AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
California brought us Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, but now Kristin Olsen says the Republican Party is dead in California. It's kind of a big deal since she's the former vice chair of the state Republican Party. But that's exactly what she wrote in an op-ed for CALmatters.
Kristin Olsen joins us now to talk about where California Republicans go next. Welcome to the program.
KRISTIN OLSEN: Thank you.
CORNISH: So you sound like you're smiling, but the first line of your op-ed is, the California...
OLSEN: I'm always smiling, even on the bad days.
CORNISH: The first line of your essay, though, is, the California Republican Party isn't salvageable at this time. With this most recent election, has something ended, to your mind?
OLSEN: It has. And I certainly wasn't smiling when I wrote that op-ed. I actually found it a very difficult, sad thing to write as somebody who's spent her entire adult life in Republican politics.
But at some point, you have to acknowledge reality. We have fewer Republicans serving in the California State Assembly now since the 1800s. Orange County, a historically red county, if not one of the reddest counties in the entire nation, went all Democratic for the congressional races. It was a blue tsunami, to say the least, and, I believe, the death of the California Republican Party at this time.
CORNISH: You write that you believe the party has failed because it failed to separate itself from the national brand of Republican politics. Is that even possible if you have a guy like, you know, Kevin McCarthy - major leader in the House who is very close to the president?
OLSEN: And that is a very fair question - whether it's possible. For a few years now, we've believed that you could, or at least the last couple years since Donald Trump was elected president - that we could, as California Republicans, rise above that national brand, show a different path being solution-focused, demonstrating that we care about people in their daily struggles. But as election night proved, it wasn't enough to overcome that national toxic brand.
CORNISH: Can you give me two issues that you know for fact play nationally for Republicans but in California are toxic?
OLSEN: One was Charlottesville. The fact that the Trump presidency did not immediately call out the racism, the hatred, the violence that was going on there, that was a major falling-off-the-cliff point, if you will, for Californians.
A second issue - separating children from families at the border. Of course we all want to have secure borders, but our economy is also so reliant on immigration. And we need to be able to streamline ways so that people can immigrate here legally but that we're also keeping families together. And that was a very troubling point for many California Republicans.
CORNISH: Is the issue really that you're out of line with the current Republican Party, not that the party is somehow the problem, because there are other states that went more red, right?
CORNISH: If you look at Missouri or something like that - you just may be in the wrong place.
OLSEN: I sure hope not. I've spent a lot of time over the last couple years, actually, evaluating, doing some self-reflection and evaluating, did I leave the party? Did my principles change, or did the party leave me? And I really tried to do an honest assessment of that to the extent that you can. And I truly believe the party left me. I feel like my core principles today are the same principles I've always had, the same ones that are at the root of the Republican Party - economic opportunity, freedom, liberty, individual responsibility, fiscal accountability.
Those are not values that I see being championed by today's national Republican Party in a Trump presidency. That's heartbreaking for me to say that, but I do believe the party has moved into a place that it didn't used to be. This is not the party of Abraham Lincoln or Ronald Reagan.
CORNISH: Kristin Olsen, thank you so much for speaking with us.
OLSEN: Oh, you're welcome. Thanks for reaching out.
CORNISH: That was Kristin Olsen. She is a Stanislaus County supervisor and former vice chair of the California Republican Party.
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