On tricks California Republicans can use to win campaigns

On tricks California Republicans can use to win campaigns (Ted Rall / For The Times / March 27, 2014)

Republican Andy Vidak won an upset victory in last year's special election for a state Senate seat in the San Joaquin Valley. He prevailed despite the Democrats' 22-point advantage in voter registration in the district.

How'd he do it? His explanation: "Our message was that common sense has no party lines." But as The Times' Patrick McGreevy writes, his common sense might also have a lot to do with knowing when to shut up. "He sidestepped gay marriage and some other divisive issues — while taking a moderate approach to immigration," writes McGreevy.

California's state GOP is in dire straits, not having elected a Republican to statewide office since 2006. So it's not a big surprise that the party is looking to Vidak's strategy, which also worked for state Sen. Anthony Cannella of Ceres, as a way back to relevance. Both men were the only Republicans to vote with Democrats on a bill that gives wider access to driver's licenses for immigrants here illegally.

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Both the California and national GOP party platforms oppose gay marriage and concessions to residents here illegally.

The state politicians' interest in Vidak is a manifestation of an ongoing national debate. Prominent Republicans such as probable 2016 presidential candidate Rand Paul are urging the party to change its positions on these issues, saying that demographic changes require new thinking. "Republicans need to become parents of a new future with Latino voters or we will need to resign ourselves to being a permanent minority status," Paul said last year.

A February piece in the right-leaning Examiner.com lays out "Five things Republicans should just stop talking about already." No. 3 is social issues. "Republicans should de-emphasize social issues. Voters are split on issues like gay marriage and abortion, but they are much more united on the twin issues of the economy and Obamacare." No. 4 is immigration. "In contrast to the economy, immigration is an issue where many Republicans are at odds with a strong majority of voters."

The old dilemma is, should a party stick to its long-standing convictions, even if it means losing elections? Or should it accommodate its positions to reflect the changing opinions of voters?

What's new here is the suggested tactical compromise: Maintain your platform as is, do whatever you can to promote your ideals — in this case, opposition to gay marriage and illegal immigration — after you win enough elections to be in a position to do so. But don't talk about those issues to voters. Because if they knew what your stands were on them, they'd likely vote against you.

Count on people's ignorance. Bait-and-switch. Your future relies on lies of omission.

Vidak's la-la-la-I-can't-hear-you act on social issues may have won him a state Senate seat. But it's a hardly a promising way to restore people's faith in their elected officials.

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Ted Rall, who draws a weekly editorial cartoon cartoonist for The Times, is also a nationally syndicated opinion columnist and author. His new book is “Silk Road to Ruin: Why Central Asia is the New Middle East.” Follow Ted Rall on Twitter @TedRall.