What It Means to Be a California Republican A TV writer struggles with what it means to be a member of the GOP in a state known for liberals. He guides us from the "Yankee-style East Coast Republicans" of Pasadena to what he terms the "Cowboy Christian Cluster" of the Central Valley.
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What It Means to Be a California Republican

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What It Means to Be a California Republican

What It Means to Be a California Republican

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But California also does have an awful lot of Republicans. I mean, this is Ronald Reagan's state. And they are influential in the party, particularly as a source for campaign funds. In the national party, I mean.

So we asked television writer and Republican Rob Long about what it means to be a GOP supporter in the Golden State. And he came back to us with this essay.

Mr. ROB LONG (TV Writer): About the best thing you can say about the California Republican Party is that it is not dead.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. LONG: No, not dead, but it is sitting in the day room staring out the window, waiting for the nurse to bring its meds. It's trying to remember exactly who it is. Or was.

Imagine, if you can, lifting up the eastern edge of the country into a gentle westward tilt. Maybe wiggle it back and forth a little to shake loose the rootless bits and tumble them all our way. And what you have then is California conservatism.

And so the California Republican Party is a loose - very loose - confederation of a lot of different, incompatible cultures. In places like Pasadena, Hillsborough, Rancho Santa Fe, it's a little bit of the Yankee-style East Coast Republican establishment - finance types, stock types, cut my capital gains taxes, eliminate the death tax, let my lesbian daughter adopt, not so much with the Jesus, and let's play polo. These are George H. W. Bush Republicans. Get-alongers and tennis players who gaze out at the offshore oil derricks with a private pleasure they dare not name.

(Soundbite of song, "Yummy")

Ms. GWEN STEFANI (Singer): I'm feeling yummy head to toe.

Mr. LONG: Now, in places like Irvine and Mountain View and Walnut Creek, it's go-go capitalism. Libertarian zillionaires, Web entrepreneurs, hedonists, real estate Zinfandel cigar aficionados. You know what I mean? New Republicans, small-business boosters, regulation haters, e-traders. These guys vote Republican but they're fickle - they like new. They like young. Two words we don't usually associate with the Grand Old Party. Think Tony Robbins crossed with Jack Bauer and a little Tommy Bahama thrown in.

Sun-baked cowboy Christians cluster around San Bernardino, Bakersfield, Fresno, the Central Valley, the agricultural spine of the state where Oklahoma moved during the Dust Bowl, where they raise a lot of cattle and lettuce and grapes and stone fruits and they don't drink lattes.

(Soundbite of song, "America First")

Mr. MERLE HAGGARD (Singer): Why don't we liberate these United States? We're the ones who need it the worst.

Mr. LONG: This is Christian bedrock country, squinty-eyed Carhart-wearing salt-of-the-earth Reagan country. These are conservatives - not Republicans - and they'll let you know it. They're defenders of traditional values - churchgoers and Kiwanis clubbers, suspicious of government, especially federal, especially Eastern.

(Soundbite of campaign song, "Buckle Down with Nixon")

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Buckle down with Nixon. Buckle down.

Mr. LONG: Now, a little to the south they transition into Orange County Republicans. Those are the Republican aristocrats of California, the Nixon voters, the commie-haters. They were there at the creation. And a little to the north and east we start getting into off-the-grid territory - survivalist Federal Reserve-hating black helicopter-scouting fringers.

What you have then is a pretty diverse group of Californians all trying to align themselves with a single party, all jostling under a not-quite-big-enough tent. What you have, in other words, is trouble, all mixed together, with two-and-a-half major media markets frantically trying to beam a unifying signal across the whole bunch of them. California, they say, is the future. But it's also the past - shaken loose, rolled downhill, all mixed up. There's a reason our favorite dish is the salad.

We all came here - whether to pan for gold or develop Facebook widgets - to enjoy a dollop of prosperous counterculture rootlessness. California's most exemplary citizens, in other words, have had two things in common since 1849 - blue jeans and greed.

But for the past 20 years, the party of Nixon and Reagan has drifted into fragments. When Democratic Governor Gray Davis was recalled a few years ago and replaced with Arnold Schwarzenegger, instead of galvanizing the state party, it revealed the cracks and fault lines up and down the state. Schwarzenegger, you see, is a Hollywood Republican, meaning he's mellow about gays and abortion and marijuana. A lot of us out here are mellow about those things. But we're still Republicans and still, comparatively at least, conservatives.

In California it is possible to drive an electric car with your third wife for a stop at the holistic tea house run by your gay son and his husband on the way to the polling place where you will vote for Arnold Schwarzenegger because he's a conservative, damn it, and that's what this country needs. And if you get that, you get California, and if you don't, you don't.

People are making Facebook widgets in Chicago. They're growing grapes in Texas. California used to be made up of little pieces of America. And now America is made up of little pieces of California.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: Television writer and rare Hollywood Republican Rob Long. And you can learn more about him at his Web site, Roblong.com.

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