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 TrumpWarren: 'White supremacists pose a threat to the United States like any other terrorist group' National Enquirer paid 0,000 for Bezos texts: report Santorum: Trump should 'send emails to a therapist' instead of tweeting 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?

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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 HarrisBiden weighing an early announcement of running mate: report Poll: Biden leads among millennial voters O'Rourke faces sharp backlash from left 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 SchiffDems request probe into spa owner suspected of trying to sell access to Trump Dems fear Trump is looking at presidential pardons The Hill's Morning Report — Trump readies first veto after latest clash with Senate GOP MORE or Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellTrump reignites criticism of McCain months after senator's death Swalwell jokes about 'bad decisions' after bleached-hair yearbook photo resurfaces Dem lawmakers unveil Journalist Protection Act amid Trump attacks on media MORE can fill void of Democrats who long for a Trump perp walk.

Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaOvernight Defense: Senate breaks with Trump on Yemen war | Shanahan hit with ethics complaint over Boeing ties | Pentagon rolls out order to implement transgender ban | Dem chair throws cold water on Space Force budget Senate breaks with Trump on Saudi-led war in Yemen Dem lawmakers unveil Journalist Protection Act amid Trump attacks on media 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 ClintonOvernight Health Care: CDC pushes for expanding HIV testing, treatment | Dem group launches ads attacking Trump on Medicare, Medicaid cuts | Hospitals, insurers spar over surprise bills | O'Rourke under pressure from left on Medicare for all O'Rourke faces sharp backlash from left Dem strategist says South Carolina will be first 'real test' for O'Rourke 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) SandersWarren calls for abolishing Electoral College Biden weighing an early announcement of running mate: report Poll: Biden leads among millennial voters MORE will be 78 and Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenBiden weighing an early announcement of running mate: report Poll: Biden leads among millennial voters O'Rourke faces sharp backlash from left 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).