2021 california recall election

Why California Republicans Can Bash Larry Elder All They Want

California Republican gubernatorial placement candidate Larry Elder, under attack from multiple directions. Photo: Sarah Reingewirtz/MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images

As Republican talk-show host Larry Elder soared in the polls soon after his late entrance to the field of Gavin Newsom replacement candidates in California’s gubernatorial recall election, it was inevitable he’d draw some heavy fire. For one thing, he’s a first-time candidate. For another, he’s a man with a vast record of incendiary right-wing on-air commentary — much of it offensive to big swaths of California’s left-leaning electorate. His rise in the replacement field was catnip to the kitties running Newsom’s “no to the recall” campaign, whose message all along was that the ballot measure was an effort by radical Republicans to do to California what they tried to do to America on January 6. Alarming Democrats about what may happen if they allow the incumbent to be removed from office is central to the party’s crucial get-out-the-vote operation.

Newsom himself sounded the tocsin in remarks to volunteers a couple of weeks ago: “The leading candidate thinks climate change is a hoax, believes we need more offshore oil drilling, more fracking, does not believe a woman has the right to choose [and] actually came out against Roe v. Wade, does not believe in a minimum wage.”

A particularly rich lode of Elder vulnerability has been his habit of disrespecting women in various ways in various media — particularly in terms of their workplace rights (Elder is a libertarian-ish defender of employer prerogatives to do bad things generally, to be sure) — as Media Matters documented:

In his books, right-wing radio host and leading California recall candidate Larry Elder endorsed pregnancy discrimination in employment, suggesting that working mothers aren’t “dedicated” and able to give an “all-hands-on-deck commitment” to work. He also attacked a Republican governor for leading her state after having kids, claiming that “to tell women they can run a state, have family and children, and be equally attentive to all — is a lie.”

This particular avenue of criticism was reinforced earlier this week when his former fiancee and producer Alexandra Datig accused him of abusive and piggish behavior during their recently terminated live-in relationship (though what probably got the most attention was a home video allegedly showing Elder claiming he had introduced Snoop Dogg to marijuana).

But did Elder’s fellow Republicans defend him from this twin assault by godless socialists and “fake media?” No. In fact, he took some shots from his rivals at a debate he skipped earlier this week, Politico reported:

“I sure wish Larry were here to defend this position, and he should be,” [John] Cox said in response to a question about Elder’s call to abolish a minimum wage. Assemblymember Kevin Kiley said he disagreed with Elder’s position.

[Kevin] Faulconer went farther, decrying Elder’s “indefensible” opposition to a minimum wage. Faulconer also brought up a 2000 Capitalism Magazine essay in which Elder wrote that “women know less than men about political issues, economics, and current events.” Elder had pointed to a University of Pennsylvania survey that he said “confirmed women’s lack of knowledge of the issues.”

“That’s bulls—,” Faulconer said Tuesday.

And now the intra-party criticism is intensifying, as both Faulconer and Caitlyn Jenner have called on Elder to drop out of the race.

“The only way to truly unite Republicans, Democrats, and independents around our goal of removing Gavin Newsom and making California more livable is for Larry Elder to drop out of this race,” Faulconer said Friday.

“While Gavin Newsom is a failed governor with massive corruption and fraud,” Jenner tweeted Thursday, linking to an article about Datig’s allegations against Elder, “we have another candidate in the recall that is a violent womanizer and too far right for [California].”

So what’s up with such categorical attacks? Do Elder’s Republican rivals think he’s going down, and are kicking him as he descends? Or is it just a matter of high-stakes fratricide? Don’t these critics fear they will help save Gavin Newsom?

I don’t know for sure, but the dynamics of the recall election may help explain the internecine fury. If voters do not remove Newsom from office in the first ballot line of the ballot, the replacement race will become irrelevant. Conversely, if Newsom is recalled, the plurality winner of the replacement race will become governor instantly. There is no general election in which the damage done to Elder as the most likely Republican nominee will kill his candidacy in the broader electorate. He’ll either become a footnote in history as a “replacement” winner in a failed recall election; or a failed replacement candidate; or governor.

Presumably if Elder does become governor, his GOP critics will make their peace with him — or begin running a primary campaign to take him down in 2022. For the present, they will likely go after him with claw hammers. As with Donald Trump in 2016, Republicans can always come around to a best-of-two-evils argument for Larry Elder. But they don’t have to do that right away in California, where the next governor could be elected with a narrow plurality margin among an equally narrow replacement electorate.

It’s all just another twist in 2021’s strangest election.

Why California Republicans Can Feel Free to Bash Larry Elder