Imagine if the Democrats won an election with a candidate who made vague liberal sounds from time to time, but decried abortion, viewed the homosexual agenda as a cultural menace, supported tax cuts and limited government, rejected affirmative action, called the Greens “left-wing crazies,” consulted with Michael Reagan regularly, and had once given money to Alan Keyes. Would rank-and-file Democrats consider that win a real victory? No, they would seethe with rage. “Our leaders just handed the conservatives a victory,” they’d say.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is the Republican equivalent of this scenario. He is a de facto Democrat and Hollywood liberal. Should he win, state Republican leaders will have engineered a victory not for rank-and-file Republicans but for the liberal establishment.
Liberals of varying gradations now head both parties in the state. No longer even recognizably Republican (judging by the party’s platform), the state party executive board offered an “unprecedented” endorsement of Schwarzenegger. Martha House, vice chairwoman of the board, explained the vote by saying: “Contrary to popular belief, we do want to win.”
Translation: Since we lack the conviction and courage to beat the Democrats on principle, we will join them and endorse a de facto Democrat. An ordinary Republican, hearing House’s comment, can reasonably conclude that the party stands for nothing except winning. In which case, why does the state Republican party exist at all? Why doesn’t it just merge with the California Democrats? Then it could win every election.
Political parties exist not to win willy-nilly but to win on their principles. Victory is not the end, but the means to the end, which is the enactment of the party’s platform. If substanceless winning were the purpose of political parties, platform documents would be blank.
California Republican leaders have turned the means into the end, and thereby turned the party over to liberals. Their talk of a Republican rebirth is laughable — unless they mean that the party is being reborn as a sister party to the Democratic one.
A party that seeks victory for the sake of its principles can renew itself. But a party that abandons its principles for the sake of victory is hopelessly lost. One longtime California GOP activist, who has watched the party progressively lose its “brain and spine,” likens the liberalization of the state party to the “Stockholm syndrome.” California Republican leaders identify with their liberal captors while they view with hostility Republican rescuers like Tom McClintock.
Like robots programmed by the Los Angeles Times, state Republican leaders said repeatedly that a real Republican “can’t win.” They parroted this yearly liberal prophecy, treated it as fact, then made it fact by torpedoing McClintock so that he couldn’t win.
The problem with the Republican elite is much deeper than confusion. They didn’t accidentally swallow a liberal lie; they fervently believe it. The “McClintock can’t win” line was bogus from the start. The recent USA Today poll shows that McClintock would win easily in a race against Cruz Bustamante. What the Republicans were really saying was not that McClintock can’t win but that he shouldn’t win. “McClintock scares the hell out of the Republican establishment, because he represents fundamental change and they don’t want that,” said the GOP activist. “When Tom had a good chance of winning last year in the Controller’s race, they didn’t lift a finger to help him.”
The Richard Riordans and Gerry Parskys of the party call on conservatives to “be team players,” though liberal Republicans rarely behave like team players when conservatives are running. McClintock will “pay a price” for remaining in the race, Republican leaders warn. What price will they pay for gutting the party of its principles?
If Schwarzenegger wins and governs like a Kennedy liberal — a good bet — McClintock could reemerge as his Republican primary opponent in 2006. The rank-and-file, disgusted with a Republican establishment that has given birth to yet another Jim Jeffords/Arlen Specter, will not care one whit that the establishment has scorned McClintock. If anything, respect for McClintock will grow as it becomes clear that his hardheaded fiscal conservatism is the only authentic answer to the crisis.
Recall that Ron Unz, the Republican who challenged Governor Pete Wilson in 1994, got 34 percent of the primary vote. I asked Unz recently if he would have done better had he gone into the primary with the national attention McClintock now enjoys. “There is no doubt about that,” he said. Unz doesn’t count McClintock out, especially if a Schwarzenegger administration is as “disastrous as it might be.”