What's wrong with the Democratic Party? Just look at California

What's wrong with the Democratic Party? Just look at California
© Greg Nash

Opinions differ on the cure to what ails Democratic electoral prospects two years from now, assuming their 2020 opponent is President TrumpDonald John TrumpIran claims it rejected Trump meeting requests 8 times ESPY host jokes Putin was as happy after Trump summit as Ovechkin winning Stanley Cup Russian ambassador: Trump made ‘verbal agreements’ with Putin MORE.

Is it a hard-charging progressive to rebuild the Obama coalition, a more measured moderate that plays better in the Rust Belt, or an approach more laissez faire — i.e., to assume Trump-brand populism will collapse under its own weight?

ADVERTISEMENT
My suggestion: rather than wait until the winter of 2020 to begin the elimination process, why not hold a “beta test” in the summer of 2019 in America’s biggest and arguably bluest state featuring a slate of California Democrats, each of whom offers a narrative the party might want to embrace.

That Californians-only field would include:  

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisElection Countdown: Senate, House Dems build cash advantage | 2020 Dems slam Trump over Putin presser | Trump has M in war chest | Republican blasts parents for donating to rival | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders to campaign in Kansas Senate Democrats block resolution supporting ICE Dems look for candidate who will punch Trump ‘square in the face’ MORE. Less than one Senate term under her belt with little to show in actual accomplishments, but what she lacks in legislative heft she more than makes up for with charm, telegenics, and multi-racial appeal — plus a willingness to embrace hard-left policies like single-payer healthcare. Sound familiar?

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. Already presidential in his verbosity (this year’s State of the City address was wordier than all but one of the last 60 State of the Union addresses), Garcetti touts tuition-free community colleges, a higher minimum wage, 11,000 miles of repaved road, tens of thousands of green jobs, expanded rail lines and the Summer Olympics a decade from now. Never mind that Los Angeles county’s estimated homeless population (58,000) would overwhelm most any NBA arena. On paper, the City of Angels is Blue Heaven.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. By next summer, the eloquent and carefully-coiffed Newsom could be California’s 40th governor thanks to a decade-long run of high-profiled fights over same-sex marriage, gun control and marijuana legalization. And he rarely misses a chance to tweet-slap Trump. Few other Democrats can claim as much ahead-of-of-the-curve progressive turf.

Tom Steyer. The San Francisco-based hedge-fund billionaire is the godfather of the Need to Impeach movement, at present nearly 5.4 million online signatures and growing (many of them, let’s assume, from registered Democrats in early primary states). If Steyer passes on the beta test, California Reps. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffDem lawmaker: Putin will take Trump's attack on Mueller probe as 'green light' to interfere in 2018 The Hill's Morning Report — Trump, Putin meet under cloud of Mueller’s Russia indictments Russians' indictment casts shadow ahead of Trump-Putin summit MORE or Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellFormer top Dem: Not every candidate should run on impeaching Trump Hoping to catch fire, House Dems eye White House Bookmaker increases chances of Trump being impeached after Putin summit MORE can fill void of Democrats who long for a Trump perp walk.

Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaNew Dem star to rattle DC establishment Ocasio-Cortez to visit Capitol Hill next week FTC Democrat hires tech critic who wrote paper describing Amazon as monopoloy MORE. The Silicon Valley congressman didn’t merely read “Hillbilly Elegy”, he’s ventured from the land of knit-wool loafers and wood-grilled avocado (with ponzu and wasabi) to meat-and-potatoes Rust Belt Trump Country to sell the MAGA crowd on the virtues of the New Economy. Ignoring Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania — Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonState Dept: Russia’s allegations about American citizens ‘absolutely absurd’ Trump on possible sit-down with Mueller: 'I've always wanted to do an interview' Election Countdown: Senate, House Dems build cash advantage | 2020 Dems slam Trump over Putin presser | Trump has M in war chest | Republican blasts parents for donating to rival | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders to campaign in Kansas MORE’s downfall in 2016 — he’s not.

Oprah Winfrey. It wouldn’t be a California conversation without at least one celebrity reference. Setting aside the “free car”/government giveaway jokes, Oprah gets at the heart of whether Democrats should fight fire with fire in 2020 — i.e., challenge Trump with his celebrity equal, if not superior.  

Gov. Jerry Brown. The “old dudes rule” choice (Brown will turn 82 in 2020; by then, Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersElection Countdown: Senate, House Dems build cash advantage | 2020 Dems slam Trump over Putin presser | Trump has M in war chest | Republican blasts parents for donating to rival | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders to campaign in Kansas House Dems launching Medicare for All Caucus Let's remove the legal shield from hackers who rob us of our civil rights MORE will be 78 and Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenElection Countdown: Senate, House Dems build cash advantage | 2020 Dems slam Trump over Putin presser | Trump has M in war chest | Republican blasts parents for donating to rival | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders to campaign in Kansas Hoping to catch fire, House Dems eye White House Dems look for candidate who will punch Trump ‘square in the face’ MORE will be 77). Few Democrats are as vociferous town criers when it comes to climate change. And should Clinton decide on a third presidential run, Brown one-ups her: A 2020 bid would be his fourth, dating back to America’s bicentennial.

So there’s your field of seven prominent Californians to help define what it is to be a Democrat in 2020. No need for the party to hold a cattle show, next summer, on the backroads of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.

Such a “beta test” may not solve the Democrats’ inner angst, but it would be good political theater. And isn’t that what America expects from California? Entertainment?

Bill Whalen has been a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution since 1999, where he analyzes California and national politics. Prior to joining the Hoover Institution, Whalen served as chief speechwriter and director of public affairs for former California governor Pete Wilson (R).