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End Of GOP In California Spells New Beginning For Politics

Francesca Bessey |
November 17, 2012 | 9:54 a.m. PST

Deputy Opinion Editor

Democrats in California now hold a legislative supermajority. (photologue_np, Creative Commons)
Democrats in California now hold a legislative supermajority. (photologue_np, Creative Commons)
In the aftermath of the November 6 elections, the California Republican Party is teetering on the edge of extinction. 

Democrats hold the state’s key electoral votes, governorships, senate seats and every other statewide office. While Republicans maintain a majority in the United States House of Representatives, they represent a dwindling minority among California’s 53 seats, several of which were lost to Democrats in upset victories last Tuesday.

Steve Schmidt, who managed John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008, advised that “Republican leaders should look at California and shudder.”

For the rest of us, however, the new trend might spell good news. 

According to Schmidt, “the two-party system has collapsed” in the Golden State. But is it really such a bad thing to see the end of the Democrat-Republican stand-off? President Obama’s last four years have been notorious for Congressional gridlock—the direct result of a rift between parties so profound that Republicans publically vetted Florida’s former GOP governor Charlie Crist because he gave Obama a hug.

This is absurd. Republicans and Democrats are supposed to offer opposing views on particular political issues, not to create cliques forbidden from expressing basic human decency or gratitude toward one another. 

This cliquishness has led to disaster. Important questions on our nation’s economic and social welfare go unaddressed as the two parties make the halls of Congress their personal battlegrounds. Presidential races grow more and more brutal, with millions of campaign dollars going to making the other candidate look bad. Health care reform, the crown jewel of Obama’s domestic goals upon entering office in 2009, was supposed to represent a bipartisan solution to a serious national problem. Instead, it demonstrated how unwilling many representatives of the two parties are to work with one another at all.

But squabbles are not just a problem between the two parties. Tension exists within the parties as well. Antagonism between GOP presidential hopefuls prompted former First Lady Barbara Bush to describe the 2012 Republican primary as “the worst campaign I’ve ever seen in my life.”

The GOP candidates made it difficult to oppose her point. The Santorum campaign, for example, aired an ad in February in which a Mitt Romney figure attempts to shoot cardboard cut-outs of Rick Santorum with a semi-automatic weapon. Romney, in his turn, repeatedly criticized Santorum for having voted against the party on a 1998 appointment to the federal circuit court, but never actually explained how this action was contrary to the party’s principles.

It would seem the GOP in particular emphasizes party loyalty in order to ignore the extreme factionalism that is threatening its ability to present a unified front to American voters. An intense focus on social issues in the 2012 election demonstrated how such fragmentation has led the GOP to brand itself in ways that may not be healthy for themselves—or for America.

The rise of the American Libertarian party, for example, resulted in part from the emergence of a distinct group of American moderates, who considered themselves fiscally conservative and socially liberal and who were fed up with the influence of the socially conservative so-called Christian right on Republican politics. According to a recent Gallup Poll, this socially conservative right, while in decline during the latter part of the Bush administration, has experienced a recent resurgence, with 38 percent of Americans responding as “totally conservative” on social issues.

This suggests a dangerous trend, confirmed by Santorum’s ability to go so far in the GOP race, of extreme social conservatism hijacking the Republican Party. This has led to historic flip-flops among Republican leaders, such as Romney’s on gay marriage, and has made it impossible for the GOP to gain support among those who consider practices such as marriage discrimination and the denial of a woman’s right to contraception ethically wrong.

The collapse of the Republican Party in California gives Republicans a chance to rebrand themselves in groups more closely associated with their personal values. This would then serve as a model for Democrats and—since one eighth of the U.S. population lives in California—for the rest of the country as well. 

The resulting multi-party system would diversify the political arena and allow for the creation of platforms more in tune to the goals of the American people. Because membership in a political party would no longer constitute unity against a sole, common enemy, opportunities for compromise would increase. People would feel more comfortable moving from party to party and voting according to their preferences, rather than adhering to what their chosen group instructs them to endorse.

The GOP’s collapse may also provide the opportunity for more historically marginalized voices to be heard in politics, another significant boost to political diversity in the U.S. The Democratic Party has historically been much more accessible to women and minority groups than its Republican counterpart. The overwhelming majority of Republican representatives nationwide continue to be white and male; however, come January, women and minority groups will hold the majority of Democratic seats in the House for the first time in U.S. history.

While the end of the Republican Party in California may temporarily reduce political diversity in the state, no hegemon ever lasts for long. Without the GOP to focus on, Democrats in California will begin to differentiate themselves, and Republicans and Independents alike will be able to generate new platforms through which to express their wants and needs.

Thomas Jefferson once said that that “every generation needs a new revolution.” It has been for much longer than a generation that America has squirmed under the boot of the current two-party system. Perhaps a change in the political order represents the revolution we need.


Reach Deputy Opinion Editor Francesca Bessey here.



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