Democrats Won the California Recall by Invoking Trump. There’s More of That Coming

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He was not on the ballot, but ex-President Donald Trump has given up Republicans’ hope of recalling Democratic Governor of California Gavin Newsom.

The result signals bad luck for the GOP in upcoming statewide elections this year in Virginia and New Jersey. It may also hint at how Democrats could still survive the midterm of 2022 which even the most optimistic party stalwarts predict will be very difficult. A toxic Trump could teach Democrats an unlikely lesson in CPR. And perhaps the result could warn ambitious Republicans that perhaps only Trump himself can possibly wear the MAGA hat with the confidence of success.
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A small but very loud group of Republicans in California had hoped to oust Newsom from power before his current term expired in early 2023. Newsom’s leadership through COVID-19 led to his vulnerability, and Republicans had hoped to become l Most populous state in the country in an early referendum on the Democrats’ aggressive policies to mask, vaccinate and regulate in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Newsom’s own blunders, in particular ignore his own tenure as a mask at Napa’s posh restaurant, the French Laundry, did little to help what should have been a simple setback in GOP ambition. Like New York Times’ A Los Angeles-based restaurant reviewer once said, a meal there is “like macaroni and cheese served in a giant golden egg.”

In the end, however, the Democrats in the Dark Blue State dodged Newsom. During the 2020 presidential campaign, alone the District of Columbia, Massachusetts and Vermont could claim stronger Democratic support than California, a state that sends 42 Democrats and 11 Republicans to the House of Representatives. Initial fears of appeasement among Democrats eventually subsided. And pure mathematics made it impossible for Republicans to win in a state that did not elect a Republican in the state office since Arnold Schwarzenegger and Steve Poizner in 2006.

That’s not to say Newsom ran a stellar campaign. Here in DC, there were early growls that Newsom wasn’t taking the recall effort seriously. Even his supporters were quick to remind him that the then governor. Gray Davis in 2003 also speculated that the liberal hue of the state was powerful enough to dismiss a recall, which saw Schwarzenegger become the state’s 38th governor. Newsom’s allies spent at least $ 36 million to help him survive – money that no donor expected to need at the start of the year and is no longer available for efforts to occupy the governorships in Pennsylvania and Kansas – or to compete in Arizona, New Hampshire, Florida or Wisconsin. After all, donors are not renewable resources.

Democrats ultimately prevailed in California by acknowledging a truth that many old-school Republican Party activists have spent years denying: Trump and the GOP are the same brand these days. The man who identifies himself as “the 45th President of the United States ”—and never the old Where ex-Commander-in-Chief — has an iron grip on the Republican Party right now. He made the GOP in his image, so much so that the CNN poll published this week shows that 59% of Republicans believe that embracing the very misconception that Trump is the rightful president is at the heart of what it means to be a Republican. In other words, like CNN’s Chris Cillizza observed, endorsing The Big Lie is central to the political identity of the GOP.

And there were already signs that Republicans were also ready to replicate Trump’s sore loser mentality. Larry Elder, a talk radio host and the lead contender in the recall effort, even began to blame electoral fraud before the first votes were compiled on Tuesday evening. It was similar to Trump’s refusal to accept the 2020 campaign results that made him a one-termer. The Big Lie fueled a failed insurgency at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, and that belief will bring protesters back to Washington this weekend for its potential following. It’s unclear what the results will be in Sacramento, where Newsom and a Democratic legislature continue their work even after Elder’s death Concession.

As Democrats grind their teeth against Republicans’ continued efforts to undermine confidence in a legitimate election, they can take some solace in this fact: Trump continues to be a disqualifying figure in the polls. In California, Democrats have called Elder heir to Trump, and Elder has taken on an air of extremism. Democrats are doing the same in other states right now and are laying the groundwork to roll out the strategy against more Republicans next year. Trumpist candidates may have Trump’s imprimatur – he approves of a lot, to be sure – but none are as talented as the carnival barker himself. It’s one thing to wear the red MAGA hat, but quite another to know how it was made. In California, Elder knew how to order it, but he didn’t know how to wear it. If Democrats run this playbook again, there will be plenty of Republican candidates on the ballots next year wearing MAGA hats without fully understanding the stench it brings with them.

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