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How The California Recall Election Will Affect The Republican Party

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Where does the failed recall effort in California leave the Republican Party? State GOP leaders were hoping to unseat Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom and regain a better foothold in the deep blue state. Both parties framed the race as existential. Democrats said is the Republican front-runner, Larry Elder, won, it would jeopardize other vulnerable Democrats in 2022. Republicans tried to make it a referendum on the Democrats' response to the pandemic across the country. But Newsom took a decisive win.

We've got Jonah Goldberg with us to talk about the broader consequences of the recall loss for the GOP. He's a columnist and the editor-in-chief of The Dispatch. Jonah, welcome back.

JONAH GOLDBERG: Always great to be here.

MARTIN: It was always going to be an uphill climb for Larry Elder in this race, to say the least. Does the failed recall tell us anything new about the state of the GOP at this point?

GOLDBERG: Certainly, it's sort of almost on a metaphorical level. It tells us quite a bit. The problem is is that the Republican Party in California is, to borrow a term from political science, just a hot mess and has been a hot mess for a very long time, would that the Republican Party had actually maintained a disciplined campaign to make this a referendum on Gavin Newsom. But they didn't do that. Instead, it was a total free-for-all. And the guy who rose to the top of this very - over 40 people pack was a right-wing talk radio guy, Larry Elder. That was a major lifeline to the Newsom people because it allowed Newsom to make the subject, not about himself, not about the French Laundry, not about the pandemic and his handling of it.

MARTIN: French Laundry, we should say, the very fancy restaurant where Newsom was seen eating with a group during lockdown.

GOLDBERG: Right, violating his own rules. And when the issue was all about Newsom, it looked for a while there like the recall effort might actually work. And then by putting Larry Elder up, who, like any right-wing talk radio guy, has said many things that are very controversial over the years, it allowed the Democrats in California to make this a choice between Larry Elder and the sort of Trumpiness of the Republican Party or staying the course. And in many ways, what Newsom did was borrowed a page from Ted Cruz in his bid for reelection against Beto O'Rourke. Ted Cruz is not very popular in Texas, but what he did is, he said, this is really about Texas and keeping Texas red and can't let the woke people take over. California is the inversion of that. And they said, look; we can't let the Trumpy people take over.

MARTIN: Larry Elder was making claims of voter fraud in the days before the election. He did walk it back a little bit in his concession speech. But still, what are the implications of this line coming over and over again from the GOP?

GOLDBERG: It's suicidal. And we even saw going into the final home stretch of the recall, Donald Trump was talking about how the system was already rigged, the election had already been stolen. It's dishonest. It's a lie. But it's also just sand-poundingly stupid politics to tell your most ardent voters there's no point in showing up because the system is already rigged against you. But the fact that this is what so many of the base of the Republican Party want to hear, even though it is not in the political self-interest of the party, is a great example of the larger dysfunction that the Republican Party has got itself caught up in.

MARTIN: The House investigation into the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol is going on right now, despite efforts by GOP leaders to undermine it. When you talk about the built-in political price that the GOP will suffer for pushing this line about voter fraud when there isn't any, what about undermining the House investigation into an attack on the U.S. Capitol? I mean, is that something that the party will pay a price for in the midterms? Or does it not move Republican voters at this point?

GOLDBERG: In the midterms, probably not that much. The rule is is that sitting presidents lose seats in Congress, and the intensity is all on the side of Republicans. I think it's politically disastrous in the long term because - look back at California. If you look at the exit poll data - and certainly if you look at the polling, say, a month ago, there were a lot of persuadable voters, particularly among Latinos. In politics, you want to be on the 60 side of every 60-40 issue, just as a matter of rank politics. Too many Republicans and conservatives are more interested in being on the 30 side of a bunch of 70-30 issues. And the January 6 stuff, I think, plays into that in a big way because the Republican Party cannot wean itself from Trump and Trumpism.

MARTIN: Jonah Goldberg is editor-in-chief of The Dispatch. Jonah, thanks as always.

GOLDBERG: Great to be here. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.