LOS ANGELES (AP) — Two of the nation’s prominent Republicans on Wednesday envisioned a future for the GOP far removed from President Donald Trump’s Twitter blasts, where inclusiveness, a kinder tone and a willingness to work with Democrats on immigration and climate change shape the agenda.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former California governor, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, another moderate Republican and 2016 Trump rival, talked of the need for both parties to move away from political extremes to address issues ranging from disparity in education to those left behind in a jobs-rich economy.
“I’m sick of politics,” Kasich, a potential 2020 presidential candidate, said at one point at a forum in Los Angeles, eliciting a round of applause.
Knitting his fingers together repeatedly for emphasis, he said people need to work together, and he recalled President Ronald Reagan working with Democrats on Social Security.
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Reagan was no doctrinaire, Kasich said, but “operated to fix things.”
In an obvious dig at Trump, Schwarzenegger said that voters were looking for answers but that the party “is giving them Twitter fights instead.” The president’s name, however, came up only sparingly Wednesday.
“We can’t be afraid to talk about health care,” Schwarzenegger said. “We can’t be afraid to talk about the environment.”
Their remarks came at an event organized by New Way California, a political committee eager to reshape the California GOP, which has been shedding voters for years. Republicans have become largely irrelevant in California government, where Democrats control every statewide office and dominate the Legislature.
The effort to move the state party in a different direction comes at a time when Trump is the dominant figure in national Republican politics, and conservatives hold sway in Washington. Since Trump’s election, California has emerged as a vanguard in the so-called Trump resistance, and Democratic state Attorney General Xavier Becerra has filed nearly 30 lawsuits to block administration proposals.
New Way California was formed by Republican state lawmaker Chad Mayes, who was ousted as the party’s Assembly leader after he worked with Democrats on climate change legislation.
Mayes, a conservative, said the group hoped to “shed the stereotype of an intolerant Republican Party that serves only the rich and big businesses.”
While a registered Republican, Schwarzenegger is known for his varied political stripes. As far back as 2007, in his second term as governor, he warned that the GOP was “dying at the box office” and needed to claim issues usually associated with the Democratic agenda, such as climate change and health care reform.
At the time, he said the GOP could win elections by “including, not excluding. By being open to new ideas.”
But there were few specifics Wednesday about how the group would achieve its goal of moving the GOP toward the political center. Schwarzenegger suggested cutting fundraising dollars for the state GOP, and Mayes talked of future activism.
Kasich warned that political parties risk peril if they grow distant from voters.
“The consumers are getting frustrated,” he said. “In an era of unbelievable change, you will begin to see parties crop up that will begin to serve their customers. … You think our millennials care about what political party they’re in?”
California was once the home of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, but Republican influence in the state has been declining for years as a surge in immigrants transformed the state and its voting patterns.
The combined total of Hispanics, blacks and Asians has outnumbered whites since 1998. Hispanics, who lean Democratic, surpassed whites as the state’s largest racial or ethnic group in 2014. Republicans now account for only one in four voters in the state.
California Republicans have bickered for years over what direction to turn — toward the political center or to the right.
Party conservatives have long chaffed at moving away from what they see as bedrock values. In 2011, for example, moderate Republicans pushed changes to the state GOP platform that avoided any mention of overturning Roe v. Wade and dropped a demand to end virtually all federal and state benefits for people who entered the U.S. illegally. The proposal failed.
Schwarzenegger appeared to nudge his old friend into considering another White House run. He urged Kasich, a former congressman, to “get back to Washington and kick some butt.”