The polls were right about Larry Elder's wide lead over the other gubernatorial candidates running in the Republican jackoff session that was the California recall. And that means the GOP will have a Trumpian mess on its hands when it tries to float some other more moderate candidate to run against Newsom next year.
Republicans increasingly face a bleak future in California, as their numbers dwindle and after they were reminded on Tuesday not to believe their own hype when it comes to California voters. According to polling — the accuracy of which will continue to be called into question — the "No" side in the recall was leading by 16 percentage points on Monday. That turned out to be a significant undercount of the sentiment against the attempted recall of Gavin Newsom, with the margin now looking closer to 28%, while an estimated 30% of votes still remain to be counted.
Democratic strategists had said all along that high turnout would mean a win for Newsom, given the electorate in the state, and that was true — nearly three quarters of voters who voted in the 2020 general election voted in this one, even though it was a random Tuesday in September.
Also, many voters — nearly half as of Tuesday night's count, per the Chronicle — left the back of the ballot and the second question of who to replace Newsom blank. Newsom and his supporters had encouraged this, as a further "fuck you" to the proponents of the recall, although had things been looking tighter for Newsom in the vote margin this could have gone very, very badly for all of us.
Without many sane/Democratic voters casting votes for replacement governors, that left Larry Elder with an even bigger lead over the other 45 candidates than had been projected. As of last count, Elder had taken 46% of ballots cast, when you don't count the blank ballots. The next in the count was YouTuber Kevin Paffrath, a Democrat, with 10% of the vote. (An Emerson College poll on Monday had Elder taking 30% of the vote, and 34% leaving the replacement question blank.)
Elder's quick rise in this very brief campaign period is frightening given some of his far-right and libertarian views, and given his unconscionable stance, as a Black man, that systemic racism doesn't exist. Elder argues for less government and fewer rules — and for abolishing the minimum wage! — and yet, contradictorily, believes the government should prevent women from getting abortions.
As many pundits have noted in recent days, Elder proved a perfect foil for the unapologetically liberal Newsom, and one who could easily be lumped in with Trump, whom Elder supported in 2016 and 2020 — Elder, in fact, called Trump's election in 2016 "almost God-sent."
Elder even took a page out of Trump's playbook on Monday, suggesting that the recall was rigged against him — but he later took that message off his website, as he realized on Tuesday that it's hard to argue with a few million extra "No" votes.
That doesn't bode well for the Republicans when it comes to the 2022 gubernatorial election, if Elder plans to use this as a political jumpstart for a full campaign next year. And it pushes California Republicans into a further far-right corner where they hold even less hope of ever retaking the governor's office here, now that they represent less than a quarter of the state's electorate.
As the New York Times noted Monday, the conservative minority in California has for decades "been on the leading edge of the Republican Party’s transformation into a vehicle for the anti-establishment grievance politics that swept former President Donald J. Trump into office in 2016," producing the likes of Andrew Breitbart, Ben Shapiro, and Darrell Issa — who, incidentally, contributed $1.6 million to the last recall campaign against a California Democratic governor, Gray Davis.
But this is also a state that produced Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, and a state where conservatism used to mean something different — or, at least, it was a place where the messages of the conservative movement held a lot more sway, back in the 60s and 70s when it didn't have a majority non-white population.
Representing the Republican establishment here, former three-term Republican Congressman Doug Ose — who initially ran in the recall but dropped out due to a heart attack — told the Times that the Republicans running all ended up debating national issues, like immigration and abortion, when they should have been focused specifically on how California has been run by Democrats.
"Quit taking the bait," Ose says. "Nobody in Texas is going to vote in this election. Why are we talking about what’s happening in Texas?"
Down in Orange County, there was a disappointed room of (mostly white) supporters of Larry Elder who sat and listened to his concession speech on Tuesday night.
"Let’s be gracious in defeat,” Elder said, following boos from the crowd about Newsom's victory. "We may have lost the battle, but we are going to win the war."
Elder told a Fox affiliate Tuesday that he will very likely run for governor next year against Newsom, despite that being a long-shot effort that's doomed to fail. (As another Times reporter notes today, "Winning office may not be the goal," because someone like Elder, who's already appeared on Fox News 52 times this year, could make quite a nice living as a conservative commentator on Fox News.)
The Times spoke to two of Elder's supporters, women in their late 50s, who both said they accepted the election result.
And, ironically, one of them admitted she and her husband are leaving California anyway, and moving to Arizona, because it's cheaper there.
Top image: Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images