BY ISABELLA LORD
The California Republican convention put many people on edge this year. Republican voter turnout in California was at an all time low in the 2016 election. However, with Donald Trump in the White House, and the Republican Party’s overall success, a lot of right-leaning Californians are hopeful for the future. Still, Lyndon B. Johnson was the only Democratic candidate California nominated between 1952 and 1988. Since Bill Clinton however, the Golden State has stayed blue. Many attribute this to a shift in racial demographics, which have been drastically changing since the ‘60s. Hispanic-Americans now making up a greater percent of the population than White Americans, with Just 16 percent of those registered Hispanic-American voters in California identifying as Republican. Comparatively, only 15 percent of Asian Americans in California are registered as Republican. Among White Americans, however, the divide between Republican and Democrat in California is basically equal. No matter the cause, all Republicans in California know they are struggling. In February 2017, 25.9 percent of registered California voters chose the GOP. Less than a third of California State Senators are Republican. Without representation in the senate, there is little they can do besides celebrate national success. This is what they decided to do at the convention this year, by letting the controversial Breitbart editor and former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon speak.
Many were skeptical about the decision, since Bannon is known as a “GOP agitator” opposed to the White House elite. Early on in his speech, he claimed that “Trump is an existential threat to the system.” But California GOP chairman Jim Brulte said inviting Steve Bannon was an “easy call.” Despite the negativity, at least he is attracting attention to an event that may have otherwise been ignored. If they cannot attract attention to their party through senator campaigns, utilizing a national celebrity as leverage may have been a reasonable strategy. Besides, one must acknowledge that Steve Bannon has a large alt-right support base, most of whom are very young, and Republicans are seeming to acknowledge that making peace with the alt-right may be the only way to revitalize their movement. The unfortunate reality is that people are going to know Steve Bannon’s name when they hear it. That’s why they chose him to make a speech.
Last week, this risky decision attracted negative press and an excited crowd to Anaheim, California. Steve Bannon heralded Trump’s recent actions in withdrawing from UNESCO and the decertification of the Iran Deal. He declared, “Every day since Alabama is Christmas Day,” implying that Trump and the Republican party are on an upward trend since the Alabama senate race.
Bannon’s speech centralized the need for unity, both within the party and throughout the nation. He stressed the need for economic nationalism, stating, “it’s bringing those jobs back where the opioid crisis is today that’s gonna be our great challenge.”But the problem with Steve Bannon is that he’s calling for unity within a party he’s criticizing. By calling for “unity,” he is attempting to incite trust in Donald Trump and the new, anti-establishment right. As soon as he entered the White House, he proclaimed it would be a “season of war” against Republicans who didn’t put America first. He criticized George W. Bush for being a “more destructive president than Obama.” Further, he claimed the economic rise of China began with Bush and Clinton, and that it’s now up to the Republicans to stop it.
Perhaps Steve Bannon has a point: if Republicans want any chance in creating the America they want, they may either have to accept this new wave of alt-right thinkers, or, at the very least, try to adapt to them. Steve Bannon said “They [voters] haven’t responded to our message, they’ve responded to Trump.” The problem is that Trump’s supporters from the alt-right and Republican Party are divided by a massive generational gap and inherently different values. The alt-right is much more racially motivated, and places less emphasis on corporations. The audience Bannon spoke to in Anaheim is not the same that he writes to on Breitbart, and it’s unlikely at this point that the two will ever be on the same page. Still, both parties seem to be happy, or at least reluctantly supportive of Trump’s presidency.
Will the two groups unite to accomplish their goals, or turn themselves into a laughing stock? Only the next three and a half years will tell, but Bannon’s speech is an indicator that the Republican Party is on the eve of a reform that could resonate with more of Trump’s skeptics. For now, it just leads to a few raised eyebrows.