About 200 people crowded onto a basketball court in an old building near downtown Los Angeles. They showed up to witness a faction of California Republicans urge the party to diverge from President Trump, and to moderate its tone and policy.
Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former presidential candidate — and current Ohio governor — John Kasich were keynote speakers at the event by the group New Way California.
A possible reason for the change in direction? California Republicans hold no statewide offices, and only one in four voters are registered with the party.
“Today we are the Titanic after it hit the iceberg, but before the last bit of the ship submerged,” Schwarzenegger said at the event. “But unlike the Titanic, we might be able to save Leonardo DiCaprio before he goes under.”
Schwarzenegger and the event’s organizers say Republicans need to change a divisive approach that has alienated key voting blocs, such as Latinos — the state’s largest ethnic demographic. Without mentioning Trump by name, New Way founder and state Assemblyman Chad Mayes criticized his rhetoric.
“The old way burns bridges and erects walls,” Mayes said. “The new way builds bridges and opens doors."
The speakers were light on policy prescriptions, but generally argued Republicans must compromise with Democrats, rather than act as an opposition party. Whether current Republicans will go for that is an open question. Mayes tried compromising with Gov. Jerry Brown on cap-and-trade legislation last year, and he lost his post as Republican leader.
“Look, we want this party to survive, but we’ve got to stop playing ideological games, and start thinking about the customers,” Kasich said, referring to voters. “And, help these folks. Help Chad. It’s going to be lonely for a while.”
But Ruben Guerra, a Democrat who chairs the Latin Business Association and voted for Schwarzenegger, says he’s open to supporting New Way candidates.
“I’ve been a Democrat all my life, but now I’m not loyal to that anymore,” Guerra said. “I’m loyal to the right people being in place.”
Political consultant Cassandra Pye suggested organizers could still broaden their appeal.
“We’ve got to have more women in the room next time,” Pye said.
Many attendees said they came specifically to see Schwarzenegger. One test for this new faction of Republicans will be whether they can sustain momentum past this first event without his celebrity presence.