Will Calif. GOP Avoid ‘Circular Firing Squad’ In Recall Debate?

Ronald Reagan, the only California governor to become president, often invoked what he referred to as the Eleventh Commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”

Even in Reagan’s time the rule was honored only in the breach, but by the Trump era, it was a distant relic: Donald Trump himself blithely cast the commandment aside, as the Republican Party went to war with itself over his leadership.

It will be tested again Wednesday night in Reagan’s old stomping grounds as GOP candidates take the stage in their first televised debate just weeks ahead of California’s Sept. 14 recall election.

In this Feb. 2, 2021, file photo, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer speaks during a news conference in the San Pedro section of Los Angeles. Faulconer is one of the Republican candidates running to replace Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, of California, in a likely recall election in fall 2021. (Video Screenshot)

Gov. Gavin Newsom, whom the Republicans are aiming to oust, is not participating, so the contenders will have to decide whether to heap their criticism on him or train at least some of their fire on one another.

For Californians who have yet to tune into the race, the televised contest at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda will be their first real look at some of the candidates aiming to replace Newsom. Polls show the race far more competitive than it was at the beginning of the summer, as coronavirus cases rise, mask mandates return in some localities, and wildfires rage across the state.

Two of the most well-known candidates have decided to skip the event. For Larry Elder, a conservative talk show host who recently emerged as a leader of the pack, the risk of incoming fire is too high. He’s headed to a Bakersfield fundraiser instead. His spokesman said Elder is focusing his energy on Newsom, tweeting a warning that a “circular firing squad” would be a boon for the sitting governor, not any GOP candidates.

Another well-known candidate, Caitlyn Jenner, also won’t participate, opting to continue filming a reality TV program in Australia. At least four candidates will attend, however. They include former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, businessman John Cox, Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, and former congressman Doug Ose. With mail-in ballots headed to voters in roughly two weeks, the four are welcoming the chance to present themselves to voters as the race heads into its final stretch.

Hugh Hewitt, a radio talk show host and president of the Richard Nixon Foundation, will moderate the debate, joined by panelists Christine Devine and Elex Michaelson of Fox 11 News, and Robert O’Brien, who served as Trump’s national security adviser. The Nixon Foundation plans a second debate during the week of Aug. 23.

Recall proponents view the attempt to remove Newsom in his first term as a way to channel frustration over shifting pandemic lockdown orders and business closures, and one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. They also cite a state unemployment system that issued nearly $30 billion in fraudulent checks while more than 1 million deserving people were left wanting, school shutdowns and uneven reopenings, as well as rising homelessness rates and several years of devastating wildfires.

Newsom has pushed back, labeling the effort to oust him a partisan move generated by “anti-vaxxers, Q-anon conspiracy theorists, anti-immigrant activists and Trump supporters.”

Before polls showed the race tightening over the last month, the 2021 recall was far sleepier affair than the one the one that took place in 2003. Back then the disruptive presence in the field of actor and bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger prompted Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante to break with his party and enter the race after promising he wouldn’t. The combination of Bustamante’s gambit and Schwarzenegger’s star power split the Democratic vote, dooming Gov. Gray Davis and putting a Hollywood icon in the governor’s mansion. This year, Newsom has managed to fend off a prominent Democratic challenger.

There are more than 40 candidates in the field, far less than the 135 in 2003, but very few of them are serious contenders. Faulconer, who has the most institutional GOP support, has recently challenged Newsom to two televised debates – one in Spanish through Univision and the other in English. Newsom has largely ignored all debate requests.

“I’m not afraid to stand on my record and my ideas. If Gavin Newsom wants to remain in office, he should do the same,” Faulconer said in a statement. “We’re just a few short weeks away from votes being cast, and the people of California deserve accountability from their leaders. We owe that to them.”

John Cox, who lost to Newsom in 2018, has the biggest war chest to defeat the incumbent, although most of it is self-funded. He has spent months crisscrossing the state in a slick campaign-style bus, and had been appearing with a giant stuffed Kodiak bear. He recently added an eight-foot ball of trash to his events, which is intended to draw attention to the state’s rising homeless population.

While Republican voters are familiar with Faulconer and Cox, who also ran unsuccessfully for the House and Senate in recent years, the debate will give Kiley and Ose a chance to define themselves. Ose represented Sacramento in the legislature for six years before retiring in 2005; he ran a quiet, losing campaign for governor in 2018. Kiley is a young lawyer and former Los Angeles Unified School District teacher who has been sharply critical of school reopenings in Los Angeles and across the state.

Recall proponents hope the debate will jump-start the last weeks of the election and drive up turnout among those wanting to see Newsom removed. Recent polls show the electorate is nearly evenly divided between support for and opposition to the recall, so turnout is key.

But the debate could also further divide Republicans. Cox and several other recall supporters have accused the California GOP of trying to orchestrate an endorsement of Faulconer. Other recall organizers have featured Elder at rallies, while claiming not to formally endorse him.

The Sept. 14 recall ballot will ask two questions: First, whether voters want to remove Newsom from office, which requires a majority vote, and second, who they would like to replace him. If the first question succeeds, then the candidate receiving the most votes would then become governor—even if it is a fraction of the total Newsom receives.

Anne Dunsmore, the campaign manager and finance director of Rescue California, one of the main recall organizers, is working to keep the focus on removing Newsom. On Tuesday she held a Zoom press conference with several local GOP and independent local officials who are backing the recall.

Dan Wagner, a member of the Orange County Board of Supervisors and former assemblyman, said local officials and their constituents are “bearing the brunt of [Newsom’s] malfeasance and general failure to know how to run a state as complicated and complex as California.”

Wagner, a Republican, argued that Newsom has imposed some of the harshest COVID restrictions in the country, killing the state’s economy and small businesses, then shifting pandemic rules arbitrarily. He also hit Newsom over unemployment fraud, failed forest management policies he believes are behind the wildfires, and spiking crime waves after California Democrats expanded a good behavior program that made 76,000 prison inmates eligible for shorter sentences.

“Your guess is as good as mine what the governor is going to require with respect to getting our children back to school this fall. It’s all going to depend on the teacher unions, not the science or good governance,” Wagner argued.

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Mike Smith

Will the California Republican Party avoid becoming a ‘circular firing squad’ in the recall debate?

The CRP is a circular firing squad right now!

Larry Elder will be elected despite the GOP –just like Donald Trump– or he will not. Period.

Last edited 2 months ago by Mike Smith