Three Questions to Ask Every Recall Election Candidate

GELFAND’S WORLD-We've got the governor's recall election coming up in barely two months, and the clowns are parading into the ring. Here are three questions that ought to be asked of every candidate: 

  • Who won the 2020 presidential election? 
  • Were the people who stormed the Capitol building engaging in a violent insurrection or just acting like tourists? 
  • What must California do to protect our lives and property against global warming? 

There is a serious point in asking these questions up front. It's to make clear what this election is actually about. Just recently, and in the pages of this publication, one of our writers tried to sell the governor recall not as partisan, but as a peoples' movement. The argument is that California is in such bad shape that we desperately need somebody to take over. Notice that this would be in spite of the fact that we would have a governor who would have to deal with a solidly Democratic legislature. 

The alternative viewpoint might be described somewhere along these lines: California Republicans have been getting clobbered both statewide and in congressional elections. When John Cox ran on the Republican ticket against Gavin Newsom, he got smacked down hard. It was the same way down the rest of the ticket. 

And there was a reason for that shellacking. The voters of California don't like the Republican Party very much. They show that in their registration numbers and in our elections. At one point, the Republican registration momentarily fell behind the total for no-party voters. 

Imagine that. What used to be called Independent, and then Decline to State, and is now No Party beat out the registration numbers for the Republican Party of John Cox and Kevin Faulconer. 

But then we had the epidemic and people with official responsibility were put in the position of having to make decisions. It's always fun to listen to candidates talking about making "tough decisions," but when people from the Governor on down to the County Health Board actually had to do so -- trying to contain the hospitalization and death totals -- it was inevitable that some people would find fault. 

Our governments, both local and statewide, had to do something, and it was a situation that would inevitably cost restaurant owners, tavern keepers. and shopping malls a lot of money. 

And then, in a most remarkable bit of opportunism, the right wing in this country decided to play on peoples' frustration by telling us how insignificant the COVID-19 was, and how wearing masks was a scam, and all that. You know the drill. Two-thirds of a million dead doesn't seem that insignificant to me, but I guess it's a matter of your personal perspective. 

So it isn't surprising that some Trumpian diehards and financially stressed restaurant owners (and Republicans in general) decided to take advantage. It's not that expensive to get the petition signatures, particularly when you have a dedicated corps of volunteers who joined the ranks. They got the sigs, more than a million and a half of them, so Californians will be put to the test in September. 

There seem to be two or maybe three serious candidates running against Newsom, which means they are also running in favor of the recall. One of them has already spent a pile of money posing with a grizzly bear and saying he will do the stuff that has to get done, or something like that. The commercials refer to him as "The Beast." It's a curious thing for a candidate to want to be called The Beast, but some advertising company must have figured out that if you want to play on calling Newsom Beauty, then you better call your own candidate The Beast. 

It's not a bad metaphor if you can manage to take it seriously. Newsom as Beauty is presumably meant to signify some sort of effeminacy to the voters. And the agency that crafted the ads tried to make being The Beast into some sort of virtue. The only problem for John Cox in those ads is that he doesn't look anything like a tough guy, much less The Beast. 

And this is where it hits the fan. As The Beast, Cox is also being sold as a competent and honorable sort. He's not being portrayed by his handlers simply as somebody who can appoint a Republican to a U.S. Senate seat should one become open. He is supposed to be the guy with integrity. 

Based on the Cox record, I'm not sure he's such a prince of a fellow, but that's why I want to ask him the question: 

Who won the 2020 presidential election? 

If Cox has honesty and integrity -- not to mention half a brain and a bit of courage -- then he will immediately answer, "Joe Biden." 

That would be the proper and truthful answer but consider -- it's important to distinguish an honest Republican from the likes of Kevin McCarthy or the rest of the California Republican delegation in the House of Representatives. The voters of California have a right to know whether they are being asked to put the wolves in charge of the chicken coop. 

It's also important that the man be independent enough to work with non-Republicans in the state legislature. 

And there is of course the additional question about the appointment of judges and state Supreme Court justices. Do we want the kind of judges appointed by Donald Trump? 

So that's the first question that each candidate in this recall election should be asked. "Do you honestly believe that Donald Trump won the election and should be put back in place as president?

I would hate to see anybody unwilling to say "Trump lost" be put in authority. But at the moment, the litmus test for Republican candidates appears to be blind obedience to Donald Trump. Do John Cox or Kevin Faulconer bow at that shrine, or are they grownups? It's a critical question and needs to be asked. 

The follow up question about the Capitol rioters serves to underscore the importance of the first question. Shall we have a person in the highest statewide office who supports the violent overthrow of the lawful government of the United States of America? The truthful answer is obvious, but we're not getting a lot of truth out of the bulk of practicing Republicans at the moment. 

And finally, the question about climate change and global warming. Allow me to remind you that the right wing of the Republican Party, personified by Rush Limbaugh, mocked the concept of global warming as early as the 1990s. We've lost time in trying to do something about the problem and we are suddenly facing the beginnings of a global catastrophe. Yet when asked about the problem, Donald Trump actually stated outright that he didn't think the science was there. It's ironic in the extreme that an intentionally ignorant person like Trump would even mention the word Science, but there you are. 

And we are beginning to face the start of what promises to be some truly difficult problems. What would we do if the valley went to 125 degrees and stayed there for a week? How many people have to die if we do nothing? 

So this is another question to ask the recall candidates. 

I've concentrated on two candidates who have been putting up television ads. But the press will also talk about Caitlyn Jenner and perhaps even Larry Elder. Jenner comes across politically as something of a joke, but Elder at least has a record as a radio host with a solid core of principles and the ability to debate the issues. I don't think that most California voters will agree with much of what he has to say, but at least he says it. But if Elder manages to get his name on the ballot (and there are apparently some legal difficulties about his paperwork), he will have an additional problem. As much as he may bluster, I doubt that Elder has either the name recognition or the public support to collect all that many votes. Yes, there is a hard core of talk radio listeners, but I don't think they are a majority. If they were, Trump would have won the state. 

As every pundit and professor will be telling us, the main question isn't whether the California voters want to replace a Democrat with a Republican, but whether or not Democrats and Democrat-adjacent independent voters will vote in the recall election. There will be a lot more to talk about in the coming weeks, but I suspect that the first clue will be preliminary numbers on mail-in ballots. Newsom will hope to bank a sizable number of votes well before election day. If he can't do that, he could be in trouble. 

Therefore, Newsom's strategy should be obvious. "Make a statement" is what he should be telling his voter base.


(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected].) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.