By Raoul Lowery Contreras
The Republican Party has tectonically changed many times in my political lifetime.
I can remember wearing an “I like IKE” button during the 1952 presidential election when I was in the 7th grade. Then came the the “Treaty of 5th Avenue” between Vice President Richard Nixon and New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller that supposedly settled ideological differences between Nixon and establishment Republicans. Despite the compromise, the ideological fissure continued in the party until Barry Goldwater’s defeat of Rockefeller in the 1964 California primary.
Nixon’s narrow loss in 1960 to national defense Democrat John F. Kennedy set the political climate that allowed Goldwater, a libertarian senator from Arizona, to seize the 1964 Republican nomination. Nixon was on the sidelines because of his 1962 loss as California governor to Edmund G. Pat Brown. It was Brown who is remembered for his stinging comment about the 1964 Republican convention: “the stench of Fascism in the air.”
Upstart Goldwater and establishment Rockefeller squared off for the Republican nomination to run against Lyndon Johnson, who became President when Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963.
The Goldwater supporters were old-line conservatives, the hate President Franklin Roosevelt gang, those who would have recruited defeated German troops to continue the advance through Germany to attack Stalin’s Communist Russia. His base also included “white bread” Midwestern Republicans and Western individualists.
California in 1964 was the location of the political götterdämmerung that resulted in the primary defeat of the northeastern establishment and led ultimately to Donald Trump and today’s Republican Party.
But today’s party suffered greatly at the polls. The defeat resembled the huge 44-state loss it suffered in Johnson’s landslide against Goldwater.
But does a “national” Republican Party really exist? Cable news would have us believe it does. However, the national Republican Party is really 50 separate state parties, many willing to challenge Trump’s policies and preferred candidates.
For example, consider the run-off senatorial election in Mississippi between Democrat and former Congressman Mike Espy and Republican-appointed incumbent Cindy Hyde-Smith. Not even conservative California Republicans would support a former segregationist, appointed Senator and Confederate throwback.
Her 1950s-like statements, deep Southern accent and segregationist past — both she and her daughter attended segregated schools — would never pass muster with California voters, even conservative ones. But she is promoted in Mississippi by that state’s Republican Party.
Another example is what happened in Kansas, with Trump-ally Kris Kobach losing the governorship. Kobach won the Republican nomination for governor by just 300 votes after parroting Trump’s anti-immigrant stance. But he was soundly rejected by Kansas voters. Democrat Laura Kelly was elected after a generation of Republican governors.
Back to California. Democrats swept the state in November. They won all statewide offices. Incumbent Republican congressmen were retired. Democrats regained super majorities in the 80-member state Assembly and 40-member state Senate. Only one major California city has a Republican mayor: Kevin Faulconer in San Diego.
So right now the California Republican Party hardly exists. It is third in registration behind independents. But the party’s slow death was by a thousand cuts that started long before Nov. 6. It started in 2001 when extreme right-wingers took over the San Diego County Republican Party with chairman, Ron Nehring. Six years later, he took over the state party. No Republican has won statewide since he took over.
The California Republican Party is in a self-generated coma. Will it ever awaken? There’s a lesson in history.
Remember the 1964 defeat of Barry Goldwater and his anti-establishment Republican Party? Well, the Republican Party went on to do well in the 1966 midterms, electing 47 new Republicans to the House while adding three seats in the Senate and gaining eight new governors. That election was notable for producing California Governor Ronald Reagan.
The 1966 GOP success pulled Richard Nixon back into the fray. He was elected president two years later, four years after Democrat Johnson won a whopping 60 percent of the presidential vote and carried 44 states.
Suburban Republican women clearly voted for Democrats on Nov. 6. But Nancy Pelosi and her minions will find ways to squander their majority. Massive Republican victories in 1966, 1980, 1984, 1994, 2010 and 2014 will repeat. Political history always does.
Raoul Lowery Contreras is a political consultant and the author of “The Armenian Lobby & American Foreign Policy” and “The Mexican Border: Immigration, War and a Trillion Dollars in Trade.” His work has appeared in the New American News Service of the New York Times Syndicate.
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