After losing virtually every competitive race last year and holding just 23.6 percent of the state’s registered voters, you might think the California Republican Party would seek a unifying voice at its convention over the weekend in the sweltering desert resort town of Indian Wells — temperature 111 degrees.
Nope. They went with President Trump’s campaign manager.
“So, is this all the Republicans in California?” joked Brad Parscale as he opened his speech at the state GOP convention Saturday afternoon in the sweltering desert resort town of Indian Wells. “Oh, wait, I’m sorry. It’s more than I thought!”
Yet it’s what Donald Trump’s 2020 national campaign manager said next that helps explain why he’d come to what he freely admits is not a swing state.
“Actually,” Parscale said, “California is the leading state for donations to the president. Do you guys know that?”
At first glance, it might not make much sense for the California Republican Party to headline its convention over the weekend with Parscale.
After all, the president’s approval rating in the state is in the 30s. The party currently holds zero statewide offices, seven of 53 congressional seats and a quarter of state legislative districts.
But Parscale’s appearance offered clear benefits — for both the California GOP and the Trump campaign.
Since it’s so big, more Californians voted for Trump in 2016 than any other state besides Texas and Florida. And tens of thousands of California volunteers made more than a million calls to battleground states in 2016.
“We were phoning double-Democrat households, finding those households that were disaffected with Hillary Clinton,” said Sacramento political consultant Tim Clark, who served as a senior campaign aide in 2016 and later worked in the Trump administration.
“We would serve that data to the national campaign,” Clark recalled. “And two days later, they have a knock on their door from the Trump campaign.”
The voter persuasion and turnout operation is the pride of the Trump campaign, which is now making its data available to state and local Republicans for free.
“Neighbor-to-neighbor interaction is more powerful than anything you can pay for, and even more powerful than what I can do on Facebook,” said Parscale, who’s known for his social media and digital ad skills, to a crowd of more than 500 people. “It is the most effective way to register, persuade and turn out a voter. It is the key to our success.”
In particular, Parscale said: “There are over 430,000 Trump voters that did not show up in 2018 in the United States. We cannot let this happen in 2020. I need all of them plus more to show up. And the way to do that is with 2 million volunteers.”
And as the California Republican Party tries to take back seven House seats that Democrats flipped last year, ignoring the state’s 4 million Trump voters would be folly. Clark says California volunteers must play a similarly huge role in 2020 as they did in 2016.
That short-term strategy doesn’t bother Luis Alvarado, a Los Angeles-based “Never Trump” Republican consultant. But, he argues, the GOP risks ignoring its longer-term challenges instead.
“The reality is that so many Republicans have already left,” Alvarado said. “I think we’re going to have to rebuild this party one way or another. And the question is, how effective will these strategies be in building the party after 2020 — regardless of it’s a Trump presidency or not.”
That’s the dilemma facing Jessica Patterson, who earlier this year became the party’s first female and Latina chairperson.
“Any good leader has to have the big-picture strategy portion, but you also have to have the tactics,” Patterson told CapRadio in an interview Saturday. “So, there are going to be some things that are short term; there’s some things that are gonna be big picture for the long-term health of our party. But you have to do both. Otherwise, you’ll be one and done.”
How to fire up the base while also engaging swing voters and disenchanted Republicans? For the California GOP in 2020, that balancing act might be an impossible one.