In 2016, Donald Trump became the first Republican to lose Orange County, California, heart of Reagan country, since 1936. As the 2018 mid term election results become finalized days after the election, it’s clear that Trump’s loss was a bellwether.
Orange County was once known as California’s “nut country” because of its right wing Republicans who hated gay people and Mexicans, and for the residents’ support of the John Birch Society. The county was once considered an impenetrable GOP stronghold, and Ronald Reagan referred to it as conservative heaven.
But after the 2018 mid-terms the transformation from red to blue is complete as Democrats swept every single House district in the county, flipping two seats from Republican incumbents as well as picking up a third vacated one.
Who’s In, Who’s Out
GOP incumbent Mimi Walters of the 45th congressional district, heart of Reagan country, went all-in for Trump in her election campaign and in the end it cost her as she lost to Democratic challenger Katie Porter, a consumer protection lawyer, professor, and protege of Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Ma).
Democrat Mike Levin won the seat retiring GOP representative Darrell Issa had held for nearly 20 years, though in 2016 Issa barely clung to his seat, winning by only half a percentage point. In retrospect Issa’s narrow win was also a foreshadowing for Democratic success in 2018.
Even GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher lost the seat he’d held for 30 years to real estate entrepreneur Harley Rouda in what had been one of the deepest red parts of the county. Rohrabacher, a former speechwriter for Reagan, has been the most pro-Russia Congressman in the entire GOP delegation; so much so, that the FBI warned him Russian spies were trying to recruit him.
GOP Would Benefit From Some Introspection
As a long-time progressive, I’m delighted with these results because I think politicians are getting the message that they pay a price for aligning themselves closely with Trumpism, which in my view could best be summed up as espousing racism in lieu of a policy platform. Trumpism plays well with his base, but as the results in Orange County show it’s simply not a sustainable strategy for the GOP.
If I were a GOP strategist or leader, I’d be taking a very close look at what just happened in Orange County (of all places!) to figure out what propelled the Democrats to victory across the entire county. If like me you grew up knowing the county’s reputation, you’re likely shocked – as am I – at this mid term result.
Perhaps The GOP Leadership Needs To Change
While I celebrate the Democratic victories, I’m also aware that a healthy democracy needs a principled, thoughtful opposition to remain healthy. While there are numerous principled GOP politicians, I wouldn’t count the current leadership among them, and Congressional leadership has significant influence on the range and quality of legislation that’s allowed to as much as come forward for a vote.
So our country deserves leadership who considers the welfare of everyone not just those who have sufficient money to buy influence; who considers America’s role in a changing geopolitical world, and has carved out a clear moral vision and platform that isn’t subject to the whims of the moment.
We may well disagree for the rest of our lives on how we care for all of us, how our country leads going forward, and even our most fundamental morals. Which is fine. That’s how we end up with better policies – when we open them up to thoughtful discussion and debate.