One of my ongoing political passions is the California US Senate race.
For the greater part of my life, I have lived in a state languishing under two of the more liberal and/or worst US Senators in modern history. Dianne Feinstein, the senior senator by a few months, won her latest reelection by 30 points. She had deftly refused to debate her last opponent, arrogantly confiding to one reporter: “I’m running my own campaign.”
Feinstein is barely tolerable compared to her ultra-liberal, retiring counterpart. Junior US Senator Barbara Boxer, a progressive figurehead, claimed that a “baby is a baby when it’s born,” relentlessly playing the “War on Women” card. She engaged in subtle race-baiting against the CEO of the Black Chamber of Commerce. She also glibly taunted US Senator Lindsey Graham. No one can forget her shameless shaming of US Senator James Inhofe after the 2006 election. Elections have consequences? They sure did in 2014, when Boxer playfully ate her own words (with far less media present). Histrionic but ultimately inconsequential, Boxer will not be missed.
Now that Boxer is trading “Senator” for “Ma’am” once again (including a weird rhyme to her grandson), there is conservative hope in the Golden State. Or is there? While the state motto may be “Eureka!” (I’ve found it), California conservatives have not yet found the candidate to restore the Republican glister in the deep blue state. In 2014, Republicans unseated Democratic incumbents in the state assembly. Can the California Republican Party translate local victories to its first statewide victory since 2006?
Who was the last statewide Republican to run and win? Insurance commissioner Steve Poizner, but he has not signaled any interest, either, even though he is the latest winning statewide Republican who then ran for higher office (he lost the 2010 gubernatorial primary).
Another name has been on many Republicans’ minds, lips, and hearts: Condoleezza Rice.
Why not Condi? A successful African-American woman (check all three boxes for good identity politics), she governed Stanford University as a prudent provost. A strong profile in personal integrity, Rice did more than merely travel as National Security Adviser then Secretary of State during the Bush Administration. Also to her credit: she rebuffed rude Boxer who impugned her character during her confirmation hearing as Secretary of State. She is moderate on key issues, which would ingratiate her to a more centrist voting bloc.
Rice would be the perfect candidate for US Senate. I even contacted her through a friend of mine to consider running. Her response was respectful yet succinct:
I know we'll have a good candidate .... and please thank Mr. Schaper for me and tell him that I'm honored by his appeal. Political office isn't for me....
Fine. She is not interested in the seat. Politics is not for everyone.
And yet I am still getting eblasts soliciting donations to “Draft Condi for US Senate”.
Didn’t they get the memo? Who is connected with these eblasts? The Conservative Action Fund (CAF). The group’s chairman, Shaun McCutcheon (of McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission fame) answered some questions about these email donation requests pushing a Condi candidacy:
Where does the money go? How are you spending it?
[A]bout 40% of CAF money goes direct to conservative candidates in campaigns. The rest goes primarily to media firms to send conservative messages like this message which is not reported as a campaign expense. Candidate recruitment, polls and other political messages are part of the 60%.
What is your role within the organization, because I get the blasts with your name attached to them?
I’m the chairman. I don't control the fund. I'm the largest contributor to the funds.
She is conservative enough for California. Potential candidates need all the positive support they can get. Certainly positive messages may persuade her to run. Running is hard and there are always plenty of reasons not to run.
A bigger question lingered: will this petition work? Frankly, any online draft petition defeats the whole purpose. Rice is appealing precisely because of her strong leadership record: not taking polls or weighing public relations reactions. She said “No!” and she meant it. Give up it, national conservatives. She is not running.
Yet why do these political groups keeping promoting “Draft Condi”? Raising money. It seems unethical to keep trying to draft someone who has declared both publicly and privately: “No thanks.”
What is the fundamental lesson for conservative partisans? Running for office is not fantasy football. Real people invest time and energy into a campaign, as McCutcheon has explained. It’s an office, a calling, not just another person bringing up numbers in a legislative body.
It seems that California conservatives, like their national counterparts, want “the perfect candidate” the same way that prospective buyers look for the perfect car: right age, low mileage, cheap insurance costs, etc. You can find a good car, and California Republicans will find a good candidate.
Besides, why should Republicans fall into this “Fearless Leader” complex, as if the “just right” candidate will set aright the flailing course of California’s comeback, capitulating to the right amount of pleas? No one considered a one-term Congressman from Illinois, with a record of routine failure, viable let alone electable for President. Yet Abraham Lincoln became the first Republican Chief Executive, with an honorable legacy of freeing the slaves, keeping the United States united.
Lincoln’s momentum did not start with him, anyway, but from grassroots coalitions of pro-liberty abolitionists and disaffected Whigs and Democrats fearful for the Union’s fate. Before Lincoln, Republican John C. Fremont charted a pathway to the Presidency, running as a military leader who helped take California from Mexican to American hands.
So, Condi isn’t running. Conservatives shouldn’t lament, for one candidate cannot restore what California, and this country, need once again. Good conservative representation matters, but its success rests on concerted efforts of concerned citizens making the difference.