The California Republican Party isn’t salvageable at this time. The Grand Old Party is dead — partly because it has failed to separate itself from today’s toxic national brand of Republican politics.
Painful though it was, that was the message I delivered at the California Priorities Summit, sponsored by the Sacramento Bee in Sacramento last week.
I’ve spent my entire adult life in Republican politics, so for me to make such a comment wasn’t easy. But it doesn’t make it any less true. I and others have been warning people for years that this day of reckoning was coming if we didn’t do something different.
And as election night proved, that day has come. While the rest of the nation saw a mix of Republican and Democrat victories, we in California experienced a blue tsunami. It looks as if Democrats will win nearly every target seat, including some in districts that have been historically considered “safe” for Republicans.
Republican principles used to be about helping other people. We believed in lifting people up out of poverty by giving them robust and free economic opportunities and by providing a world-class education. We stood for giving people the freedom to run their own lives and businesses without undue government interference.
We welcomed people from all over the world who sought to live the American dream and contribute to the economy and society. They could be secure in knowing that they would not be persecuted for who they are and that they could build strong families and vibrant neighborhoods.
Unfortunately, tragically, that is not the Republican Party promoted by President Donald Trump and his brand of national politics today. We have lost our way, and it’s killing any opportunity for political balance and thoughtful debate in California, elements that good public policy relies on.
One-party rule is not good for any community, state or nation, but that’s what we have in California today. It’s because the Republican Party has failed to adapt to changing demographics and to get back to our basic fundamental belief in liberty and responsibility, freedom, economic opportunity, and educational excellence.
Without a viable second party to voice concerns about increasingly progressive policy proposals and to advance alternative policy solutions for addressing the many challenges facing California, our state will continue to veer leftward.
It is time for a New Way. And if the Republican Party can’t evolve, it may be time for a third party, one that will appeal to disenfranchised voters in the Republican and Democratic parties who long for better representation and a better California for all.
Individual Republicans are good, conscientious people dedicated to serving their communities, but they belong to a brand and a national party that is toxic and growing more toxic by the day.
Millions of Californians, millions of Americans, want and deserve leaders who will shake up establishments and help those who have felt ignored for far too long.
These leaders must understand that words matter; that healing and unity are important to the sustainability, strength and growth of our nation; that end goals do not justify vindictive or hateful or ill-conceived means.
As Californians and Americans, we must work together to find and promote such leaders — people with the courage to help us return to bold and civil discourse and who value and promote the fundamental principles and values of our American Republic and constitutional democracy.
We must hold people in both parties accountable for governing, truth-telling and civility.
For Republicans, the first step is to acknowledge that we have a serious internal problem. Ignoring the toxicity is not enough, as California’s election results demonstrate. We must call it out and model a different and better way because that’s what our fellow Californians deserve.
Kristin Olsen, a Stanislaus County supervisor and former Republican leader in the Assembly, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. She wrote this commentary for CALmatters.