California recall exposes the limit of Trump’s GOP

Barring a major surprise, California Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomBiden stumps for Newsom on eve of recall: ‘The eyes of the nation are on California’ Biden looks to climate to sell economic agenda California wildfire forces more evacuations as Biden prepares to visit state MORE (D) will bat back a recall effort on Tuesday. 

Two recent polls have shown around 60 percent of California voters favor keeping Newsom in office. It’s a noticeable shift in a race that appeared much closer at the height of summer. 

Newsom is spending lavishly on ads to juice Democratic turnout, and he’s also getting help from the biggest names in the party: Vice President Harris campaigned with him last Wednesday, and President BidenJoe BidenBiden stumps for Newsom on eve of recall: ‘The eyes of the nation are on California’ Biden looks to climate to sell economic agenda Family of American held hostage by Taliban urges administration to fire Afghanistan peace negotiator MORE is due to do so Monday evening.

But Newsom’s single biggest advantage comes in the shape of the person most likely to replace him, should he lose. 

Conservative talk show host Larry Elder has vaulted to the top of the list of more than 40 candidates vying to supplant Newsom. He has done so using the same fiery rhetoric he deploys on the airwaves — and by taking several pages from former President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden stumps for Newsom on eve of recall: ‘The eyes of the nation are on California’ On The Money: House Democrats cut back Biden tax hikes Abortion providers warn of ‘chaos’ if Supreme Court overrules Roe v Wade MORE’s playbook. 

The Trumpian tactics include conjured-up claims of possible electoral fraud.  

On Monday, asked by MSNBC’s Jacob Soboroff whether he would commit to accepting the result of the recall election, Elder conspicuously declined.  

“We all ought to be looking at election integrity,” he said. 

Last week, Elder had spoken vaguely about the possibility of “shenanigans” in the election. 

Elder’s stances have lifted his profile, way beyond California. He has appeared on Sean HannitySean Patrick HannityRepublicans divided on Trump’s strength as possible 2024 candidate Trump meets first responders in NY on anniversary of 9/11 Trump says it’s an ‘easy question’ whether he’ll run again MORE’s Fox News show 45 times this year, according to a count by the liberal group Media Matters.  

Politically, the problem for Elder is that the same claims that rally the Republican base and boost his fame among conservatives turn off the wider electorate. It’s a particular problem in California, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 2 to 1. 

All of this, in turn, makes the California recall election another frustrating experience for those Republicans who believe the party has to cast a wider net than it has been doing in recent years. 

Susan Del Percio, a Republican strategist but strong Trump critic, described Elder’s rise in California as “frightening.”  

The talk-show host has at various times denied the reality of climate change, asserted that women “know less than men” about current events and denied a gender wage gap exists. 

“It’s interesting that Newsom’s messaging is, ‘You may not like me but he’s a lot worse. He is what you will get if you recall me,’ ” said Del Percio, who was critical of Newsom’s approach to COVID-19. 

Mike Madrid, a California-based GOP strategist, noted that most of the leading candidates to replace Newsom — not just Elder — were cut from Trump-like cloth. 

This helps Newsom’s case enormously, he said, especially given the Golden State’s underlying liberal lean. 

“Making it about a Trump supporter in California is a death knell,” Madrid said. Even for people who might not love the job Newsom has done in Sacramento, “for them to turn over the most Democratic-supporting state in the union to a Trump supporter is a stretch.” 

For Brendan Steinhauser, a Republican strategist in Texas, the whole trend in which well-known or inflammatory candidates tend to rise to the top of the GOP pack is “frustrating.” 

“We do have a lot of good, talented candidates who would probably do well in a general election,” he said. “But oftentimes they get stuck in the primary and bested by celebrity candidates.

“Republican voters want that bombastic, outspoken style.” 

All of this is fine and dandy with Democrats, of course. 

Their hope is that these same trends could make themselves felt next year, perhaps making it possible to hold on to seats where the party is clearly vulnerable. 

Democratic strategist Bob Shrum suggested that one such instance could come in Georgia. There, Herschel Walker, the former football star, has entered the GOP primary battle to challenge Sen. Raphael WarnockRaphael WarnockHerschel Walker holds wide lead over GOP rivals in Georgia Senate primary: poll This week: Democrats kick off chaotic fall with Biden’s agenda at stake Herschel Walker to make first public appearance since entering Senate race at Georgia football game MORE (D). 

But Walker also has a checkered personal history. The Associated Press reported in July that he had allegedly threatened to kill his ex-wife, inflated the success of his business interests and “alarmed business associates with unpredictable behavior.” 

In addition, Walker has written about his mental health struggles and has lived in Texas, not Georgia, for the past decade. 

“He has never voted, he hasn’t lived in Georgia and he has a very questionable background,” Shrum said. “I think he will likely win the Republican primary — and that is a race Warnock can win.” 

Shrum, a California resident, also believes that Newsom will be safe on Tuesday. He noted that the biggest anti-Newsom controversy came when he was spotted eating, maskless, in an expensive restaurant called French Laundry, breaking the rules he had imposed. 

But Shrum added: “People aren’t going to let Larry Elder run the state just because Gavin Newsom went to French Laundry.” 

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage. 

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