Now that a jury has branded Donald Trump a sexual assailant, you’d think that Republican politicians in California might muster the courage to finally dissociate themselves from the poisonous polarizer.
But sadly, the prospect of that happening is not promising.
The former president, who’s the early Republican front-runner to be nominated a third time for the nation’s highest office, still intimidates elected officials on lower rungs of the political ladder. They’re afraid of alienating his hardcore worshipers.
It shouldn’t be difficult to use the civil jury’s verdict that Trump brutalized a woman in the dressing room of a posh Manhattan department store as a rationale for standing up at last and acknowledging that he shouldn’t be allowed back in the Oval Office.
He’s too immoral, scary and divisive — not exactly a fitting national role model.
Shunning him is arguably one of the most important things — maybe No. 1 — that the California GOP could do immediately to halt its downward slide and begin the climb back up to relevance and respectability.
It would be important for the California GOP’s future, which right now seems very bleak.
Trump doesn’t have a broad base of support in California anyway — hard-rock solid, perhaps, but small. He lost the 2020 presidential election here to Joe Biden by nearly 2 to 1, 63.5% to 34.3%.
Newly released data from the independent Public Policy Institute of California shows that the GOP has been losing ground in this state, particularly among people ages 18 to 25 — the political future.
Surely for many of them — as for Americans of all ages — the current face of the Republican Party is Trump. And it’s not a pleasant scene — the whining, the lying, the legal problems — especially for young California voters.
Veteran Republican consultant Rob Stutzman offers this advice for the California GOP:
“Stay away from Trump. It would be very helpful if Trump were not nominated [in 2024]. He keeps the party from growing. The [California] party has contracted in the Trump era. He’s a loser.
“Trump’s a drag. He doesn’t lead a ticket, he drags a ticket. … He’s a head wind.”
Not every GOP strategist agrees.
“I don’t think it would make a bit of difference” for young people, says Republican strategist Matt Rexroad, citing his daughter.
Even if the Legislature’s Republican leaders disavowed Trump, Rexroad says, “my daughter and her college classmates aren’t going to have any idea who they are. It would make headlines and the evening news, but they don’t read or watch that. They’re not places where my daughter gets her news.”
She gets her news at places such as TikTok, Rexroad says. “They don’t even do Facebook now. That’s for old geezers like me.”
But Dan Schnur, a former GOP operative who teaches political communications at USC and UC Berkeley, thinks the California GOP could help itself with young voters by calling out Trump — up to a point.
“For most young Californians, Republicans aren’t even part of the equation,” he says. “That’s because of three reasons: immigration, abortion and Trump. Any one of those three issues is enough to keep even a relatively moderate young person from considering the Republican Party.
“A pro-life, anti-immigrant party isn’t going to go very far here, no matter what they say about Trump.”
Schnur says that of 55 students he taught in a recent Berkeley class, only one said she was a Republican. “She was a very brave young woman.”
A PPIC poll just before the 2020 election found that young people disliked Trump the most. Only 30% of those under 35 approved of his job performance, compared with 35% among adults of all ages.
A new PPIC study released Tuesday showed that among people under 25 who registered to vote from 2012 to 2020, only 14% signed up as Republicans, while 48% chose the Democratic Party. The other 38% registered mostly as independents, with a few affiliating with other parties.
“That 14% is a remarkably low number,” says PPIC demographer Eric McGhee. “It’s a little peek into the future. And that peek looks even less Republican” than the current political picture.
In that eight-year period, new voter registrants of all ages were 44% Democratic, 19% Republican and 37% independent or smaller party, the PPIC reported.
“New registrations are producing some pretty dramatic changes in the complexion of the electorate. We could see in the near future a very different partisan complexion in California unless something turns around,” McGhee says.
It’s already very lopsided in favor of Democrats.
The latest registration figures show that within the California electorate, 47% of voters are Democrats, 24% are Republicans and 23% are independents, or “no party preferences.”
Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data, dug into current registrations and found that within the 18-to-25 age group, 48% are Democrats, 15% are Republicans and 37% are independents or members of minor parties.
“Young voters aren’t in tune with the Republican Party — even less so than traditionally,” Mitchell says. “The anti-trans, antiabortion and anti-immigration stances make it hard for Republicans to appeal to most young voters.”
PPIC pollster Mark Baldassare also cites gun control and the environment as issues on which the GOP is out of step with most California voters, especially young people.
Stutzman says the party should stay focused on high energy prices — “They’re just going to get higher and they’re driven by Democratic policies” — and on crime and homelessness because voters believe they’re linked.
“These are issues Republicans can connect with voters on.”
If they’re not repulsed by Trump the sexual abuser.
Republicans will never begin to chart a new course in California while they remain Trump lemmings.