We’re such a blue state that Republicans are toast here, right? Not so fast. Down at the state legislative level the GOP has mounted a major comeback. Their big problem now is a monster is devouring their party.
Grand Old Party doesn’t exactly sound fresh. So the state Republican Party, or GOP for short, has discussed rebranding itself as the Growth and Opportunity Party.
Many Washingtonians, particularly around Puget Sound, could be excused for thinking it stands for Gone Out to Pasture.
This is a party that hasn’t won a governor’s race here since 1980 — the longest losing streak in the nation. It hasn’t fielded a winning U.S. Senate candidate here since 1994. It now has only one statewide elected official, and she’s the only statewide-elected Republican on the entire West Coast.
But even with all that moribund history, local Republicans are nowhere near as dead as many in our increasingly liberal region may think. In fact they’re heading into the 2016 election with surprising odds to take control of both houses of the state Legislature. The party hasn’t won a majority of seats in both the state House and Senate since way back in 1996.
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“I like our chances more than theirs, and normally I can’t say that,” says Randy Pepple, a longtime GOP campaign strategist, who lives in Woodinville. “I haven’t favored our chances like this in a long time.”
You can tell Republicans sense this opportunity. It’s why they’re being so aggressive in Olympia right now.
Republicans control the state Senate by a two-seat margin. Whether you agree with their stances (sometimes I do, usually I don’t), they have skillfully used this tiny toehold on power to largely control the terms of debate at the state capital.
Democrats run the state House, but their huge 28-vote cushion there eight years ago has deflated today to only two. So the balance of power is up for grabs to an extent that’s unusual around here.
But as the GOP meets for its local caucuses next weekend, there’s a Frankenstein’s monster that even they say could obliterate their chances. Its name is Donald Trump.
The local GOP isn’t nominating a presidential choice at the Feb. 20 caucuses (that will happen at a May 24 primary). But The Donald and his potential to wreck their best-laid plans are sure to be a big topic of conversation.
Here’s the problem: Almost every major Republican official around here has already denounced Trump. Some have done it in derogatory terms that to me seem unprecedented for intraparty politics.
Examples: GOP Congressman Dave Reichert said, “Donald Trump is a joke.” Randy Pepple, mentioned above, said “Donald Trump is a bigot … a bully and a demagogue.” Sen. Joe Fain, of Auburn, the state Senate’s Republican majority floor leader, straight-up called Trump a “fascist.”
The GOP candidate for governor, Bill Bryant, said at a CityClub event in December that Trump “is unfit to be president, if he believes what he says.”
These are scorched-Earth statements. They’re worse than what Democrats have to say about Trump. So how do you make a case for your party to take over the state’s political system if it turns out the guy at the top of your ticket is, by your own admission, a troglodyte?
If he is at the top of the ticket. I figured Trump’s astonishing polling support would wane once the actual voting started. It’s one thing to tell a pollster you fancy someone, but quite another to show up, volunteer or vote.
But his victory in New Hampshire was so broad that I’m reassessing. The exit polls in that race were stunning: Trump won every imaginable category of voter. He won moderates and conservatives, millennials and seniors, rich and poor. He won evangelical Christians and the unchurched. He won those who told pollsters they favor giving amnesty to immigrants in the U.S. illegally — even though that’s diametrically opposed to the central plank of Trump’s campaign.
Pepple said he still believes Trump won’t be his party’s nominee. He admitted that’s as much hope as clear-eyed analysis.
So what if Trump is the nominee? I can’t recall a situation, ever, in which the prospective nominee and front-runner already had been disowned by so much of his own party.
“Well,” Pepple said hopefully, “maybe the Democrats will nominate the 74-year-old socialist.”
These sure are strange times. It’s stranger still that who runs our own state may hang in the balance.