Larry Elder: Damn right I'd replace Dianne Feinstein in the Senate with a Republican, and I may get the chance

Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP

He’s being shredded by the chatterati on social media this afternoon for saying this to Mark Levin, having supposedly committed a major strategic blunder by doing so. I get the argument. But I disagree.

Why do people think it’s a blunder? Read yesterday’s post on Gavin Newsom’s surge in the polls and you’ll see. Newsom’s recall campaign struggled last month as COVID rose in California and Republicans laid low, turning the election into a referendum on his lackluster term as governor. But recently he had two strokes of good luck. One was the COVID picture brightening in his home state while it worsened in southern Republican areas, giving him an opening to tout his pandemic policies as a comparative success.

The other was the emergence of a big-name strong conservative like Larry Elder as the leading vote-getter among GOP candidates. That gave Newsom a foil, one well-known to California liberals and against whom it’d be easy for them to rally. Newsom turned the recall from a referendum on him into a choice between him and his Trumpy talk-radio opponent. The numbers in favor of recalling him dropped. Right now it seems unlikely that he’ll lose.

Conventional wisdom has it that Elder should tack towards the center to try to blunt Newsom’s claims that he’s some sort of radical. And he has, a little: For instance, he’s pointed out that even if SCOTUS struck down Roe, California’s very Democratic legislature would be able to legalize abortion in the state even over Gov. Elder’s veto. But when the subject of Dianne Feinstein came up today on Levin’s show, he couldn’t resist warning California’s voters that he’ll name a Republican if her seat were to be vacated. Which, of course, would hand Mitch McConnell and the GOP a 51/49 majority.

Was it a blunder to give Democratic voters even more reason to turn out against him? Some say yes:

Dave Weigel remembered an irony of the famous 2003 recall election, in which Schwarzenegger *did* position himself as a centrist to try to woo Democrats:

Elder’s running to the right in his own bid, and not just on Feinstein and her replacement. He’s also taken to winking at right-wing election truthers after disappointing them (and then reversing himself) last month:

Is it crazy for Elder to close out his campaign by tossing red meat to Republicans in a state Biden won by 30 points? I don’t think so. What would he gain by steering to the center now? Californians know who he is, and to the extent that they don’t, Newsom’s done a solid job of defining him as “Trump but worse.” If Elder tried to counter that by moderating, he’d come off as phony and lose some of his conservative support without picking up much in the middle.

This is a “turnout election,” right? Well, the only way Elder and the GOP win is by blowing the roof off in turnout and hoping that Newsom and the Dems underperform. That being so, the obvious move is to gorge on red meat and hope for the best. “I’ll flip the Senate by replacing Feinstein with a Republican” is serious GOP turnout fuel. And serious Democratic turnout fuel if Dems are paying attention. Are they? Because Republicans are.

And by the way, I don’t know if what he says about Feinstein being off the grid is true but it certainly is true that Democrats have whispered about her mental capacity for awhile now. Partly that may be sour grapes by California progressives who despise her for being a centrist and are awaiting the day when they can replace her with a real lefty, but only partly. The prospect of a sudden vacancy that Gov. Elder would fill is a real one.

Listen to a few minutes of him with Levin this afternoon. His “Are you happy?” pitch here is smart and effective, as it’s a way to try to turn the election back into a referendum on Newsom. If voters go into the booth asking themselves that question, the chance of an upset rises.