California Is Ripe for an Intra-Democrat Insurgency
Plus: Kill the mask mandates dead.
Hey y’all—Tim in for JVL today with a special dispatch from the Golden State, where I recently took this glamour shot of my new book Why We Did It which I hope you will preorder today if you haven’t!! (I’ve been told to be shameless. . .)
1. Gavin and Top Two Primaries
I am pretty certain I have voted for Gavin Newsom more times than any other single politician and I don’t even really like him all that much. I mean, he took this picture with one of the worst people on the planet, for godsakes. His management of California could charitably be described as “fine.”
And yet there I was, sitting at my kitchen table, coloring in the blue oval next to his name for the fourth time in a row because over the course of the last five years no other passable options have been presented. In 2018, he ran against John Cox, a Trumpy bozo who campaigned with a bear. In the recall last year, the Newsom alternative was Larry Elder, an even Trumpier talk radio loon. And this time around, Newsom’s buzziest challenger was independent Michael Shellenberger, a red-pilled tree hugger who authored San Fransicko, a book that had a few decent suggestions for cleaning up the city across the Bay but carried with it a promotional campaign targeted squarely at Elon Musk memebros. For some reason Shellenberger decided to run a campaign not for the broad middle emphasizing his green credentials but for the median Fox News viewer. His PAC closed the campaign with a TV spot that featured Jesse Watters. (Note to the ad wizards behind that one: While Fox may have helped Mike move some units of San Fransicko, my ashes will be scattered on Poodle Beach before California elects a candidate who runs an advertisement featuring their appearance on The Five). As of this writing, Shellenberger is a pathetically distant third with 3.7 percent of the vote. Woof.
But the GOP’s complete inability to compete in California shouldn’t leave voters in the country’s largest state without choices, especially given that the state’s election system is designed for the opposite. In 2012, California instituted a “top-two” primary system which meant that rather than each party holding its own nominating primary, all the candidates are jumbled together and the two with the most votes go on to the general.
In theory such a system might yield a result where two Democrats or a Democrat and a heterodox independent face off in the general election, giving voters more options and muting the power of the extremes in both parties.
But in practice the California Democratic establishment has used the system to create a hammerlock on statewide government. The California jungle primary ballot is so long it could double as a CVS receipt. It’s chock-full of gadflies, socialists, MAGA weirdos, Latvian twinks, and Italian barbers with bad haircuts—but nobody who has a prayer of taking on the anointed Democratic candidate.
For example this years ballot featured:
Newsom, with no legitimate challengers for governor;
Eleni Kounalakis, Newsom’s hand-picked lieutenant governor, also facing no real challenge; and
Alex Padilla, Newsom’s hand-picked appointed senator, essentially unchallenged.
Padilla’s status in particular should be galling for anyone who wants to foster a real representative democracy. Given his appointment to the seat, he has never had to face a competitive race. And he didn’t really do anything to earn a clear field beyond convincing fellow Democrats not to rock the boat. Having Padilla in office is not meaningfully different from putting up an automated “Generic Democrat” bot.
And maybe that’s all some voters are looking for. But it is not a healthy way to run a government. It leads to frustration among those who want to feel like they have skin in the game. Or who don’t feel like their leaders are responsive to their needs. I talked to several California Democrats who were so flabbergasted by their lack of choices that they registered gadfly protest votes out of sheer frustration.
In the local races, where alternatives were presented, the backlash among Democratic voters was apparent. In San Francisco, District Attorney Chesa Boudin, a far-left prosecutor, was recalled in overwhelming fashion, as I predicted earlier this year. Maybe more notably, in Los Angeles Rick Caruso, a billionaire former Republican, has received the most votes for mayor and is headed into a runoff against former Congresswoman Karen Bass, someone who was on Biden’s VP shortlist.
Caruso’s success should be both a model and a warning for progressives looking to disrupt the system. He ran a campaign that was still directionally Democratic, while focusing on discrete issues: cleaning up homelessness and addressing rising crime. Beyond that his policies were all vague and he leaned on support from celebrity liberals like Kim Kardashian and Snoop Dogg as validators.
Caruso is demonstrating to the myriad other billionaires in California that there’s a way to break the establishment’s hammerlock. Ever since Arnold left Sacramento, there has been this catch-22 that has allowed the political machine to stay in power. The most likely people to try to disrupt it were Republicans who never had a prayer or Bernie-ish progressives who couldn’t crack the nut.
As such the most likely type of candidate to succeed at shaking up the status quo, is the least likely to have had the gumption to do it: someone from within the existing Democratic coalition. Were a liberal outsider to challenge Newsom or Padilla on competence or housing prices or homelessness while also being a Democrat in good standing, there are a lot of signs indicating it might have worked, but they would have had to actually put themselves out there and risk the opprobrium of their fellow California elites.
Increasingly that should seem like a risk worth taking, especially for those on the center-left but even for the right kind of candidate on the left-left. Because if Democrats don’t figure out a way to bring some competition and accountability to their own tent, eventually someone on the outside is going to figure it out. And if it's not one of their own, that outsider is going to look a lot more like the yacht-owning, LAW AND ORDER-preaching, pseudo-Republican Rick Caruso than progressives would prefer.
While I’m ranting about California Democrats for a minute, I’d like to raise, hopefully for the last time, the issue of mask mandates. (If this discussion raises your blood pressure, feel free to skip on ahead to item #3; I have a treat waiting for you at the end).
My home county, Alameda, reissued its mask mandate last week. And I am begging Democrats with all my heart to stop this right now. Begging. I’m on my hands and knees as I type this. I will lay prostrate on the floor if need be.
Basically nobody wants these mandates to return, even in the People’s Republic of Oakland. Using the crowd at my local Home Depot this past Saturday as a barometer—yes I was in a Home Depot and yes I know that is very masculine and off-brand of me—much of the city has decided they will be engaging in silent protest unless specifically requested otherwise. A supervisor from the other side of the county said he got 200 calls complaining about the new order. When our preschool went mask-optional recently, the preponderance of kids removed them and my fellow parents rejoiced about the switch during a recent playground date.
As Gov. Jared Polis (D-Col.) said in our interview back in March, “The government telling people what to wear is a very, very extreme step . . . you need a very, very, very high bar for that.”
What Alameda County is doing right now is nowhere near that bar. Here’s one example. If you are a young, healthy person who is vaccinated, boosted, and has already contracted COVID-19, it is absolutely preposterous for you to be forced to wear a mask all day at your job in the plant or at Chipotle or wherever. The government forcing a person in that situation to wear a mask absolutely merits the mockery that the annoying COVID contrarians will rain down on it.
So please don’t make these terrible people right. And don’t institute forcible mask-wearing for my boosted barista. This, like Boudin, is another example of the Democratic party needing to police its worst impulses—because if they don’t, Caruso-style outsiders will enforce it for them.
Okay, I’ve been grumpy and ranty for the first two items, so I’d like to provide a little good trouble for anyone who made it this far.
On Saturday I’ll be heading to one of the many nationwide March for Our Lives rallies. This is a redux of the national movement that was organized by the survivors of the Parkland shooting.
I know there’s been some pessimism around these parts but I genuinely believe there is an opportunity to make some progress on guns, maybe even in the Senate. But if that hopium is misplaced and the Senate group collapses again, I am increasingly convinced this can become a winning issue for those campaigning on sensible reforms, if there is a sustained effort to make it happen.
The OGs around here know that I am a playlist-curator extraordinaire. This year’s summertime jams are ready for your consumption. Enjoy.