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California GOP Eyeing Opportunities, Facing Big Challenges as Convention Begins

| September 16, 2011
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Michelle Bachmann at a GOP Rally

Republican presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) greets supporters during a rally at the Orange County Fairgrounds, before her appearance at the GOP rally on September 16, 2011 in Costa Mesa, California. Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

A state struggling with high unemployment; a depressed housing market that shows no signs of turning around any time soon; widespread voter discontent with the president and California’s U.S. senators—all of them Democrats.

That’s enough for the state’s Republican Party to declare, as it opens its fall convention in Los Angeles today, that “it’s a new day in California politics.”

But the thousand or so party members are meeting as the party faces a host of serious long-term challenges: declining Republican voter registration; a troubled relationship with the state’s rapidly growing Latino population; and newly drawn legislative districts that could cost the minority party some of the seats it holds in Sacramento and Washington.

“The thing about the Republicans is that they have nowhere to go but up,” Jack Pitney, Crocker Professor of Politics at Claremont McKenna College, said in an interview Friday with KQED News host Cy Musiker.

“They’re pretty much at rock bottom when it comes to seats in the Legislature, registration in the electorate, and certainly they don’t hold a single statewide office.”

The party’s opportunities and troubles are highlighted by a new Field Poll (PDF) that shows Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein with a 41 percent approval rating—the lowest in her nearly two decades in Washington. The poll found that just 41 percent of voters are inclined to vote for Feinstein when she runs next year while 44 percent are not.

The numbers suggest Feinstein is vulnerable to a strong Republican challenge. But Pitney said fundraising issues and the lack of Republican officeholders with solid statewide name recognition are major obstacles to unseating the Democratic senator.

“A Republican is going to have a good deal of difficulty raising money because a lot of the Republican money nationwide is going to go to states that are smaller, less expensive, and are more likely pickups for the GOP,” Pitney said.

“The thing about the Republicans is that they have nowhere to go but up,” said Jack Pitney, Crocker Professor of Politics at Claremont McKenna College.

“Inevitably, the Democrats are going to mess up in some way. Parties in power always do. That would provide the Republicans with an opportunity, but the thing is they need somebody to take advantage of it. You can’t beat somebody with nobody.”

The weekend GOP meeting will feature some star power—from some out-of-state members of Congress seeking the Republican presidential nomination. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota will address the convention Friday night. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and Rep. Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan will appear Saturday.

KQED Sacramento Bureau Chief John Myers will be covering the convention. Listen to his preview of the convention with The California Report’s Rachael Myrow. He’ll file reports for The California Report and KQED News on Monday.

Listen to the rest of our interview with Professor Pitney here: California GOP: Eying Opportunities, Facing Big Challenges; the audio will be available after 5:30 p.m.

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About the Author ()

Dan Brekke has worked in media ever since Nixon's first term, when newspapers were still using hot type. He had moved on to online news by the time Bill Clinton met Monica Lewinsky. He's been at KQED since 2007, is an enthusiastic practitioner of radio and online journalism and will talk to you about absolutely anything. Reach Dan Brekke at dbrekke@kqed.org.
  • http://www.elusivepeace.com Doug Noll

    I am interested in where the Republican presidential candidates stand on negotiation, mediation, and diplomacy as a means of solving intractable international conflicts. As I read reports about Governors Perry and Romney and Representative Michelle Bachman as the leading Republican candidates, I saw very little about their foreign policy positions, their negotiating skills, or their positions on war and peace. Some digging around the Internet provides early indications, based on past public statements, of how each would respond to an international conflict crisis. Here are some selected statements and my analysis where each candidate seems to stand on the issue of peace. I also include Senator Ron Paul because he has such a startling different position from the other candidates and therefore provides a useful contrast of philosophy about peace.

    Rick Perry

    “I see an America that has the strongest defense in the world, by an insurmountable order of magnitude. I see defense technology that is miles beyond our allies or adversaries, and servicemen and women who are better trained and equipped than anyone. I see a functional missile defense system protecting us and our allies, and I see modernized fleets of ships and aircraft that are unsurpassed in their ability to overwhelm the enemy. I see a world where America promotes peace through the strength of her forces, which continue to be used to protect freedom rather than in conquest.” November 15, 2010

    “There is no reason to believe that armed conflict with any major power is imminent, but the world is rapidly changing, and the US must be prepared for the ramifications of shifting balances of power.

    North Korea and Iran, in contrast, are utterly unpredictable and do present an imminent threat with their nuclear ambitions. Kim Jon Il’s regime sunk a South Korean ship, the “Cheonan”, for no apparent reason, killing 46 sailors. Iran is rattling its sabers and developing nuclear technology with impunity. Hugo Chavez is harboring communist rebels in Venezuela. All of these issues require our attention and investment in defense capabilities.

    Yet it is clear that after decades of ignoring the constitutional division of authority, our bloated national government is distracted and running thin on resources to perform its central mission.

    Defense spending is not being squeezed out of the budget because of the explosion in entitlement spending.” November 15, 2010

    “Today we remember those sacrifices and pay homage to Americans who gave their lives in defense of freedoms we too often take for granted. But we also know that a black thread is woven into the complex fabric of human nature, a seam of depravity that feed a hunger for power, a willingness to violate every rule of decency to attain it, and cold-blooded commitment to maintaining it with an iron grip.

    For that reason, we must always maintain a robust military capability, led by principled, decisive leaders who will employ it when necessary where freedom and security are threatened. Since the founding of our democracy, the threats to our freedom have shifted in their appearance and approach. But the guiding principles have remained the same. With our inherent sense of fairness, Americans do not like bullies and will stand up to defend what is right, no matter where in the world the threat exists.” Memorial Day speech to veteran’s group May 26, 2008

    Governor Perry advocates for the strongest possible military force. This seems inconsistent with his desire for a much smaller, leaner federal government. There is nothing in Governor Perry’s public statements so far that indicates that he would prefer patient, long term, diplomacy over military action. Like President George W. Bush, Governor Perry appears to believe that military strength solves the difficult problems of foreign affairs.

    Interestingly, these statements seem inconsistent with Governor Perry’s professed faith of Christianity. He is a self-declared evangelical Christian, which focuses on one’s personal relationship with Jesus. He seems to have formed his beliefs primarily on selective Christian principles that ignore the social commandments of caring about neighbors and loving enemies. His views seem contradictory to many of the teachings of Jesus, who advocated for a radical vision of peace.I think that Governor Perry would rather feel safe and secure behind a wall of military superiority than engage enemies at a deep emotional, intellectual, and spiritual level as equal human beings. He finds it easier to demonize and stereotype enemies as evil. He seems to lack the patience needed for peace, opting instead for the adrenalin of action. I would expect Governor Perry to to choose war over peace when the call is close.

    Michelle Bachman

    “Our courageous men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan are on the frontlines in the war on terror, but the horrific attack on 9/11 demonstrated that terrorists can bring the battlefield to our shores. For this reason, we must remain continually vigilant and ready with a broad based strategy that includes military action when necessary but also enhanced overseas intelligence capabilities, strengthened coalitions with willing partners and more effective and efficient homeland security.” Campaign website, http://www.michelebachmann.com, “Issues” Nov 7, 2006
    I was frankly surprised. This statement, along with her opposition to President Bush’s troop surge in Iraq in 2007, indicates a more thoughtful and balanced approach to military action. Her vote against the troop surge was because she felt the American public did not have enough information to justify the increase in troops. She seems willing to require a higher standard of necessity before engaging in war. What is absent is any indication of her preference for negotiation and diplomacy over military action.

    MItt Romney

    “To battle the threat of radical Jihadists, we have sent the most courageous and brave soldiers in the world. But their numbers have been depleted by the Clinton years when troops were reduced by 500,000, when 80 ships were retired from the Navy, and when our human intelligence was slashed by 25%. We were told that we were getting a peace dividend. We got the dividend, but we didn’t get the peace. In the face of evil in radical Jihad and given the inevitable military ambitions of China, we must act to rebuild our military might–raise military spending to 4% of our GDP, purchase the most modern armament, re-shape our fighting forces for the asymmetric demands we now face, and give the veterans the care they deserve.
    Source: Speeches to 2008 Conservative Political Action Conference Feb 7, 2008

    “Q: In one of your recent debates, you refused to say whether waterboarding was torture. The director of national intelligence said flatly: “Whether it is torture by anybody else’s definition, for me it would be torture.” I wonder if that would influence you to conclude that waterboarding is torture, because you and McCain debated on that. McCain came down very, very firmly, saying waterboarding is torture.

    A: You know, I just don’t think it’s productive for presidents to lay out a list of what is specifically referred to as torture. One of the reasons is that that term is used in the Geneva accord. And once you lay that list out, you are forever prohibiting the US from ever employing that technique, even in a circumstance where a city might be subject to a potential nuclear attack. And so we have found it wise, in the past, not to describe precisely the techniques of interrogation that are used here; also, so that people who are captured don’t know what might be used against them. ” CNN Late Edition: 2008 presidential series with Wolf Blitzer Jan 13, 2008

    “Q: You had said that the government should wiretap some mosques to keep tabs on Islamic extremists. Even without a judge’s approval?

    A: No, of course not. But use the law to follow people who are teaching doctrines of terror & hate, and make sure that if they’re doing that in a mosque, in a school, in a playground, wherever it’s being done, we know what’s going on. There’s no question but that we’re under threat from people who want to attack our country in this global effort. We need to know about that, track them, follow them, and make sure that in every way we can, we know what they’re doing and where they’re doing it. And if it means we have to go into a mosque to wiretap or a church, then that’s exactly where we’re going to go. I hear from time to time people say, hey, wait a second. We have civil liberties we have to worry about. But don’t forget, the most important civil liberty I expect from my government is my right to be kept alive, & that’s what we’re going to have to do.
    Source: 2007 GOP debate at UNH, sponsored by Fox News Sep 5, 2007

    “ America’s #1 Threat–Jihad: “The defeat of this radical and violent faction of Islam must be achieved through a combination of American resolve, international effort, and the rejection of violence by moderate, modern, mainstream Muslims.”
    Radical Islam’s Plan: “I think many of us still fail to comprehend the extent of the threat posed by radical Islam. Jihad is much bigger than any one nation. For radical Islam, there is one conflict and one goal–replacing all modern Islamic states with a caliphate, destroying America, and conquering the world.“
    Strength against Jihad: ”We need a stronger military. I propose that we sharply increase our investment in national defense. I want to see at least 100,000 more troops. I want to see us finally make the long overdue investment in equipment, armament, weapons systems, and strategic defense. We should commit to spent a minimum of 4% of GDP on our national defense. But increased spending must not mean increased waste.“
    Source: The Man, His Values, & His Vision, p.109-10 Aug 31, 2007

    “I asked Romney if he had considered what presidents are sometimes called to do, which is order attacks that kill lots of people. Romney replied, “America must remain the world’s economic and military superpower, and the best friend peace has is a strong America. You can’t be strong if you’re never willing to exercise that strength and show that strength. A 150-pound kid has to get in a lot of fights. A 250-pound kid covered with muscles who knows judo rarely has to fight.”

    “If you have a strong enough military, no one will test you, and I think one of the reasons we face the challenges we do and we’re being tested on so many fronts is that people see we haven’t done a great job in the post-major conflict period in Iraq,“ he continued. ”We’ve been tested and have been found a little wanting. I think we need to be stronger. I don’t shrink at all from the need to protect this country and our sovereignty and our pre-eminence in the world.“
    Source: A Mormon in the White House?, by Hugh Hewitt, p.190-191 Mar 12, 2007

    Governor Romney seems to have an aggressive attitude towards the world. He dodges the difficult morality of torture. He sees the world in binary terms as black and white and good and evil. He demonstrates a primitive, school yard view of conflict when he says that size and strength equate to power and deterrence. He somehow misses the point of assymetrical warfare, which allows small, dispersed, “weak” forces to dominate a war zone. His statements about Islam indicate a view of force projection as the only means to peace. Instead of engaging those who violently differ with us, Romney appears to prefer military action. I see in his statements deep fear of engaging those he considers enemies at the deeper levels necessary for lasting peace.

    Ron Paul

    “Our Constitution gives us no authority to be the policemen of the world. All great nations end for financial reasons, and that is what’s happening today. We can’t afford it any longer. We spend a trillion dollars a year maintaining an empire. The Founders said: Be friends; trade with people; mix with people; don’t fight with people; don’t tell them what to do; practice diplomacy. But we are in this endless streak of interfering, involving, and dictating. We have two choices: we go to a country and we say “Do it our way or we’ll bomb you.” Then if they do it our way, we give them money. But we’re broke. We’re broke and we just can’t continue to do this. That’s what the dollar is telling us. The debt is too high, the dollar is weakening, the middle class is being wiped out, the international debt is so big, and we’re dependent on others, our good jobs are overseas. Who’s going to pick up the pieces? Are we going to restore REAL, conservative, Constitutional values to our country?” Source: Speeches to 2008 Conservative Political Action Conference Feb 7, 2008

    “Q: You recommend this: “I’d start bringing our troops home, not only from the Middle East but from Korea, Japan and Europe and save enough money to slash the deficit.” How much money would that save?

    A: To operate our total foreign policy, when you add up everything, it’s nearly a trillion dollars a year. So I would think if you brought our troops home, you could save hundreds of billions of dollars. You can start saving immediately by changing the foreign policy and not be the policeman over the world. We should have the foreign policy that George Bush ran on. You know, no nation building, no policing of the world, a humble foreign policy. We don’t need to be starting wars. That’s my argument.” Source: Meet the Press: 2007 “Meet the Candidates” series Dec 23, 2007

    “Q: What motivates Al Qaeda?

    It’s not because we are wealthy & prosperous & free. They come here because we are in their country. Permanent bases [in Iraq & elsewhere in the Arab world] just mean that we have expanded the opportunity for the terrorists to come here because there is greater motivation. So, if we want to protect ourselves against terrorism, we have to understand what motivates them. Even Wolfowitz admitted this. He said that the base in Saudi Arabia was an instrumental part of what motivated Osama bin Laden. So if we ignore that, it is at our own folly.

    Q: When you made that point at the debate the other night, there were some boos that came out from that Republican audience. Are you in step with Republican voters?

    A: I would say that since 70% of the American people want out of the war, and they are tired of it, the Republicans better pick somebody who is opposed to the war or have a new foreign policy, or they can’t win. Source: CNN Late Edition: 2007 presidential series with Wolf Blitzer Dec 2, 2007

    There is a lot in these statements to appreciate if you are a peacemaker. Representative Paul is obviously opposed the idea of America’s military as a world police force, mostly because of the cost to the US taxpayer. He seems to be moving in the direction of peace, but perhaps for the wrong reasons. Withdrawing in the way that he suggests is not pragmatic. However, he may be open to balancing a drawdown of forces with increased funding of the State Department, the US Institute of Peace, and the the USAID. Even if the balancing were 100:1 so that for every hundred dollars in reduction of military spending there would be an increase in funding for peace, the investment in peace would far exceed today’s minimalist levels of funding.

    In summary, at this stage in the presidential primary campaign, it appears that Governors Perry and Romney are strong hawks with little interest in peace through negotiation, mediation, or diplomacy. Representative Bachman is slightly more moderate in that she requires a fairly high standard of necessity before she will commit to war. Representative Paul is by far the most likely to embrace techniques and processes of peace, but only because it is less costly and less intrusive on the American taxpayer.

    Doug Noll is the author of Elusive Peace: How Modern Diplomatic Strategies Could Better Resolve World Conflicts (Prometheus Books, 2011).