What Does the California Recall Mean for the U.S.?

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Gavin Newsom and Democrats argued that he was running against Trumpism, not on his own record or against any particular candidate.

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Let’s start with the obvious caveat: California is different. That’s true for a number of reasons, but this week all eyes are on its bizarre — some say unconstitutional — process of recall, in which a small minority of Californians, despite overwhelming majority support, on Governor Gavin Newsom as of today. Forced a vote of no confidence. For him.

Latest surveys show that Californians very much want him to be, and is especially wary of its prime rival, conservative talk-show host Larry Elder. But this is the politics of 2021, let us also accept that there is always a chance that the elections are catastrophically wrong. As of tomorrow, will we all be talking about Mr. Elder’s brilliant campaign and a bright future?

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With those two huge caveats in mind, let’s take on the opposite question: What does Mr. Newsom’s victory prospect say about American politics in the years to come?

Again, it’s 2021, we can’t talk about politics, national or local, Donald J. Without talking about Trump and, by extension, Trumpism. Man and event (or is it a movement? or an ideology?) play into the race in two ways, both of which we are going to see repeating in the coming races.

At first, Mr Newsom and the Democrats argued strongly that he was running against Trumpism, not on his own record or against a particular candidate – that Mr Newsom had the option, as one headline of this paper put it. , “the abyss.”

“We beat Trump last year, and thank you, but we didn’t beat Trumpism,” Mr Newsom told anyone who would listen.

This type of intimidation is a time-honored tactic, but it is particularly prominent and effective today. Mr. Trump is always in extreme positions, and as long as he claims to be the head of the Republican Party, Democrats will try to link their opponents to him.

And it works. Because Trumpism is so vague, opponents can make it whatever they want. Early Fascism? Mass liberalism? White supremacy? Check, check and check. It could also mean specific things, such as clarifying climate policy or repealing masks and vaccine mandates. California has a lot of problems, but Californians generally accept Sacramento’s pro-government, pro-regulatory approach. Instead of being forced to defend their specific policies, Democrats can simply portray their opponents as Trumps bent on destruction.

Another caveat: This is California, where Democrats outnumber Republicans two to one, forcing the Republican Party into a corner where it has become captive to its base. That means it’s going to behave in a way that the Republican Party of Texas or Florida, for example, probably won’t.

“Compare it to the Democratic Party in Mississippi,” said Chris Stirwalt, former digital politics editor for Fox News. “It’s probably a very strange place.”

Will the Democrats’ strategy work in purple states, or even in a state like Virginia, where Republicans are more outnumbered and better organized – and where Terry McAuliffe is already deploying it in the gubernatorial race against his Republican rival, Glenn Youngkin?

Traditional political analysis would say no. But then, it is 2021. Following their base, many Republicans have largely (but not entirely) abandoned the political middle, where most Americans say they live. Democrats have spent months painting their opponents as undemocratic and anti-reality, a message that has played well among independents and moderates, starting with the Senate runoff in Georgia, and with Mr. Trump about election fraud. With the false claims in the ring, the time has come to prove your point.

Not every race is going to play out like this. Most Republicans will read the room, so to speak, and adjust their campaigns accordingly. Look at former San Diego mayor Kevin Faulkner, who is running to replace Mr. Newsom. Yes she has Expected photo of himself standing next to Mr. Trump. But his message has been about practical solutions to the problems of the state, exactly the kind of campaign you would expect someone to create a space between themselves and their national party.

Again, Mr Faulkner is running second behind Mr Elder and barely registers in the national conversation. One reason is the specificity of the race. This is a royal battle, not a primary one; Candidates had very less time to prepare; And as a result, name recognition, which Mr. Elder has and Mr. Faulkner does not, is important.

But another is the dynamics of right-wing politics – and another is the way in which the recall reflects the lasting impact of Mr. Trump and Trumpism.

Mr Newsom has been going on with his “Me vs the Abyss” strategy since the recall began. But it didn’t last, as the recall focused on Mr Newsom and his performance during the pandemic – including an embarrassing maskless dinner at the French Laundry, one of California’s most exclusive restaurants during the state’s shutdown .

“In a vacuum, there was a lot of dissatisfaction with Newsom and Democrats had ambivalence with him,” said Rob Stutzman, a Republican political adviser in California.

This began to change once “Abyss” got its name.

Mr. Elder is not the Trumpiest candidate one can imagine, but he is close. A novice campaigner with a background in conservative talk radio, Mr. Elder has a treasure trove of embarrassing comments in his past – about women, about black people – and a penchant for making more of them on the stump.

“Larry Elder has been the gift that keeps on giving,” said Steven Maviglio, a Democratic political adviser in California.

Again, Mr Elder has been dominant because it is much more about celebrity than race policy. But he is also effective because he, more than anyone else, is attached to the Trumpist base, and is prepared to deal with it accordingly.

After coming under fire from the right for telling The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board that Joe Biden had won the 2020 election, he reversed itself. He has repeatedly and falsely claimed that the race for recalls is rife with fraud. He’s crushing it among the “people with Uncle Sam costumes in their closets” demographic, but not much else.

Of course, Mr. Elder is not a serious politician; He is not running to win, but to increase his media profile. But the same fact says something about the Republican Party of today. Many of its high-profile figures blur the line between politician and celebrity, and act accordingly, even if their success as the latter outweighs our expectation from the former. Marjorie Taylor Green and Madison Cawthorne — and, yes, Larry Elder — are only nominal politicians. In short, they are entertainers.

True, they are entertainers who say scary things about guns, political violence, pandemics and their political left. And true, some of them win elections, usually in dark red districts. And true, many people in the Republican Party are smarter, or at least more considerate, about elected office than they are.

Still, Mr. Elder & Co. uncovers an enduring, possibly enduring dynamic on the right: a rejection of politics as anything other than a smashing spectacle, in which the most outrageous and insidious figures draw the biggest crowds – and their allies. They force themselves to constantly defend themselves against their own party.

This is not an insurmountable challenge. It looks like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has figured out a way to overcome it, at least for now. But many won’t — and many Republicans won’t even try. Remember when the party featured occasional extremist figures like Todd Akin, who made comments about “legitimate rape” and Christine “I’m not a witch” O’Donnell? In 2021, it’s going to be a lot harder to do.

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