Brian Dahle is the most qualified Republican to run for governor of California in the general election in a quarter century.
Unfortunately, that’s probably not enough to win. Even so, Dahle has an opportunity right now to lead by example and point the California Republican Party in the right direction.
For years, Republicans slowly alienated a changing California electorate on social issues and the environment, but still managed to outperform voter registration. But after a few years of the Trump presidency, the bottom fell out. Even a stellar showing in November would likely leave Republicans unable to break Democrats’ legislative supermajority.
Dahle, a senator from the Northstate, is well-liked by colleagues on both sides of the aisle, has found success despite the supermajority and has a strong understanding of policy from both his time in Sacramento and as a Lassen County Supervisor.
Dahle has the experience and temperament to lead California, but if history is any guide it will be miraculous if he finishes within 15 percentage points of Gov. Gavin Newsom.
That’s not a knock on Dahle, it’s acknowledgment of the electorate’s leanings. Besides electoral results, which continue to go against Republicans statewide by wider and wider margins, the decline of Republicans is most easily explained with voter registration.
Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly 2-to-1. In 2002, not too long before Arnold won the governorship in a recall, Republicans had only a 9% deficit to Democrats — it’s 23 points today.
Republicans have done well recently to claw back above No Party Preference voters in terms of registration, but only by a percentage point and a half. And this sizable group of NPP voters breaks heavily towards Democrats: 52% to 37%, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.
California is solidly blue — Dahle acknowledged as much during a recent interview with Fox 11’s Elex Michaelson. But that just makes his opportunity to lead that much larger.
Dahle could play it safe. Talk about Newsom’s failures and campaign on his own record of working across the aisle on issues like broadband access, wildfires and fiscal health. He could run on his platform, which would secure water storage, energy independence and housing, as well as reduce homelessness and wildfires, and pray for another French Laundry-type moment from Newsom.
Dahle could do everything perfectly and still fail to gain any real traction, because he would still be weighed down by the party’s baggage.
I believe many voters want another option besides the progressive Democrats who are running the state — however, when given a choice, voters seem to prefer Big, Expensive and Ineffective Government over January 6. Is every Republican an insurrectionist? Of course not, but it’s impossible to have it both ways: it’s hard to be the party of responsible governance but also the party of human feces in the halls of the U.S. Capitol.
The American right to make fun of the government
Biden’s pot pardons aren’t enough. End the drug war.
Endorsement: Vote no on Proposition SP in the city of Los Angeles
Another good try as thousands still sleep on L.A. sidewalks
California’s enforcement of our state’s laws: Letters
William F. Buckley last century led a purge of Birchers and conspiracy theorists from the conservative movement, which paved the way for the Reagan revolution. Instead of screaming into the Santa Ana winds what we are for, Republicans might do well to say what we are against – conspiracy theorists, crackpots and insurrectionists.
To his credit, Dahle told LA Times columnist George Skelton that he believed Joe Biden is the legitimately elected president. I appreciate him saying that – he should say more.
To be clear, what I’m suggesting — a bold stance against the party’s cancerous elements — would not likely put Dahle in the governor’s mansion. But will anything? At least this way we might get another Republican governor in my lifetime.
There is a gubernatorial debate coming up later this month. I urge Dahle to use it as an opportunity to lead by example and pull the California Republican Party forward.
Follow Matt on Twitter @FlemingWords