companies have an immigrant founder. Most of the political leadership of San Francisco is not from San Francisco, having migrated here for work and for the Bohemian life-style, accented by the gay community. As the remainder of the country becomes more conservative, the lure will be greater.
The next four years will be difficult for California. The obvious conflicts will be about immigration, climate change, and cultural norms. The underlying challenge will be the belief of Californians that they should be free to ignore federal laws that they do not like, following eight years of an administration which imposed "the California way" by edict.
This week's "Obama at the Bat" video is a bit old, but relevant for the lame duck president.
bill bowen - 12/9/16