Centrist summit encourages California GOP to go its own way

New Way California has a message for all California Republicans: You don’t have to be like President Trump. You don’t even have to like him.

“The California Republican Party must not be a carbon copy of the national GOP,” Kevin Faulconer, the Republican mayor of San Diego, said to the modest crowd of political centrists who had flocked to the Crest Theatre in downtown Sacramento this morning for the group’s second annual summit.

“California Republicans need to create a party tailored to the people of California,” he continued, pointing to his own example as a center-right politician who has authored a local climate change action plan and recently announced a five-year campaign to make the city more welcoming to immigrants.

“Let’s take him out of the equation,” former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said of President Trump. “It’s a mistake for a state party to mold themselves after the national party.”

New Way is the product of Republican Assemblyman Chad Mayes. As an organization it is eager to show after the 2016 election that California Republicans need not doubt the science of climate change, cater only to business or consistently stand by the president. Schwarzenegger sits on the board.

The morning’s event offered a notable contrast with the California Republican Party’s convention, held two weeks ago just a few blocks away, where headliners included Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and President Trump’s former press secretary Sean Spicer.

At this morning’s event, there wasn’t a single “Make America Great Again” hat. It was also considerably smaller—some 80 to 100 attendees sat spaced out across the theater auditorium.

But crafting a more centrist GOP brand separate from the national party is likely a hard sell to both sides of the political spectrum. According to a recent poll, 77 percent of self-identified Republicans said they support President Trump’s job performance. Mayes, the former Republican leader in the Assembly, was tossed from that top job by the caucus for supporting a renewal of the state cap-and-trade program. Meanwhile, many Democratic and independent voters may be unable or unwilling to distinguish state and local Republicans from the policies and persona of Trump.

The day’s program offered a series of panels and guest speakers who touched on such indisputable but nebulous themes as inclusivity, economic mobility, and “bridging the partisan divide.”

As telling as what was said was who said it.

The early morning workforce development panel was composed entirely of people of color. That was followed by a short speech from Samuel Rodriguez, a Latino evangelical pastor from Sacramento who argued that “the future of the California Republican Party lies embedded in names like Sanchez, Miranda, Rivera and Rodriguez.”

Two moderate Republicans—former Assemblywomen Kristin Olsen and Catharine Baker—then spoke of bipartisanship with Sen. Steve Glazer, a centrist Democrat from Orinda.

The event also included a speech by Bill Kristol, the neoconservative political commentator and fierce Trump critic, and a short discussion between Olsen and Schwarzenegger about political reform.

“It’s important for the country to have healthy political parties if possible,” said Kristol. “Maybe we’ll have to go beyond the two-party system. I’m open to that.”

None of the other Republicans at today’s event went quite so far as to entertain abandoning the GOP altogether. But expectations about the future of successes of the party were tempered.

“A vibrant, competitive two-party system is essential for our state,” said Faulconer.

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