Readers are all over me for calling the Board of Directors of the California GOP “nuts” this morning (see below). Okay, the members of the Board aren’t actually insane—Duf Sundheim, the chairman of the party, is a lawyer here in Palo Alto whom I know to be hard-working and public-spirited, a man who is only too happy to perform an unpaid job that lots of people wouldn’t touch. But I still think endorsing Arnold was a whopper of a mistake.
As far back as the 1966 gubernatorial campaign of Ronald Reagan, the California GOP has been divided into two camps, the conservatives and the moderates. With the emergence in the 1970s and 1980s of the social issues—or, to put it another way, with the assault during that period on traditional morality—the division deepened. What used to be a disagreement over taxes and spending became a disagreement over the intractable issues of abortion, gay rights, and school vouchers. To hold the party together, an essential task in a state where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by roughly 45 to 35 percent, both sides need to demonstrate an almost exaggerated civility toward one another.
To my mind, Tom McClintock has been doing a pretty good job of just that. Arnold hasn’t. To name just one example of Arnold’s incivility, he has called supporters of Ward Connerly’s Racial Privacy Initiative “right-wing crazies.” McClintock supporters, understandably enough, find this galling, and plenty of them—I beg your pardon: plenty of us—are already hopping mad. (For a fine example of fiery polemics, look at this piecehttp://noleftturns.ashbrook.org/default.asp?archiveID=2638 by John Eastman, a professor of law at Chapman University and a regular guest on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show.)
Enter the Board of Directors of the California GOP. By endorsing Arnold, I suppose, they might have won him a few additional votes, helping to give some sense of inevitability to Arnold’s campaign. But why? Arnold didn’t need the help. The most pronounced effect of the endorsement, I suspect, will be the insult it conveys to McClintock’s supporters. All that Tom McClintock has is a conservative message and the ability to articulate it, yet on that alone he has garnered the support of between a sixth and a fifth of the California electorate—and polls show that if Arnold dropped out of the race McClintock might very well win. The 17 members of the Board of Directors of the California GOP have now announced that they got together, talked it over for a couple of hours, and decided that the judgment of Tom McClintock and his hundreds of thousands of supporters is…inferior to their own.
The decision may not have been nuts, but it’s no example of sound politics, either.