Dan Morain

Donald Trump leaves California GOP in a mess

Consultant Paul Mitchell ditched his clothes on a losing bet that Democrats would not win the top-two slots for the U.S. Senate race in California.
Consultant Paul Mitchell ditched his clothes on a losing bet that Democrats would not win the top-two slots for the U.S. Senate race in California.

Conservative radio talker Hugh Hewitt urged Republicans to dump Donald Trump as their nominee, and Democratic consultant Paul Mitchell took the honorable if undignified step of making good on a bet by running naked around the Capitol early Wednesday.

Such was the state of Republican Party on the day after the California primary.

Once known for its discipline, the GOP faces a November election with no draw at the top of the state ticket, other than Trump. Given his low-energy showing on Tuesday, Trump would be stupid to return to California for any reason other than to defend himself in the Trump University fraud trial before U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, the target of Trump’s bigoted remarks the other day.

Although many ballots remained to be counted, Trump ended election day with 1.17 million votes, to Hillary Clinton’s 1.94 million and Bernie Sanders’ 1.5 million. Trump had promised to compete here in November. He won’t. It’s another lie.

Hewitt, the Orange County pundit, surveyed the wreckage that is Trump and told his Salem Radio Network audience that although Clinton is a terrible candidate, “She is going to be president unless the Republicans change their nominee.” That’s significant, given Hewitt’s reach in Republican circles.

And then there is Mitchell, a well-regarded, data-driven analyst, who in a lapse six months ago publicly vowed to jog around the Capitol in the altogether if two Democrats won the first and second spots in the top-two primary for the open U.S. Senate seat.

Hence, at 1 a.m., after Democratic Attorney General Kamala Harris had amassed 2 million votes, followed by Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez with 943,000 votes, Mitchell streaked. Imagine the surprise of the early morning skateboarders, who are said to have witnessed the spectacle, though come to think of it, if they frequent Capitol Park at 1 a.m., they’ve probably seen it before.

With Democrats Harris and Sanchez facing off for the Senate seat, Republicans will be saddled with no one other than Trump at the top of their ticket. And his presence will ripple to every congressional, state Senate and Assembly race.

“You could have historic low turnout for Republicans,” Mitchell said by phone later in the day, assuring me he was fully clothed. “It opens up the map for the Democrats.”

Consider Rep. Darrell Issa’s seat in North San Diego County, which has been deep red for as long as anyone can remember. The acerbic Republican congressman’s vote total hovered at 51 percent, down by 10 percentage points from the last presidential election year, 2012, and he received 15,000 fewer votes.

In Issa’s district, Democrats gained 10,000 voters and Republicans lost 10,000 registered voters in 2016 from four years ago, when Mitt Romney was the Republican’s standard-bearer. And Trump dared to call Romney a choke artist.

Issa probably will recover, but not without spending money to fend off a November challenge. That’s money he and outside donors won’t be spending to help Republicans win seats elsewhere in the country.

A similar phenomenon happened in districts across the state, as Republicans stayed away from the polls in droves, or at least by the thousands.

Rep. Tom McClintock, the Republican who lives in Elk Grove but represents one of the state’s most heavily Republican seats to the east, emailed a fundraising pitch two weeks ago in which he pledged his fealty to Trump.

“I think it's time for Republicans to pull together and get behind him,” McClintock declared. On Tuesday, McClintock received 17,000 fewer votes than he did four years ago; he will prevail, as he invariably does.

Based on Tuesday’s results, Democrats can reasonably aim for two-thirds majorities in the Senate and Assembly, which theoretically would allow them to approve taxes without Republican votes.

“I’m trying to find something good, but there is no silver lining on this very dark cloud,” Republican consultant Wayne Johnson said.

Republicans failed to make it into the top-two runoff in some legislative races, and lagged in others. Republican Assemblyman David Hadley, who represents the Manhattan Beach area outside Los Angeles, trailed his Democratic challenger, former Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, whom Hadley defeated two years ago. Muratsuchi ought to reclaim that seat in November.

Republican Assemblywoman Ling Ling Chang seeks to replace Republican Sen. Bob Huff in a Los Angeles County state Senate seat, but received a mere 45 percent of the vote. The two Democrats combined for the other 55 percent. The Democrat who prevails ought to win in the fall.

By the time Republicans cast their primary votes, Trump had locked up the nomination, and House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had endorsed him. And yet Trump received three-fourths of the votes tallied on Tuesday, meaning a fourth of the Republicans who bothered to vote protested by marking their ballots for also-rans who had dropped out.

California Republican leaders gamely say they are rebuilding the GOP. I’m not a betting man, and no one would want to witness me waddling around the Capitol, clothed or otherwise. But the Republicans will not make gains in California in 2016, not with Trump at the top of their ticket. They’ll be lucky if they don’t lose their shirts.