Perhaps California conservatives owe Richard Riordan a debt of gratitude: In seeking to destroy a real Republican Party in the state, Riordan managed to save it. He spent the better part of his campaign baiting traditional Republicans, leaving Bill Simon with an enormous opening to exploit.
Usually country club Republicans advance their "inclusive" left-wing agenda with a measure of respect for the party's base. Not Riordan. He made it plain from the start that his big circus tent would cover everyone except conservatives.
Riordan took great glee in driving traditional Republicans into Simon's arms. He allowed himself endless gibes at the expense of the party faithful. How appropriate it is that this great expert on "winning" and "electability" couldn't even win a primary against a political rookie.
Gerry Parsky, the White House's man in California, may need one of the stewardesses on his private Gulfstream jet to hand him a towel. Egg covers his face. His attempt to foist a de facto liberal Democrat on California Republicans backfired comically, leaving him with no credibility in the state party.
Parsky views the conservatives who sustain the party with the same level of contempt as Riordan. The White House should pull the plug on Parsky's elitist meddling in the party and replace him with a real Republican.
The Simon victory reveals that the party runs on two tracks, considerably distant from each other: the country club establishment runs left, the faithful run right. Even the California congressional delegation -- which sold its soul for Riordan and got nothing except embarrassment in return -- appears woefully out of touch with ordinary Republicans.
The David Dreiers of the delegation arrogantly shushed the conservatives who told them not to support the Jim Jeffords of California. "Victory," they said, is the goal, and Riordan is the stooge to get us there.
Riordan ended up making a stooge of them. While they dishonestly assured the rank-and-file that Riordan represented real Republicanism, Riordan was out on the trail screwing around with liberal hacks like John Burton and Barbara Lee.
Riordan's joke of a campaign ended in fitting style: He spent two of the last nights of the campaign in San Francisco hamming it up in a magic and comedy routine.
Simon, meanwhile, ran a "disciplined" campaign, as even the left-wing "Los Angeles Times" put it. He courted conservative groups diligently, promised tax cuts, drew attention to Riordan's liberalism, and milked Rudy Giuliani's endorsement for all it was worth.
Giuliani's touch is golden: According to the Times, 30 percent of Simon voters credited "Giuliani's endorsement" as a "major influence" on their vote.
Simon would do well to make Giuliani the honorary chairman of his campaign. Giuliani's glow will make Simon's face visible to Californians sick of drone Davis.
Naturally, the media and moderates in the party -- who know so much about winning that they prodded Riordan to run -- are now lecturing Simon on what he "needs to do to win." The Times offered this "news analysis" on Wednesday morning: "Simon's Conservative Image Could Play Into Davis' Hands." Translation: We here at the Los Angeles Times will do everything in our power to make Simon look like an extremist so that Davis can win.
Simon is hardly the conservative of the Times' feverish imaginings. The truth is that he holds conventional Republican views on most issues and has no intention of running a highly ideological campaign. He is more eager to talk about water and highways than abortion and affirmative action.
His pro-life views are studiously low-key. But watch the media take these quiet musings and transform Simon into the second coming of Randall Terry.
True, the abortion issue can kill a candidacy -- Richard Riordan's. He never stopped talking about his affinity for abortion rights; he almost sounded like a flak for Planned Parenthood. The delicious irony of his women-like-me-because-I'm-pro-abortion babblings is that Republican women defected from him in droves.
The abortion issue could even help Simon with Hispanic Democrats. Simon, a pro-life Catholic like many of them, can ask them if they feel comfortable with a Democrat governor who sees the unborn children of poor minorities as nuisances to be exterminated with their tax dollars.
Simon, having beaten one high-profile liberal, is now ready to beat another.