After months filled with speculative hand-wringing, deeply embarrassing moments of ass-showing, and at least one Kodiak bear, California voters went to the polls on Tuesday, handing incumbent Gov. Gavin Newsom a decisive victory, bringing to a close a quixotic recall election that had become a cause celebre among the dumber corners of the MAGA-verse.
There are, of course, lessons to be learned from the wildly unsuccessful conservative attempt to install a Republican governor in the country's most populous state. The GOP's ability to exploit California's ridiculously permissive recall laws, forcing Newsom to waste time and a whole lot of money — some quarter of a billion dollars at least — is a prime example of how the very systems designed to improve state politics can be manipulated for partisan purpose. That conservatives spent weeks setting the stage to preemptively claim a "rigged election" shows how much former President Donald Trump's refusal to accept his electoral loss has become the template for Republican candidates moving forward. Political scientists will undoubtedly pour through turnout data and exit polling to determine which candidate's message resonated most strongly with which voting bloc.
And yet, despite all these legitimate takeaways from Newsom's routing of top GOP contender Larry Elder, members of the elite chattering class of top-tier media pundits have nevertheless made the depressingly predictable decision to pontificate about the meaning and significance of the California recall race by getting every. single. thing. wrong.
Where to begin? How about CNN's Kasie Hunt, whose big takeaway from this week's election was that Newsom's 2-1 margin of victory means that Democrats are in big trouble.
Keep in mind that "the fact that a Democratic national star in waiting [itself a debatable assessment] faced a recall" is not a sign of GOP strength or Democratic weakness so much as it's a byproduct of California's absolutely bonkers recall rules, which can be triggered for governors if petitioners get signatures from just 12% of the number of people who voted for that office in the past election. If anything, the fact that there have been 55 recall attempts against California governors in the past century should be seen as proof positive of just how unremarkable the challenge to Newsom really was. AND YET.
While we're on the topic of bad takeaways, here's this:
Personally, I do not think an extremist outsider candidate promising his followers that "we're going to win the war" against Democrats is such a "good" playbook that more Republicans should follow. Have we not seen where that leads?
Speaking of "where that leads," here's CNN's Chris Cillizza, "leading" me to smash my head against a brick wall until either it or I crumble.
From his CNN article:
Ask yourself this: Had you ever heard of Larry Elder before this recall campaign? Yeah, I thought so. While Newsom's convincing win on the recall question made the "replace" question on the ballot pointless, it is worth noting — as NBC's Alex Seitz-Wald did — that Elder wound up getting almost 47% of the vote among almost four dozen candidates running to replace Newsom. That's far above where polling had him — generally in the high 20s — and suggests the Trumpist base of the party turned out for Elder. All of that means that Elder has a future in GOP politics in the state going forward. (The LA Times suggested he had emerged as the "putative leader of the state's Republican Party.") All of which is a MAJOR win for Elder.
Yes, evidently this nationally syndicated radio host, newspaper columnist, and TV fixture who has his own star on the Hollywood walk of fame — the man who helped shape the career of infamous, ignominious Trump adviser Stephen Miller — was a total nobody who managed to grab victory from the jaws of defeat by losing an election by a 2-1 margin. Absolutely brilliant analysis.
Let's be clear: This most recent recall election is not a nothing event. It's been a legitimate ploy by conservatives to exploit any number of social anxieties, such as our ongoing pandemic, and manipulate electoral laws for their own gain. And as such, it should be examined and analyzed accordingly. But any sort of high level "assessment" that doesn't start from that foundational truth is just like the recall itself: a waste of everyone's time.