Political Editors / September 17, 2021

In Brief: California Recall Lesson for the GOP

Beware the stolen-election narrative, or the party will lose again.

It’s not at all surprising that the deep-blue state of California chose to retain its deep-blue governor in Tuesday’s recall election, as our Thomas Gallatin astutely observed. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some things Republicans can learn. National Review Institute trustee David Bahnsen has a few ideas, though he starts with one that will be hard for many to swallow:

The stolen-election narrative about 2020 is a toxic narrative for the future of the Republican Party.

Before elaborating, Bahnsen argues:

One thing could have recalled Gavin Newsom: A race entirely about Gavin Newsom. In fact, as long as the race was about his failed response to the pandemic, his relationship to the teachers’ unions that doomed California students the last 18 months, his rank hypocrisy in following his own pandemic overreach, and his court-rebuked atrocities in how he treated churches during the pandemic, this recall had a prayer. All of that changed in the last few weeks. That is to say, all of it changed when the lead opponent became Larry Elder.

Bahnsen insists that Elder still could have won in most cases, “But the second Larry Elder entered the race, the race became about Larry Elder — not Gavin Newsom — and that was the one political occurrence the pro-recall side could not afford to see.”

Back to the stolen-election narrative, Bahnsen says it has “nothing to do with the merits or lack thereof of that belief,” but rather hangs on the political reality, especially in California.

It is simply a political comment that strikes me as indisputable — the independents and moderates were, at least according to polling one month ago, willing to go along with the removal of Governor Newsom (largely because they believed the plain-to-see facts that he had been a tyrannical, ineffective disaster throughout COVID); yet once the election was linked to President Trump, to allegations of a stolen 2020 conspiracy, and to the idea that even this recall election was already fixed, it was a bridge way, way too far.

He concludes:

This is going to stay around Republicans’ necks as long as they let it. Not just in an “against all odds” case such as recalling a Democrat governor in a deep-blue state, but anywhere independents and moderates are needed to win an election — the backward-looking focus on the unprovable claims of a 2020 stolen election are toxic, self-defeating, and counter-productive. It is a fatal focus. A forward-looking focus on defeating cancel culture, pandemic irrationality and tyranny, and woke corporatism is the winning formula for the party and the cause.

Those who care about the latter will reject the former. Or they will continue to lose.

Read the whole thing here.

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