California’s Republican Party Is Irrelevent. Embracing Criminal Justice Reform Could Help Change That.

California’s two major Republican factions—conservatives and moderates—have been arguing about the future of the party for at least two decades. They don’t agree on much, but after the California party’s midterm drubbing they do agree on this point: The state GOP is largely dead in the water and needs a new strategy to revive itself.

A recap is in order. In 1998, 46.8 percent of voters were registered as Democrats, 35.8 percent as Republicans and 12.4 percent chose “No Party Preference.” As of 2018, the Democrats held fairly steady at 44.4 percent registration, but those independents grabbed second spot with 25.5 percent and Republicans had sunk to 25.1 percent. On Nov. 6, Democrats took seven GOP-held congressional races (one has yet to be certified), won every statewide office and expanded their supermajorities in the Assembly and Senate.

“The California Republican Party isn’t salvageable at this time,” wrote former Republican Assembly leader Kristin Olsen or Modesto in a widely discussed post-mortem. “The Grand Old Party is dead—partly because it has failed to separate itself from today’s toxic, national brand of Republican politics.” She pointed to the need for a New Way. That refers to a group of moderate Republicans, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, who are pushing for bipartisan approaches.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing new about this direction. Bipartisanship is great provided you find common ground on substantive limited-government issues. That’s a pipe-dream given the views among the Democratic majority. Schwarzenegger’s administration, which epitomizes this approach, started out with calls for government reform, but devolved into warmed-over liberalism. Been there, done that.

But the current conservative approach of doubling down on Trumpism will only lead to the party’s obliteration. Trump’s nationalistic approach, and his hardline stances on immigration and law and order, has been tried repeatedly. In 1994, Proposition 187, which would have denied most public services to illegal immigrants, passed overwhelmingly. But it did long-term damage to the party’s brand. And the party has never gotten away from its inflexible tough-on-crime stance.

The only thing the party has left to offer is tax cutting. I’m as big of a

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