Here’s how the first California Republican convention since Trump’s defeat avoided the public fights that have fractured the GOP in other states.
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There were no boozy late-night cocktail parties at this weekend’s California Republican Party convention.
Missing too were the bullhorn and placard-toting protest marches, the cameo appearance of rightwing Internet celebrities, the raucus parliamentary brawls between college Republicans. There were no rooms to work, parties to crash, or crowds to whip up. There was no hotel this time — and therefore no hotel lobby in which to peruse that distinct mix of kitsch and politics on display at the vendor kiosks.
Instead – like so much of the color of life since March of last year — the party’s biannual meetup was replaced by a cascade of Zoom meetings. And in cyberspace, it’s much harder to be a rabble rouser — especially if you can’t figure out how to unmute yourself.
Through it all, the party deliberately avoided censuring anyone for voting to impeach President Trump, or revoking the party membership of extremists. It sidestepped the chance to make an early endorsement amid a bid to recall and replace Gov. Gavin Newsom.
“I don’t know what the alternative is under COVID conditions, but we give up a lot by doing it this way,” said Ed Langan, chair of the Calaveras County GOP.
The format was not without its upsides, but all in all, it made for pretty bland stuff — and that’s probably just how the party leadership wanted it.
The goal of the weekend was to put “a management team in place…so that the party is well prepared” for the 2022 election season and a possible recall election later this year, said former party chair Ron Nehring. “The most important stuff is not the sexy stuff.”
No surprise: Jessica Patterson, who has served as chair since 2019, was easily reelected to the job. She ran on the party’s successful retaking of four congressional seats last November, her fundraising prowess and on a series of recent legal victories for the GOP.
She also ran on GOP unity. That meant emphasizing support for the recall of Newsom, whom Patterson called “by far the worst governor in California history,” without any specific endorsement of who ought to take his place. It also included a dislike of “cancel culture” and California’s progressive policies — all while tamping down the intraparty drama.
Nationwide, the GOP is filled with examples of the party starting to rip itself apart. President Trump was just impeached for the second time for his incitement of a violent mob that stormed the national Capitol. Since then Republicans have been riven by censure resolutions and competing accusations of disloyalty and conspiratorial lunacy. In California and elsewhere, many voters have bolted out of the GOP.
But very little of that division or rancor was on display this weekend. Procedure, and Zoom’s moderation and mute function, have their perks.
On Saturday a measure to censure Rep. David Valadao — who just barely reclaimed his San Joaquin Valley Congressional seat and then became the only Californian among 10 House Republicans voting to impeach the president — was quashed without a vote. Valadao’s like-minded colleagues in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Illinois and elsewhere have not been so lucky.
“I definitely don’t believe we were allowed to be heard,” said the resolution’s author, Erik Elness of Contra Costa County, who noted that he had his “hand up” on Zoom 10 times today before Patterson again brushed back his push for a vote. He rejected the argument that the censure would have been divisive: “I would say the person who made the fractured front was Valadao” by voting to “unconstitutionally” impeach Donald Trump.
Two other measures that would have given the party the chance to censure or revoke the membership of political extremists or never-Trumpers were pulled or voted down.
Last week, Sacramento County Republican Party chair Betsy Mahan introduced a resolution that would have given the party’s executive committee the ability to endorse a candidate in a future recall election against Gov. Gavin Newsom.
But conservative activist Carl DeMaio and Steve Frank, who unsuccessfully ran to unseat Patterson for the chair job, helped torpedo that effort. In a phone call, Frank accused Mahan of trying to orchestrate “a backdoor deal” with Patterson to circumvent the will of the delegates in favor of the party elite.
Mahan told the Sacramento Bee that she feared the party may miss an opportunity to endorse in a race to recall Newsom — and if scores of candidates run, that could divide Republican support. But she pulled the measure. “It was apparent a consensus could not be reached,” she said in a text message.
Is that a missed opportunity? Not according to GOP political consultant Rob Stutzman, who ran communications for the 2003 campaign of the only governor to win in a recall race: Arnold Schwarzenegger.
An endorsement at this point would be “premature” and would not necessarily lead the party to consolidate around a single candidate anyway.
Patterson’s reelection was really the most important event of the weekend, said Stutzman, a supporter. While there may be other notable developments behind the scenes, he confessed, in a phone interview, to not being “plugged in.” He was just leaving the golf course.
For the record: This story has been corrected to reflect that Rob Stutzman ran communications for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2003 campaign.