Steve Bannon spoke last Friday to the California Republican Party convention. In covering the speech, mainstream media tried to make the case Bannon wasn’t right for California Republicans.
Several stories quoted a series of tweets from former state Assembly Republican leader Chad Mayes that referred to Bannon’s appearance as “a huge step backward” that “demonstrates that the party remains tone deaf.”
Quotes from Kevin Eckery, a former Pete Wilson aide and now a Republican political consultant in Sacramento, called Bannon a “fear monger” and said his appearance at the convention “contributes to the destruction of the California GOP.
“Bannon is not just divisive but is literally intent on destroying the party in hopes that he can rebuild something in his image. And his image is not something we need to convey in California.”
After relaying Bannon’s quote from his speech, that “if you have the wisdom, the strength, the tenacity, to hold that coalition together, we will govern for 50 to 75 years,” the AP drew the entire picture.
In 2007, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger warned that the GOP was “dying at the box office.” The party sealed its fate three years later, when it “blocked an attempt by moderates to push the state GOP platform toward the center on immigration, abortion, guns and gay rights.”
The Los Angeles Times made a lot of the same points, saying the decision to invite Bannon “created an unsettled concoction of excitement, dread and rubbernecking curiosity for GOP loyalists in the state” and that “admirers hope his speech will invigorate the GOP base and lure Trump supporters outside of the party into the fold, but Republican critics worry he’ll undercut efforts to rekindle the party in a state where Trump and his policies remain widely unpopular.”
“Other California GOP strategists noted that Democrat Hillary Clinton beat Trump in the state by more than 4.2 million votes in November,” the Times reported. “Their party can only grow if it becomes more inclusive, they said.”
But the party faithful – the people who presumably know best why they are losing elections and members at a record pace – liked what they heard from Bannon.
The audience booed the mention of former President George W. Bush when Bannon brought up the speech Bush gave in New York last week, in which he said bigotry had become emboldened in the U.S. and we needed to learn to accept globalization.
The crowd cheered wildly when Bannon ripped him into him about it, saying, “There has not been a more destructive presidency than George Bush’s.”
They applauded his praise of President Trump, his call to action against the GOP establishment, which it looks as if will include multiple challenges to incumbents by Trump-aligned candidates, and his strong words of encouragement for their forlorn party.
They further applauded his warning against dangerous “global elites” and the Silicon Valley’s “lords of technology,” whom he said if not stopped in their quest to defy immigration and other laws, they will secede within a decade.
The media prescription for California is the same as it is for all Republicans: Become more moderate and inclusive, vote with Democrats more often, soften your messages for the things Republicans hold dear – respect for rule of law, border enforcement, low taxes and individual freedom.
Yet the enthusiasm for Bannon’s speech indicates the state’s most active Republicans have tried that strategy and found it wanting – and with good reason. Democrats have a nearly 2:1 registration edge, control all statewide offices and have commanding majorities in both houses of the state legislature.
“Intellectually and ideologically, the energy of what is left of the conservative movement here is absolutely with Bannon,” said Tim Donnelly, a former state assemblyman. “He’s the only reason a lot of these people are coming to the convention.”