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 TrumpOver 100 lawmakers consistently voted against chemical safeguards: study CNN's Anderson Cooper unloads on Trump Jr. for spreading 'idiotic' conspiracy theories about him Cohn: Jamie Dimon would be 'phenomenal' president 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?

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 HarrisSenate Dems sue Archives to try to force release of Kavanaugh documents The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh confirmation in sudden turmoil Judd Gregg: The collapse of the Senate 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 SchiffTrump to declassify controversial text messages, documents related to Russia probe Manafort went ‘above and beyond’ with plea deal, says ex-federal prosecutor Kavanaugh hires attorney amid sexual assault allegations: report MORE or Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellAuthorities: California man arrested after trying to stab GOP House candidate As we look back at 9/11, let’s recapture the spirit of uniting to protect America Dem strategist: NYT op-ed from anonymous official is 'self-serving' MORE can fill void of Democrats who long for a Trump perp walk.

Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaDems seek ways to block Trump support for Saudi-led coalition in Yemen Haley slams Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi for defending jailing of Reuters journalists Congress losing faith in Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi 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 ClintonTrump to declassify controversial text messages, documents related to Russia probe Hypocrisy in Kavanaugh case enough to set off alarms in DC Clinton: Hard to ignore 'racial subtext of virtually everything Trump says' 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) SandersProtecting democracy requires action from all of us Kavanaugh hires attorney amid sexual assault allegations: report Amazon probes allegations of employees leaking data for bribes: report MORE will be 78 and Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenKavanaugh hires attorney amid sexual assault allegations: report Biden: Delay Kavanaugh vote to give accuser a fair, respectful hearing Bidens hint at taking on Trump: We want to 'pick a fight' with bullies 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).