The results of the California recall election are in, and Gov. Gavin Newsom is going to keep his job. Earlier in the campaign, polls revealed that the effort to oust the governor might just succeed. But over the past couple of weeks, the percentage gap between the “yes” and “no” votes widened in favor of those who wished to keep Newsom in office.
So, what happened?
We can rule out voter fraud. As of this moment, the official results show 63.9 percent of voters checking the “no” box and only 36.1 percent voting in favor of the recall. While that gap will surely narrow as in-person votes and mail ballots delivered to the polling place are counted, it makes no sense to argue that there was enough fraud to swing the result of the election. The reality is that a majority of Californians actually went to the polls and voted against removing Newsom from office.
There are several reasons why the recall effort failed. But there is no greater contributor to the loss than the fact that Republicans had the wrong frontrunner.
Elder entered the race two months before the Sept. 14 deadline, much later than the other candidates. Shortly after, he became the frontrunner, according to polling. It became clear that the race would essentially be between Gov. Newsom and Elder.
Unfortunately, Elder was the wrong choice for the race, a flawed candidate who did not have a chance of winning over California’s voters. Indeed, he became the Democrats’ perfect foil. They successfully cast him as another Trump and used issues of race to galvanize their base to turn out and vote against him.
The fact that throughout his career, Elder has made questionable comments – especially about the black community – made it easy for Democrats to cast him as a possible disaster for the state. In 2017 he posted a now-deleted tweet in which he implied that women marching to protest President Trump’s inauguration were too unattractive to worry about being sexually assaulted. He has also made a slew of controversial comments about women.
In a 2000 column, Elder wrote:
Women know less than men about political issues, economics, and current events. Good news for Democrats, bad news for Republicans. For the less one knows, the easier the manipulation.
He cited a study conducted by Kathleen Hall Jamieson for the University of Pennsylvania. However, Jamieson also noted that women are “factoring in other information and consistently making decisions at the ballot box that are consistent with their self-interests.”
Elder has also argued that “women exaggerate the problem of sexism” and domestic violence.
During an interview with conservative media personality Candace Owens, Elder suggested that in the debate over reparations, people could argue that the descendants of slave owners could also be recompensed for losing their “property.” He said:
When people talk about reparations, do they really want to have that conversation? Like it or not, slavery was legal. Their legal property was taken away from them after the Civil War, so you could make an argument that the people that are owed reparations are not only just Black people but also the people whose property was taken away after the end of the Civil War.
These are just a few of the remarks that the Democrats exploited to paint Elder as the ultimate villain. However, these aren’t the only reasons why he was not a decent candidate.
There was also the fact that Elder has no political experience relevant to the office he was seeking. Yes, the outsider appeal is very strong – Trump’s 2016 election proved that. However, the former president had vast experience in the business world; he knows how to run an organization. There were far better Republican candidates who could have potentially led the recall effort to victory, people who had been doing the work on the ground and in the state’s government for years.
It is also worth noting that for many people it seemed that Elder only jumped into the race 60 days before the day of the vote to clout chase. To them, his campaign did not seem like a serious endeavor. The bottom line is that not only does Elder not appeal to California voters, but he also gave the Democrats exactly what they needed to energize people to come out and vote against him even if they were not exactly happy with Newsom.
This election reveals a problematic tendency on the right to associate name recognition with electability. Elder’s fame on the right sucked attention away from others who might have actually lead to a “yes” vote on the recall.
Too many in the conservative realm have become enamored by the glitz, glamor, and celebrity to the point that we don’t focus on substance. If a candidate says the right things, pushes the right buttons, and has a level of notoriety, we don’t consider whether they will actually be able to win over voters or if they know which policies would appeal most to their constituents.
If Republicans had rallied behind a less incendiary candidate who had a history of working in California’s political system, there would have been no way the Democrats could have used them to galvanize their base. Sure, they would have pretended that any GOP candidate was a racist/sexist/Nazi/Puppy kicker. But the reality is that Elder made it far too easy for them to use this tactic. California’s voters might not have liked the other candidate, but they wouldn’t have cared as much about Newsom losing his job.
This is not to say California Republicans should have pushed a milquetoast Romnneyesque candidate. An authentic conservative who understands the Golden State’s political machine without Elder’s baggage could have appealed more effectively to the voting vase. At the very least, this type of candidate could have exuded competence without becoming embroiled in controversy. Of course, being that this is California, the effort could have failed even with a better candidate. But it is apparent that the recall would have stood a much better chance if had they backed someone more appealing.
Also, it is important to acknowledge that California’s GOP did not endorse Elder or ask him to run. Elder inserted himself into the recall election. His name recognition among conservatives is what pushed him to frontrunner status.
If conservatives are ever going to start making progress in blue states or cities, we have to learn how to fight smart. Putting up problematic candidates is, and always will be, a losing strategy. Instead of being taken in by celebrities, we need to elevate people who can fight effectively. Otherwise, the left will not only dominate in the areas they already control – they will continue making inroads in red states.