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California GOP Aims to Pick Up Pieces After 2021 Recall Boomerang

But the top candidate against Newsom in 2022 appears poised to make same mistakes.

Seven months after a successful recall effort against progressive Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom blew up when Newsom easily romped in the Sept. 14 special election, Republicans in California appear to have abandoned the field for 2022. An unheralded state senator is the most prominent announced candidate, with no genuine consensus as to what kind of showing would even be grounds for renewed hope as Newsom presumably coasts to another four-year term.

Stout Challenge Indeed

Senator Brian Dahle represents the 1st Senate District in the Golden State, which is made up of 11 counties in the north. The Sacramento Bee related the uphill fight in his gubernatorial run:

“To win the governorship, Dahle will have to oust a Democratic incumbent who is fresh off beating a recall attempt, has half the registered voters on his side and $25 million in his campaign account.

“The governor faces criticism for the state’s homeless problem, rising crime rates, and unpopular COVID-19 mandates, but ultimately is still a formidable foe for a Republican who has never run a statewide race.

“‘It would be a stunning upset,’ if Dahle won, said Republican political consultant Rob Stutzman. ‘It’s hard to imagine a scenario where (Newsom) doesn’t win reelection. At a minimum, the opponent would have to be very well-funded.’”

That second paragraph highlights the powerful grassroots forces that the California GOP should be able to harness. Homelessness, rampant crime, and public drug use plague the state’s biggest cities. Democrats continue to push strict coronavirus vaccine social policies even though an overwhelming majority of Americans have moved on from the pandemic hysteria and the governor who is up for re-election wants to provide state benefits to illegal aliens at a time of financial hardship to citizens at large. Even in an overwhelmingly blue state like California, this is a gold mine of material for an oppositional party.

Wrong Profile?

And yet there is every reason to believe Dahle is not up to the task of properly cultivating this political bounty. Rather than present himself as an alternative to the state’s establishment politicians, Dahle can easily be painted as a member in good standing of the ruling class.

When he won a special election to become state senator in June 2019, the state assembly seat he had held since 2012 went to his wife Megan, who still holds the office today. His official campaign website highlights his appeal to Californians as a no-nonsense competent professional who can get things done:

“Senator Brian Dahle is a voice for public safety, lowering taxes, and reducing homelessness. He opposes onerous government regulations that are driving up the cost of living forcing many to leave California and businesses to shutter their doors.

“A longtime advocate of building a better business climate in California, Brian Dahle was the California Chamber of Commerce’s top-rated senator for pro-business votes in 2021 and has a 100 percent rating from the National Federation of Independent Business.”

Absent is any reason to believe Dahle can tap into widespread outrage at the tangible social disasters that have marked the Newsom years. Dahle is an old-school California Republican gubernatorial candidate in an era of Trump Republican politics. A George Deukmejian may have been fine when the state was red in the 1980s, but the entire landscape has changed dramatically.

Like Dahle, Deukmejian served as a state senator and ran for governor as a responsible fiscal conservative. “He didn’t have Arnold Schwarzenegger’s bravado, Jerry Brown’s dialectical fireworks, or Pete Wilson’s Marine Corps willingness to take the hill,” state historian Kevin Starr told The New York Times in 2012, in reference to two former GOP governors and Democrat Brown. “He had such an understated manner, you almost missed how pervasive and effective he was in his governorship.”

New Banner Political Power PlaysThe 2021 recall election showed the shortcomings of conventional Republican candidates in California today. Talk radio host Larry Elder sounded brash but has been accused by some of ultimately being nothing more than a decades-old fixture of the Conservative Inc. careerist ranks. The other leading GOP candidate, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, embodied many of the same attributes now seen in Dahle.

“California voters rejected former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s campaign themes of ‘vanilla’ competence, bipartisan governing and old-school Republican ideals,” The San Diego Union-Tribune aptly put it in an obituary of his failed campaign.

It didn’t work last year, and it won’t work in 2021. Republicans in California must build a grassfire from the roots up in order to regain relevance. The parental revolt against Critical Race Theory propaganda seen in school board meetings across the nation shows how potent such a spirit can be.

Whether they actively embrace Trump is one thing, but Golden State GOP hopefuls must emulate his ability to appeal to voters on the most basic level. Conventional politics will always lead to Democrat victory in California.

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