‘This is about a segment of our population that is no longer of the opinion that democracy works for their aims’
Republicans in California may be able to achieve something their national counterparts have dreamed of since the day Bill Clinton was sworn into office in 1992 — reversing the results of an election their candidate overwhelmingly lost.
Dentro 2018, then Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom won the Golden State’s top job by garnering votes from 7,721,410 Californians — 61.9 percent of ballots cast — with his Republican opponent unable to earn support from as much as 40 percent of the electorate. It was a predictable result for California Republicans, who have not won a statewide election since then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was re-elected in 2008. Their record at the legislative level has been even worse, with Democrats having control of the state assembly and state senate almost continuously since 1970.
Newsom was sworn in as governor on January 7, 2019, and rather than put their efforts into winning back the governor’s mansion in the next regular election, Republican activists have circulated multiple petitions seeking to invoke the state’s recall process to remove him. The progressive-era law allows voters to trigger an election by collecting signatures from just 12 percent of registered voters — not even one-third of the number who voted for Newsom’s opponent in 2018.
There have been seven such efforts over the last three years, but only this latest one found success after conservative media made hay of Newsom’s decision to attend a dinner at an upscale French restaurant in Napa Valley at the same time he was encouraging Californians to wear masks and avoid large gatherings to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
California’s recall law was put on the books in 1911 as a good-government measure meant to give the public a way to remove corrupt or incompetent officials. The last time it was successfully invoked was 2003, when voters elected Schwarzenegger to replace Democrat Gray Davis after 55 percent of them chose to oust him. He was perceived to have mismanaged the electricity crisis the state suffered during the early 2000s, as well as the economic fallout from the end of the dot-com bubble.
But veterans of California politics say this recall effort is a far cry from the one that put “the governator” in the governor’s mansion, and has far more in common with the Trump-era party’s unsuccessful push to overturn the 2020 eleição.
Steve Schmidt, the former Republican political strategist who managed Schwarzenegger’s 2008 campanha de reeleição, said the California GOP’s years-long push to remove Newsom reflects a “commitment to chaos as a means to take power” and “a party of kooks and cranks” with “no capacity to govern”.
“Taking power through ordinary means is being abandoned,” said Schmidt, who noted that unlike the rioters who stormed the Capitol on January 6, this attempt to reverse an election is being pursued “by lawful means”.
Schmidt — who also ran John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign and helped found the anti-Trump Lincoln Project super PAC — stressed that just because the recall effort is legal, it does not make it a morally correct undertaking. “This process exists, and the lawful conditions of this process have been met… The process could in fact yield a result where a talk-radio wackjob who is profoundly unfit to be in charge of anything could take power in the state of California, the sixth-largest economy in the world, com 6 percent of the vote," ele explicou. “That’s a very bad thing… even beyond the life-and-death issues around the pandemic, when you look at the magnitude of the fire catastrophe that exists in California.” He added that the “unpreparedness of the candidates,” including what he called “the masturbatory qualities of [reality TV star] Caitlyn Jenner’s involvement” make the effort against Newsom an “Olympics of unfitness” that is “immoral in the sense that it’s a time where life-and-death decisions are being made, and stupidity abounds”.
According to the California Secretary of State’s office, só 11 do 179 attempts to recall a state elected official have successfully triggered a recall election. And of those, only six have been successful. But another Golden State political veteran, GOP strategist Mike Madrid, predicts that the continued polarization of American politics and the prevalence of negative partisanship as a motivating factor for voters will make recalls more commonplace.
“I believe we are entering an era where recalls in the state are likely to become more common than not, because even though the Republican base is shrinking rapidly, it’s becoming more animated, and it’s easier to mobilize on anything that is against the Democratic Party,” said Madrid, who also worked on the Lincoln Project’s anti-Trump efforts with Schmidt during the 2020 eleição. “Twenty years ago, people would have been a little bit more hesitant and said: ‘Well, is that good for the state or not?’ but today they’ll say: ‘Not only will I sign it, but I’ll get my family to sign and contribute 100 bucks to the cause’.”
Madrid took care to stress that the amount of negative partisanship in the American political environment means that Democrats would also be equally likely to try recalling a Republican governor if their state had a mechanism for it. But when asked whether those behind the push to remove Newsom were animated by a similar sentiment to the insurrectionists who breached the Capitol on January 6, he replied: “I think there’s some truth to that.”
“This is about a segment of our population that is no longer of the opinion that democracy works for their aims," ele disse. “They’re becoming more monolithic, more intense, more excited… more extreme and more violent, and they will utilize those resources to make the changes that they seek because the fight to them is bigger than democracy. It’s about their own worldview, and if that means authoritarianism, or using the instruments of democracy to overturn elections — or overturn them without the tools — they will use them.”
Both Madrid and Schmidt were bearish on the possibility that the recall will be successful, with Madrid predicting that a Newsom loss would require “an epic collapse of support” because of what he described as an “overwhelming” Democratic advantage in voter registration.
But Michael Steele, the former Maryland lieutenant governor who led the GOP during the 2010 Tea Party wave, cautioned Democrats to take the far right’s efforts to break into power however they can extremely seriously. “It is just stunning to me how ill-prepared the Democrats are for a GOP base that has never let down its desire for the fight,” he observed.
Steele, who is currently mulling a run for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in Maryland’s 2022 eleição, said the push to overturn Newsom’s 61 percent victory by way of a recall election that will have far lower turnout is just “one of several group blueprints that are being played out across the country for this year and next year’s elections as a foundation for Armageddon in 2024”.
The California recall effort, Steele said, is just the latest iteration of the movement Donald Trump began in the spring and summer of 2020 when he claimed that he could only lose the 2020 election by way of Democratic fraud. He further warned Democrats that letting Newsom lose the recall could give the GOP a platform for more anti-democratic meddling.
“I don’t understand why people didn’t take him seriously when he said this, because he’s nothing if not serious about what he says. And that is, ‘If I lose the selection, it will only be because the Democrats cheated,’” he said. “You can draw the line all the way back to that. And so henceforth and forevermore [for Trump supporters] if any Republican loses an election, it will only be because Democrats cheated. Not because their candidates suck, not because they have no message, not because of anything else other than Democrats cheated.”
“If [talk show host] Larry [Elder] does win this… and he’s the incumbent Republican governor, every means will be brought to bear to hold that seat," Ele continuou. “Anything like losing because the Democratic candidate got more votes, all of that won’t apply… It will be because Democrats cheated, and… we’ll do the recall cycle all over again. People need to understand what the strategy is here. This is not about a clean and fair process, this is about gumming up the process, this is about making it more difficult to vote… and to create obstacles and the barriers that disincentivize people’s participation.”