I don’t follow California politics closely so I’ll have to take his word for it. But from a national standpoint, Larry Elder crying “fraud” preemptively wasn’t even the greatest self-own of 2021.
Ron Nehring is an advisor to Elder’s moderate Republican opponent, Kevin Faulconer, who may have emerged as the consensus GOP choice had Elder not jumped in. So if you want to dismiss his point here as sour grapes, feel free. But he’s right that a website operated by Elder’s campaign went live the day before the recall declaring that fraud had been “detected” in the results of the election (which weren’t known yet) and hinting that the outcome might ultimately need to be settled via the “ammo box” instead of the ballot box.
Worse, Trump issued a statement that same day asking, “Does anybody really believe the California Recall Election isn’t rigged?”
It’s impossible to know how many Republicans stayed home in the conviction that voting in a fraudulent election was pointless but it may help explain why Newsom outperformed his polling. Nehring shared his theory of voter self-suppression last night on MSNBC:
“This is the greatest self-own in 20 years of California politics that I’ve ever seen,” says @RonNehring on Larry Elder saying the election was stolen before the election took place. “It is the opposite of get out the vote. It is suppressing your own voters from turning out.” pic.twitter.com/ptyj2GIrjK
— All In with Chris Hayes (@allinwithchris) September 17, 2021
David Bahnsen drew the same lesson. The first step towards victory, he wrote in NRO a few days ago, is not convincing your own voters that voting is dumb:
Perhaps you think the 2020 election was stolen. I don’t, but that is not the point here. What is the point is that the narrative of the recall became a brand consideration — did independents and moderates want to be branded as election-fraud conspiracists? Larry Elder had every chance to rebuff this narrative, and actually, to never let the narrative take hold to begin with. What he did, instead, was create the narrative! He jumped in with both feet and asked for the Trump/MAGA/voter-fraud brand in a state that Trump lost by 29 percent.
Dare I point out the obvious — that of the small minority of folks in California who voted for Trump in 2020, somewhere around 100 percent of them were pro-recall and pro-Elder. For the many millions who did not vote for Trump but were sympathetic to the recall, there could not have been a message less effective for earning and retaining their vote than the “stop the steal” story.
This is going to stay around Republicans’ necks as long as they let it. Not just in an “against all odds” case such as recalling a Democrat governor in a deep-blue state, but anywhere independents and moderates are needed to win an election — the backward-looking focus on the unprovable claims of a 2020 stolen election are toxic, self-defeating, and counter-productive. It is a fatal focus. A forward-looking focus on defeating cancel culture, pandemic irrationality and tyranny, and woke corporatism is the winning formula for the party and the cause.
Hmmm. On Earth 2, if Larry Elder is the same guy and Trump is screaming about election fraud but Elder solemnly disclaims it and says Biden won fair and square, how different are the results on Tuesday? Not very, I think.
But Bahnsen’s making a more basic point, that if Elder had run as more of a centrist he’d have stood a better chance. I’m skeptical of that too — Elder’s history as a conservative firebrand is too long for him to reposition opportunistically now — but Bahnsen’s right that if California Republicans had swung behind Faulconer or some other unassuming no-name and kept the recall as a referendum on Newsom, they’d have stood a better chance of knocking him off. Watch the full interview with Nehring last night and you’ll find him (unsurprisingly, as a Faulconer aide) making that point as well. The lesson seems to have penetrated on the other coast, as the GOP’s Virginia gubernatorial nominee, Glenn Youngkin, told a debate audience in his blue state that he wouldn’t have signed an abortion “heartbeat bill” like the one in Texas that made headlines recently:
Youngkin is asked if he would sign a fetal heartbeat bill pic.twitter.com/3ohhsgGsX1
— Acyn (@Acyn) September 16, 2021
Populists on both sides are evangelists at heart, believing that even jurisdictions dominated by the other party can be converted if you just preach the ideological gospel to them. But it rarely happens. Centrists do better on enemy territory. Rallying behind Elder was an all-in bet by the GOP that Democrats would slumber through the recall while Republicans mobilized to oust Newsom, erasing the Dems’ numerical advantage. The wrinkle was that Elder is such a lightning rod that his entry into the race woke Democrats up. Faulconer was the “let sleeping dogs lie” candidate. That’s what Youngkin’s going to try to be in Virginia too as hysterical Dems like Terry McAuliffe eagerly pronounce him worse than Trump.
I’ll leave you with Elder ruminating about the possibility of running again for governor next fall. He doesn’t sound optimistic.
BREAKING: “It’s hard to see how the outcome would be any different unless I was able to raise at least as much money as @GavinNewsom has spent, but even then the thing is daunting.” @LarryElder to @FrankBuckleyTV on why he may not run for governor again in 2022 #InsideCAPolitics pic.twitter.com/m40jqAa7pE
— Inside California Politics (@CAinsider) September 16, 2021
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