San Diego just gave the Republican Party a very obvious clue as to how they can win and stay viable in 2016. After our mayoral licking last night (Faulconer 54.5%, Alvarez 45.5%), I am now convinced that the future of the GOP can be found here in SoCal.
Follow me below the border for some juicy advice....
Stick a rainbow on it!
San Diego has always been blood-red conservative. An outlier not only in coastal California, but also in big city politics. With its election of Kevin Faulconer, San Diego is the biggest city in the US to have a Republican mayor. But, the social conservatism has become too much for local Republicans to bear; this is California after all.
It all started with Jerry Saunders, our Republican mayor (pre-Filner catastrophe). He was as conservative as they come, decimating the budget, layoffs, privatization, and big payoffs to developers. But, his daughter happens to be gay and, in good GOP tradition, It's Okay If It Happens To Me. So he came out in support of LBGT rights. And everyone thought "how wonderful and brave!"
Next up, Nathan Fletcher. A former Republican assemblyman, turned independent for mayor's race 2012, turned full-fledged Democrat for this race. He lost terribly in both primaries. Fletcher had managed to gain credibility for his conversion in the night by "sleeping" with a major local labor leader (I'll leave you to decide whether that is figuratively or literally). Pulling together labor support for a very recent former Republican was nothing short of amazing; her tactics resembled more of a Chris Christie style or old school labor boss than anything else. (She has bigger aspirations and has since moved on to state politics; I'm sure we will see more of her and when that time comes, beware....)
For the first time, Fletcher gave local "Democrats" an option: they could vote for a Republican without holding their nose! He was LGBT friendly, Latino friendly, "labor friendly", yet still Republican to the core. Their oft-repeated excuse was "but he's the only one who can win!" He lost.
Next up: Democrat Scott Peters, running strong against progressive State Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña in California's CD-52 run-off primary. The winner went on to face Republican Brian Bilbray in the 2012 general. Redistricting in California has been very favorable to Democrats; we passed an initiative that forever puts the process in the hands of a bi-partisan citizen committee and out of the hands of elected officials. So Bilbray's district was suddenly much bluer and he was going to have a tough row to hoe to keep it.
It was no surprise that Fletcher supporters turned out in droves for Blue Dog Scott Peters. Saldaña was consistently ahead, but in the last three weeks of the race, wealthy venture capitalist Peters threw in $1.5M of his own cash. He edged out Saldaña by less than 1,000 votes. While his campaign fought hard to put a progressive veneer on his politics, the cover, once again was "but he's the only one who can win!" To his credit, he did beat Bilbray narrowly. But Bilbray's campaign had been damaged by a horrible ad he did that features he daughter, a cancer patient. The message was, basically, "Vote for me. My daughter has cancer." It was universally seen as a move in very bad taste; without it, I think Bilbray could have won.
So, imagine my surprise when I find out that some of my "liberal" friends are voting for Faulconer! Yeah, you guessed it - those pesky DINO's that had cover voting for Fletcher and Peters were now almost completely out and voting for a Republican. In San Diego, our city races are non-partisan, but everyone still knows who you are. The beauty of it is, is that it gives people who are too embarrassed to admit they are Republicans cover to vote Republican.
Faulconer is "progressive" - i.e. LGBT friendly, not an asshole to Latinos, and panders very well to lefty issues like homelessness and the environment. But make no mistake - this guy is as conservative as they come. He will dismantle the few progressive things that Filner had managed to implement in the Planning Department, and continue Saunders budget slashing and privatization crusade.
GOP: here's some free advice. This is how you win. This is your future. Drop the bigoted asshole moral majority bullshit. It's over.
PS: I write this in the spirit of pure self-interest. I look forward to the day when Blue Dogs are on the other side of the aisle, and we won't have to waste our time re-fighting the civil war, women's rights and just general crazy.