“California’s Republican Party is in crisis. Voters are leaving it in droves, its candidates haven’t won a statewide election in more than a decade and its lawmakers are likely to lose several important elections this year. Yet many of the party’s leaders and lawmakers seem unwilling to make the kind of substantive changes that would broaden its appeal. Its candidates for governor, for example, are competing on their fealty to President Trump, when more than two-thirds of Californians who are registered to vote disapprove of him.
The G.O.P.’s problems in the state are a symptom of the toxic political extremism that has forced sensible centrists to the margins of the party throughout the country. But in this problem there is an opportunity, one that California Republicans are in a singular position to seize: a chance to build a sustainable third party.
At least some Republicans in the state, chief among them former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, have been trying to push the G.O.P. to adopt more mainstream ideas and policies. This group includes people like Chad Mayes, who was ousted as the party’s Assembly leader after working with Democrats to reauthorize a landmark cap-and-trade program, and Kevin Faulconer, the mayor of San Diego.
But they are struggling to make headway against a party establishment that refuses to acknowledge that it is on the wrong track, let alone take action to change. Republicanism, even in California, has become inseparable from Trumpism because most of the party’s leaders and lawmakers are more focused on catering to its far-right base and elite donors than on speaking to or for the majority of Americans.
There’s a better way. Mr. Schwarzenegger and other reform-minded Republicans ought to create a new party that can woo independent voters, former Republicans and even disaffected Democrats. At the start of this year, barely a quarter of registered voters in California said they were Republicans, down from more than a third in 1997. At the same time, the number of voters in the state who say they have no party preference has more than doubled, to about 25 percent. This strongly suggests that most people who have left the Republican Party have not become Democrats and would be open to a center-right political party.”
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