those wacky California Republicans! They have surpassed Madonna as
our reigning masters of self-reinvention. Whereas Madonna transformed herself from virginal boy-toy to outright hussy to
author of children's books, our lovable California Republicans have transformed
themselves from Reaganesque powerhouses to window dressing to the
Gang Who Can't Shoot Straight.
California is in a fiscal funk. It has a
budget deficit of $40 billion, its people endure one of the highest
state tax burdens in the country, and its businesses are saddled with
some of the most intrusive environmental and labor regulations of any
Rightly or wrongly, Californians have blamed Governor Gray
Davis for the abysmal state of State affairs. Many believe that he
deceived them, hiding the true nature of the budget crisis
until after his 2002 re-election.
In order to bring the deficit under control, programs
will be cut and taxes will be raised. With every budget cut and
every new tax, those affected will loudly blame Governor Davis, and by
extension, state Democrats.
For the Republicans, it's hard to imagine a more
perfect scenario: Three years of slow torture and voter
blame for the Democrats, and then an election in which the GOP is poised to
win the governor's office and make major gains in the legislature.
Vindication is nigh; victory looms.
Not so fast. Enter Republican State Congressman Darrell Issa.
It is Issa's dream to become governor. In the
current backlash against Davis, he saw an opportunity to realize his personal ambition. So he
financed the recall petition effort
with $1.6 million of his own money.
As it happens, Issa will not become governor; he
dropped out of the race when Arnold Schwarzenegger entered and dominated the
polls. But it does appear that he has succeeded in the
unintended consequence of torpedoing his own party.
In this recall election, the three most likely
outcomes are all negative for Republicans. How about we do
what Darrell Issa apparently didn't do, and take a look at each of those possible
Possibility one: The recall fails, and Davis
This would be spun as vindication not only of
Democrat policies (which voters had previously blamed for most of the
budget problems), but also of Gray Davis himself. He would be
portrayed as the victorious defender of the California Constitution,
defeating a right-wing attempt to undo the re-election of a brilliant and
Hardship caused to specific constituencies from
austere measures to lower the deficit would then be seen as validated by
the voters and therefore not Davis' fault.
Possibility two: The recall succeeds, and
current Democratic Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante becomes governor.
This will be spun as voter rejection of Republican
policies, vindication of Democrat policies, and just a matter of
personalities when it comes to which victorious Democrat sits in the
Possibility three: The recall succeeds, and a
Republican candidate becomes governor.
This still leaves a Democrat super-majority in the
legislature that would have a massive interest in the failure of the new
Republican governor. They would obstruct policies that would make
the new executive look good to voters -- as would likely be the case
if the roles were reversed.
In addition, the new executive would be charged with
reducing the $40 billion deficit. With every budget cut, the
Democrats would surround themselves with those affected for photo-ops
illustrating the indifference of the heartless Republican Governor.
With every new fee and tax, the Democrats would paint Republicans as the
party of tax increases.
The Republicans ought to have remembered this has
been recent political strategy. In the mid-1990s, President Clinton
submitted budgets that were consistently around $200 billion in the
red. The Republican Congress would make cuts necessary to bring the
numbers into balance. Clinton would then blame Republicans for the
effects of the spending cuts, while taking credit for the fact that the
final budget was balanced.
Leaving Gray Davis in Sacramento through the 2006
election exposes him and his
party to voter backlash, and to three more years of shrill
attacks by talk radio and other media that have uncharacteristically turned
against them. A Republican "victory" in the election
exposes themselves to blame for the pain of remedies for the state's
So what do Issa's troops do? They rescue their
rivals from a difficult situation. Whether or not the recall succeeds,
whether or not a Republican becomes governor in its wake, Issa's ambition
may well have saved state Democrats at all levels from the likely ravages of voter
Brilliant strategy. Just brilliant.
next time keep your candle under a bushel, would ya?
We haven't seen such an example of snatching defeat
from the jaws of victory since Mike Tyson bit the ear off of Evander
Darrell Issa wept when he announced that he was
dropping out of the governor's race in the face of Arnold Schwarzenegger's
entry; his dream was over. He
should have wept not for himself, but for the harm to which he has exposed his party.