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CA Congressional Republicans an Endangered Species

By Ernest A. Canning

A month ago, the notion that every one of California’s fourteen (14) Congressional Republicans could be voted out of office in 2018 would have been dismissed as little more than a utopian dream for the Democratic Party.

If we’ve learned anything, however, from November’s “Tidal Wave” off-year elections, which saw a diverse group of Democrats defeating Republicans in deep red districts in Virginia and elsewhere, it’s that no Republican seat should be considered an absolute lock in 2018.

That proved to be the case in another special election, a week or so later, when a 26-year-old lesbian, Democrat Allison Ikley-Freeman narrowly defeated an incumbent Republican state senator in a “deep red” Oklahoma district that Trump carried in 2016 by nearly 40%.

There are a multitude of factors, some unique to California, that suggest that no Golden State Republican — not even House Majority Leader, Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) who trounced his 2016 Democratic opponent by nearly 39 percentage points — should take their seat in the state’s 53-member U.S. House delegation for granted.

A Party in decline

Since the 2003 Recall Election, during which California voters ousted incumbent Democratic Governor Gray Davis and elected Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, the California GOP has experienced a steady decline.

At the outset of his administration, the actor-turned-politician was immensely popular. He maintained a 65% approval rating, according to a May 2004 Field poll. Schwarzenegger’s re-election, along with the election of Republican Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, in 2006, however, marked the last occasion in which a Republican won a race for statewide office in California.

By the time the self-described “Governator” left office in 2011, his approval rating had bottomed-out at 22%, according to a Los Angeles Magazine article, which, perhaps ironically in light of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan, described Arnold as “the Man Who Tried to Make California Great Again.”

Between 2012 and 2016, the number of registered California Republicans dropped from 5.17 million to 4.76 million. Republicans now account for only 27.6% of the Golden State’s electorate. As of 2016, there were 7.44 million registered California Democrats, representing approximately 43.1% of the state’s electorate. The fastest growing sector of the California electorate are voters who express “no party preference”. After adding some 500,000 voters between 2012 and 2016, “no party preference” accounted for 24% of all California registered voters.

The shrinking percentage of their statewide registration numbers did not prevent Republicans from winning 14 of California’s 53 Congressional seats in 2016 — sometimes, as in the case of Kevin McCarthy, by seemingly insurmountable margins. Nevertheless, there are a number of factors that suggest the potential for a dramatically different outcome in 2018.

Vulnerabilities

For starters, 7 of the fourteen 14 GOP Congressional seats are occupied by Republicans who represent districts in which Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump in the November 2016 general election. These include the stark anomaly in which Republican David Valadao is said to have defeated his Democratic opponent by a nearly 13.4-point margin in the same CA-21 Congressional District that Hillary Clinton carried by a 15-point margin. Thus, there was a 28.4% point gap between how the citizens of CA-21 voted in the Presidential and Congressional races.

Valadao has since voted in accordance with the Trump agenda 98.1% of the time.

But vulnerability is by no means confined to the 7 districts where Clinton defeated Trump. Every one of California’s 14 Congressional Republicans voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Eleven (11) of the 14 recently voted to pass the GOP’s massively unpopular tax scam.

The House version of the GOP legislation garnered a meager 24% support amongst the national electorate in recent polling. That number could very well sink to single digits if and when the national electorate becomes fully informed of the scope of the Republican’s scheme, and its potentially devastating impact on their already stressed lives.

As Brad Friedman reported, following his Nov. 21 interview of Seth Hanlon, a former Special Assistant for Economic and Tax Policy during the Obama Administration, the GOP measure “will actually raise taxes for some 82 million middle-income Americans, while keeping permanent tax cuts in place for the wealthy. And, as bad as that sounds, other provisions are even worse and will result in an increase of $1.5 trillion to the federal deficit, the loss of health care coverage for some 13 million Americans, and an immediate $25 billion cut to Medicare, among other nightmares.”

An immediate $25 billion cut to Medicare, not to mention any cuts to Social Security, could spell trouble for Republicans throughout the nation.

Fifty-seven percent (57%) of Republicans believe the government “should continue programs like Medicare and Medicaid”, according to a Pew Research poll taken earlier this year. According to a 2016 poll, 71% of all voters opposed cuts to Social Security. And whatever else may be said about the limited capacity of our President’s intellect, Trump had enough sense to know that to win, he had to repeatedly promise that he would not cut Social Security and Medicare benefits.

Nevertheless, Sen. Mark Rubio (R-FL) has now admitted that the Trump/GOP deficit-ballooning tax cuts are but a precursor to an assault on Social Security and Medicare.

But what may be bad for the Republican brand on a national scale could prove to be devastating for the 11 California Congressional Republicans, whose votes on the deceptive tax plan can easily be depicted as a betrayal to their own loyal “conservative” constituents.

The measure was meticulously designed to punish progressive states, like California and New York, by eliminating deductions for state and local property taxes and placing a cap on the popular property tax deduction. And, in a particularly pernicious provision, House Republicans saw fit to eliminate federal income tax deductions for loss occasioned by two disasters that often occur in California — earthquakes and wildfires — while retaining deductions for loss occasioned by floods and hurricanes, which just happen to plague deep-red states in the Southeast.

These punitive measures adversely impact all middle and working class Californians, irrespective of party. Thus, it is not all that surprising that, according to the Los Angeles Times, the GOP tax scam has produced “fear and loathing” in Orange County, a one-time California GOP stronghold

“It may be a tax cut for Wisconsin and Kansas and Iowa”, Carolyn Cavecche, the former Republican mayor of the City of Orange, who now heads the conservative Orange County Taxpayers Association, told the L.A. Times. “But it is not a tax-cut bill for individual taxpayers in California.”

“Fear and loathing” amongst California Republicans will likely be magnified now that Republicans succeeded in ramming their “travesty” through the U.S. Senate during a time when most Americans were sleeping: late last Friday night/early Saturday morning.

In order to offset a massive tax cut for the wealthy, the Senate just passed what The Intercept’s Ryan Grim described as “the biggest tax increase in American history, by far.” The Senate version is “extraordinarily regressive,” he notes. In order to offset the massive windfall that will flow to the coffers of major corporations and the billionaire class, the bill targets “deductions for state and local taxes, mortgage interest, charitable contributions, interest on student loans, medical expenses, teachers’ out-of-pocket expenses for paper and pencils for students, and a bunch of other nickel-and-diming of the middle class.”

While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) succeeded in ramming through this travesty before the opposition even had time to read it’s nearly 500 pages, we can be damned sure that by Election Day, Tuesday, November 6, 2018, the public will become aware of whatever emerges from an ensuing House/Senate Conference Committee to merge the bills from both chambers. Indeed, by then, they will likely be feeling its effects.

Thus, the GOP’s desperate redistribution of wealth from the middle-class to the rich in order to satisfy the demands of their billionaire donors could prove to be a game-changer for the 11 California Congressional Republicans who voted for its passage.

But what about the three California Republicans who voted against the House version of the bill?

Two of those three, Darrell Issa (CA-49) and Dana Rohrbacher (CA-48), represent districts where Hillary Clinton defeated Trump. Both cast “yes” votes to repeal Obamacare.

In 2016, Issa defeated his Democratic rival, retired Marine Colonel Doug Applegate by the slimmest of margins, just 1,621 votes out of 310,555 votes cast. Applegate is actively campaigning. Thus, 2018 will likely entail a rematch.

Rohrbacher, who is considered one of the most vulnerable CA Congressional Republicans, is reportedly a subject of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation with respect to his ties to former National Security Advisor and now convicted federal criminal, General Michael Flynn.

Tom McClintock (CA-4) is the only member of the state’s Congressional Republican delegation to vote against the GOP tax scam who also represents a district carried by Trump.

In 2016, McClintock handily defeated his Democratic opponent 62.7% to 37.3%. However, last February, his constituents, who had gathered for a town hall in Roseville, were so incensed by McClintock’s position on repealing Obamacare and by his having voiced support for the Trump agenda that he eventually left under a police escort. And, despite the fact that Republicans hold a 15% registration advantage over Democrats in his district, three Democratic women have already lined-up to challenge McClintock in 2018.

While the possibility of zero Republicans in California’s U.S. House delegation seems unthinkable, the facts on the ground before what is likely to be a very rough year for the GOP across the nation, suggest the unthinkable could actually come to pass in one of the nation’s most virulently anti-Trump, anti-Republican states…

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Ernest A. Canning is a retired attorney, author, Vietnam Veteran (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968) and a Senior Advisor to Veterans For Bernie. He has been a member of the California state bar since 1977. In addition to a juris doctor, he has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science. Follow him on twitter: @cann4ing

1 Comment

  1. Daft Jamie says:

    Really an excellent article Ernie!! In 2018 lets make California All Blue. Next year I’m planning on working against another from the stable of Putin’s Putas: Little Devie Nunes!

    Cheers

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