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 TrumpMcCabe wins back full FBI pension after being fired under Trump Biden's Supreme Court reform study panel notes 'considerable' risks to court expansion Bennie Thompson not ruling out subpoenaing Trump 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 HarrisDemocrats' reconciliation bill breaks Biden's middle class tax pledge We have a presidential leadership crisis — and it's only going to get worse Blinken pressed to fill empty post overseeing 'Havana syndrome' 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 SchiffSchiff: McCarthy 'will do whatever Trump tells him' if GOP wins back House Jan. 6 panel to pursue criminal contempt referral for Bannon Bannon's subpoena snub sets up big decision for Biden DOJ MORE or Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellGOP ekes out win in return of Congressional Baseball Game Greene heckles Democrats and they fire back on Capitol steps Overnight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod MORE can fill void of Democrats who long for a Trump perp walk.

Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaHouse Oversight Committee expects big oil executives to testify this month Pfizer applies to FDA for COVID-19 vaccine authorization in children 5-11 Attacks on Sinema turn increasingly personal 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 ClintonMcCabe wins back full FBI pension after being fired under Trump Bill Clinton hospitalized with sepsis We have a presidential leadership crisis — and it's only going to get worse 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 SandersBernie SandersOn The Money — Progressives play hard ball on Biden budget plan The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - Biden: We will fix nation's problems Left doubles down on aggressive strategy MORE will be 78 and Joe BidenJoe BidenMcAuliffe holds slim lead over Youngkin in Fox News poll Biden signs bill to raise debt ceiling On The Money — Progressives play hard ball on Biden budget plan 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).