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Commentary | PATT MORRISON

Blindly Fighting for the Right to Lose

State GOP group's purity test is political suicide.

June 22, 2005|PATT MORRISON | Patt Morrison's e-mail address is patt.morrison@latimes.com.

Heard the one about the man holding a gun to his own head and hollering, "Don't come any closer, or I'll shoot''?

It's funnier as a political joke -- just fill in your favorite self-destructive entity. Today's is the California Republican Assembly, a grass-roots group that makes a habit of holding a gun to its own head, and the national Republicans, who evidently want to be just like it.

The CRA is the bemuscled bouncer of California GOP politics. You want the nomination, or even an endorsement? You go through the CRA. By the time a candidate staggers out the far end of its conservative purity-test grinder, there's not much electable meat left on his bones. The CRA would rather be right than president, or senator, or water commissioner. Californians are mixed nuts politically -- pro-choice, pro-death penalty, pro-gun control -- but the CRA has launched candidate after candidate who wows 'em in the primary but crashes and burns in November.

If minoxidil sells well in California, it's because Republicans are always tearing their hair out, wailing that its candidates "can't even beat Boxer." Barbara Boxer, who California Republicans have made into their Hillary Clinton, has bested every candidate the GOP has thrown at her, partly because most of them are further right than she is left.

The capper came in 2002, when all eight Republican candidates lost every single statewide office to Democrats, which hadn't happened since Chester Arthur was president. Matters were so wretched that George W. Bush -- hardly a squishy moderate -- sent out an apparatchik to try to hose down the CRA.

And that "R," as in Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-Calif.)? The CRA would tell you darkly that it means RINO -- Republican In Name Only. Schwarzenegger probably would not be governor today if he'd had to run in a regular primary, where his pro-choice, pro-gay rights, I-sure-did-inhale record would have sunk him. A direct-to-voters recall campaign was the only way Schwarzenegger could bypass the long knives of the CRA.

If you want to see what the state would look like if the CRA actually got its kind of candidates elected, check out its franchise in D.C. Republican leaders yammer on about the sanctity of the family, then butt into Terri Schiavo's family's business. Some U.S. senators can't bring themselves to cosponsor a bill to apologize for their predecessors doing nothing to stop lynchings. The president waves a veto pen if anyone comes near him with substantive stem cell legislation. The GOP fiddles with a judicial filibuster while Baghdad burns and moms and dads have to buy body armor for their soldier kids. General Motors lays off 25,000, the trade deficit numbers look like space-travel distances, and Congress acts boldly to protect America -- with a flag-burning amendment.

The poll numbers even among the GOP base are starting to slide like a Laguna Beach hillside. A politician who knows a wipeout when he sees it coming is Dana Rohrabacher, the surfin' Republican congressman from Huntington Beach. Ten states voted for medical marijuana, and when the U.S. Supreme Court kneecapped California's version this month, Rohrabacher tried once again to sew the Justice Department's pockets shut to keep it from spending money to bust medical marijuana users. "I suggest that we vote for compassion and freedom and support this liberalization," said Rohrabacher in 2003. Last week? His colleagues turned him down again.

Rohrabacher is not alone in trying to wrestle the gun out of the GOP's hand. Two Republican senators want to close the Guantanamo prison to stop the bad PR. A gung-ho North Carolina Republican congressman who led the charge to re-christen Gallic spuds "freedom fries'' now says: Set a time to bring the troops home.

How far right is too far? Their own people are trying to tell them. Perhaps Rohrabacher should read them the CRA's bedtime story, "Good Night, Candidate.'' Otherwise, if Washington wants to follow the CRA and thunder over the precipice, far be it from me to do anything but jot down field notes -- they're the ones who want to dump the endangered species list.

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