The good news for a badly damaged California Republican Party: It elected a shiny new, diverse group of leaders over the weekend. The new chairman of the state party is a 38-year-old Latina named Jessica Patterson; the vice-chairman is an immigrant from Taiwan, Peter Kuo; and the party treasurer is Gregory Gandrud, who is openly gay. Patterson’s victory, over two older white guys who are hyper-Trump supporters (including failed 2018 gubernatorial candidate Travis Allen), is being hailed far and wide as a step away from self-isolation for a party that hasn’t won a statewide race since Arnold Schwarzenegger left office, and just lost half its 14 U.S. House seats last November.
The bad news is that this diversity in leadership doesn’t necessarily mean that conservatives have relaxed the ideological death grip on the California GOP that has made the party irrelevant.
As political reporter Ben Christopher observed, Patterson may not be an old white guy, but she sort of thinks like one:
Patterson is hardly a moderate. She is unequivocally opposed to abortion, is backed by the House minority leader and noted Trump whisperer, Kevin McCarthy, and spent the convention referring to Democratic legislators as the “enemy.”
One of her first attagirls was from Donald Trump Jr.:
And at least one other member of Patterson’s team has notably non-moderate views, too, notes Christopher:
Lest anyone accuse the new leadership team of championing multicultural diversity for its own sake, Gandrud recently formed a nonprofit to sue the Santa Barbara public school district for, according to his website, a “curriculum that is racist against white people and teaches students that white male Christian capitalists are oppressors.”
Indeed, a lot of the excitement about Patterson seems to be based on relief that the party didn’t lurch even further to the right with one of her opponents, who were, as the Los Angeles Times noted, proud of the GOP’s more problematic views:
On Saturday, Allen supporters gathered on the steps of the state Capitol and danced to music with lyrics supportive of Trump’s signature initiative: “Build the wall, 10 feet, 20 feet, 100 feet tall.” Among them was a handful of men wearing clothes identifying themselves as members of the Proud Boys, a far-right organization …
Allen and Frank, both favorites among grassroots activists, had argued that taking a hard turn right and returning to “conservative values” was the only way to inspire Republicans again. They urged doubling down on support for Trump, pushed unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud in the state and attacked Patterson as part of the “failing status quo” that led the party to its worst losses in years.
Patterson, at least, recognizes this is no time for ideological purges, acknowledging that “[t]here are too few of us for us to try and push people out in one direction or the other.” Still, halting a march off the cliff is necessary, but not sufficient, to a party revival. We’ll see how the California GOP looks after being harnessed closely to the profoundly unpopular president in the upcoming presidential cycle.