This was nothing short of a debacle for the Republican Party, whose stunt cost the state around $300 million — money that could well have been spent fighting forest fires, treating covid-19 patients or addressing homelessness.
Newsom was triumphant late Tuesday: “We said yes to science," he said. “We said yes to vaccines. We said yes to ending his pandemic. We said yes to people’s right to vote without fear. We said yes to women’s constitutional right to decide.”
Newsom was also indignant about the disgraced former president and the state Republicans who, before the votes were counted, rekindled the GOP’s 2020 lie that the vote was “rigged.” Newsom declared that “democracy is not a football.” He continued, "You don’t throw it around. It’s more like, I don’t know, an antique vase. You can drop it, smash it in a million different pieces. And that’s what we’re capable of doing if we don’t stand up to meet the moment and push back.” He warned, "We may have defeated [former president Donald] Trump, but Trumpism is not dead in this country.” Fortunately, Newsom’s Republican opponent, the Trumpist Larry Elder, instructed his supporters to be “gracious in defeat.”
The race calls into question California’s ludicrous recall system, through which a tiny percentage of voters (12 percent of those in the most recent gubernatorial race) can put a recall on the ballot. Under its rules, Elder or another Republican could have won with a plurality of the vote, even if they received, say, 20 percent of the vote.
Republicans’ effort to leverage a minority of extreme voters to overthrow a governor elected in a landslide is indicative of the party’s anti-democratic lurch, reflected in MAGA insurrectionists’ violent attempt to overthrow the 2020 presidential election and the GOP’s nationwide crusade to pass a raft of voter suppression laws.
Republicans’ humiliating defeat may further outrage taxpayers. Granted, California is a blue state, but the 2022 elections will involve a number of swing seats in the Senate and House in which Republican freshmen who barely defeated Democratic incumbents in 2020 promised moderation. Those Republicans should be concerned that Newsom fired up the “no” voters by running straight at Republicans’ anti-vaccine mandate stunts in other states and Texas’s perverse abortion bounty bill. If those issues are enough to gin up Democrats in 2022, their House and Senate majorities may be less vulnerable than normal for a first midterm election.
Take, for example, Republican Rep. Young Kim from California’s 39th Congressional District (including parts of Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties, all of which voted overwhelmingly “no” in the recall). She beat a Democratic incumbent in 2020 by a little more than 4,000 votes, or about 1.2 percent. Since then, she has voted in lockstep with GOP leadership on everything from impeachment to voting rights to the American Rescue Plan. She must be nervous that Democrats, charged up and resentful she turned out to be a rubber stamp for MAGA forces, will relish the chance to boot her out in 2022.
The same is true in California’s 48th Congressional District, covering a part of Orange County (which also voted overwhelmingly “no”). Republican Michelle Steel beat incumbent Democrat Harley Rouda 51 to 49 percent in 2020. In 2022, her constituents may also decide they have had enough of a MAGA loyalist in a party that has gone anti-democratic, anti-truth and anti-inclusion.
If Democrats can, as Newsom did, run against Trumpism, against covid-19 denial and anti-mandate hysteria, against diabolical abortion bounties, and against a party now willing to cry foul and discredit any election they lose, 2022 may turn out to be better for them than expected. Newsom certainly showed how Democrats can run effectively against Trump even when he is not on the ballot.
Note to readers: I will be off on Thursday for Yom Kippur. An easy fast for all who are observing! I will be back Friday for my weekly chat.