How Long Can California Republicans Rely on Reagan Nostalgia?

How Long Can California Republicans Rely on Reagan Nostalgia?

Former president Ronald Reagan at campaign rally in Endicott, New York, on September 1984. (Public Domain)

John Seiler

John Seiler

5/28/2024

Updated: 5/30/2024

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Commentary
President Ronald Reagan remains a touchstone for policy among Republicans nationally and, especially, in California. For example, it’s a major theme in former baseball star Steve Garvey’s campaign for U.S. Senate, according to a fundraising letter I got from him.
(Courtesy of John Seiler)

(Courtesy of John Seiler)

It appeals to defeating “radical Adam Schiff in California to start a Republican Comeback Rally that rivals the Reagan Revolution.” The problem, though, is it doesn’t address the issues of today, especially those of younger voters who may remember President Reagan only as the subject of a few paragraphs in a high school history book
Current voter registration in the Golden State, according to Secretary of State Shirley Weber’s Feb. 20 report, stands at 47 percent Democratic, 24 percent Republican, 22 percent No Party Preference, and 7 percent other. That means Republican will have a really tough time winning a statewide race. And in fact, they have not done so since 2006, 18 years ago.
PPIC’s April poll showed Rep. Adam Schiff leading Mr. Garvey 61 percent to 37 percent among likely California voters. That’s a large 24-point gap.
President Joe Biden’s gap with former President Donald Trump even is less, 23 points. The tally was President Biden 54 percent to 31 percent for former President Trump. But former President Trump isn’t campaigning out here, because he can’t win the state’s 54 electoral votes. It would be a waste of his time. If he did campaign, his numbers would go up.
Former professional baseball player and U.S. Senate candidate Steve Garvey speaks in Beverly Hills, Calif., on April 25, 2024. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Former professional baseball player and U.S. Senate candidate Steve Garvey speaks in Beverly Hills, Calif., on April 25, 2024. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Youth Needed

Eventually Republicans are going to need to build for the future with younger candidates. Mr. Garvey will be 76 should he win. That means he’ll be 82 when his potential term ends in January 2031.
Consider the themes in his letter: “my playing days with the Dodgers and the Padres” in the 1970s and 80s. “Davey Lopes, Bill Russell, Ron Cey and the rest of the guys as we battled Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson and the Yankees ... well, as we say at our age, ‘Those were the days.’
“2024 America is starting to look a lot like 1970s America ... gas prices sky high, Carter’s rationing meant we could only buy gas on even or odd days.
“We Republicans pulled our country out of that 1970’s Democratic malaise by electing Ronald Reagan.
“We put classic conservative values at the heart of everything we did.
“And America became a shining city upon a hill once more.
“We can do that again.”

Remembering 1980

I remember Reagan’s 1980 campaign as if it were yesterday. And despite some of the similarities the Garvey campaign letter cited, it was much different. That’s because the main issue was President Jimmy Carter’s weakness against the rising threat of the communist Soviet Union, which had invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, and was vastly increasing its nuclear missile arsenal aimed at America.
I listened to the Reagan-Carter debate on Oct. 28, 1980, while on maneuvers with the 533rd Combat Electronic Warfare Intelligence Battalion in West Germany. I was a Russian linguist, but the maneuvers were “against” other American forces in war games. We existed to protect NATO from an attack by the huge Red Army forces poised to attack from what then was East Germany.
With a break in the action, we tuned our powerful intercept radios to the debate. We all backed Reagan.
Today is different. The Soviet Union possessed an aggressive communist ideology that aimed to control the whole world. Russia stopped being communist in 1991 when the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was abolished. The difficulties over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine do not involve communist ideology.
Ronald Wilson Reagan, the 40th president of the United States. A former actor and president of the Screen Actors Guild, he was elected governor of California in 1966 and U.S. president in 1981. He is standing in front of a sign reading "Let's Make America Great Again," during his electoral campaign. (MPI/Getty Images)

Ronald Wilson Reagan, the 40th president of the United States. A former actor and president of the Screen Actors Guild, he was elected governor of California in 1966 and U.S. president in 1981. He is standing in front of a sign reading "Let's Make America Great Again," during his electoral campaign. (MPI/Getty Images)

Issues in 2024

This year’s main issues do, like 1980, include inflation. But consider the other issues of 2024 which were not around in 1980:
  • President Carter had begun normalizing relations with Communist China with 1979’s Joint Communiqué on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations. But this was not a big issue in the 1980 election as China’s economy was small and Moscow was on the march. Anti-communists like me disapproved of the agreement with Beijing, but for most Americans it was not a concern. Today, China has a large industrial economy and is challenging the United States over Taiwan and control of the Western Pacific Ocean.
  • Immigration wasn’t even discussed, with one exception: The 1980 Mariel boatlift from April 15 to Oct. 31, in which Cuban communist dictator Fidel Castro allowed about 125,000 Cubans, including some criminal prisoners, to flee to the United States, causing a massive disruption including increases in crime. Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, the future president, blamed his gubernatorial reelection loss that year on voters blaming Democrats like himself for President Carter’s feckless policy of accepting these immigrants. By contrast, in 2024 President Biden’s open borders policy probably is the top issue for Republican voters, and a major one for non-Republicans.
  • All major Republicans endorsed Reagan’s candidacy. For some reason, Mr. Garvey has not endorsed former President Trump, nor sought his endorsement. Yet the Republican Party now, whether he or anyone else likes it or not, is the party of former President Trump’s MAGA movement—Make America Great Again.
The waning of Reaganism can be seen in how former President Trump is the only Republican ever to be nominated for president three straight times. For Democrats, only President Franklin Roosevelt achieved the same, being nominated four times, and in his case winning all four campaigns: 1932, 1936, 1940, and 1944. William Jennings Bryan was nominated by Democrats three times, but nonconsecutively: 1896, 1900, and 1908.

‘Top Two’ Disaster Strikes Again

Allow me again to bring up the disastrous Top Two system. Under it, the top two primary candidates, regardless of party or no party, face off in the November finale. It allowed Mr. Schiff to game the system so he could avoid a runoff with Rep. Katie Porter, a fellow Democrat popular among feminists. Mr. Schiff actually ran ads boosting Mr. Garvey’s candidacy, knowing the former first baseman would be easier to defeat come November.
Top Two is anti-democratic, preventing Republicans from choosing their own candidates. If they had been able to do so, lawyer Eric Early and businessman and U.S. Coast Guard veteran James P. Bradley would have directly discussed the issues with Mr. Garvey in GOP-only debates. While the former baseball star still likely would have won the nomination, the debates would have sharpened his focus on the issues while highlighting future Republican hopefuls.
The next election cycle for 2028 begins right after this one ends with the Nov. 5 election. By then, the electorate will be another two years removed from Reagan’s triumphs in the 1980s. All eight statewide offices will be up for grabs, including for governor and lieutenant governor, along with sitting U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla’s seat.
This state definitely needs a return to a robust two-party system. To achieve it, Republicans need to look beyond Reagan and the issues of the 1980s to the candidates and issues of the 2030s.
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John Seiler

John Seiler

Author

John Seiler is a veteran California opinion writer. Mr. Seiler has written editorials for The Orange County Register for almost 30 years. He is a U.S. Army veteran and former press secretary for California state Sen. John Moorlach. He blogs at JohnSeiler.Substack.com and his email is writejohnseiler@gmail.com

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