Gavin Newsom’s overwhelming victory in California’s recall vote is a warning to Republicans to change their strategies and platform if they want to succeed in the mid-term elections.
California is bedeviled by horrific forest fires, power outages, water shortages, rising urban crime, COVID-19 restrictions, and surging illegal immigration. During the early days of the recall campaign, fallout from homelessness, a shoplifting epidemic that forced stores to close, and other sordid conditions gave Larry Elder some hope of deposing the governor.
Mr. Newsom is a high priest in the religion of woke, so much in fashion among morally pious and intolerant elites in finance, corporate suites, academia, and public schools. With his missionary fund-raising advantage, he managed to turn the recall ballot into a referendum on the Democrats’ approach to addressing the pandemic—specifically, President Biden’s policies versus those of Republican governors—and on Donald Trump.
Campaigning for Newsom, Mr. Biden said, “Voting no, we’ll be protecting California from Trump Republicans trying to block us from beating this pandemic.”
Republicans may choose to take some solace in the fact that so many Republicans have moved to Texas. However, despite all the agony the Golden State has endured this year, 64 percent of the electorate voted to retain Newsom—about the same as backed him for governor two years ago and voted for Mr. Biden last year.
In the wake of the President’s announcement to extend vaccine mandates to private firms deeper into public education and hospitals, conservatives, libertarians, and Republicans should not be surprised.
Unvaccinated Americans are 4.5 times more likely to get infected with COVID-19 and 11 times more likely to die if infected. Though the risk of a breakthrough infection is small for the vaccinated, they must be exposed to an infected individual to face that risk. Generally, that means exposure to unvaccinated, unmasked folks.
The United States lags all major industrialized countries in vaccinations. Delta disruptions keep us from traveling and slowing the economy, and public acceptance of vaccine mandates is rising.
Also, all the distress Californians endure did not move the needle for Mr. Elder—even among swing voters—because the Democrats have a narrative—however repugnant to libertarians and conservatives—that finds resonance among swing voters.
Specifically, climate change is threatening coastal communities and the global food system. Sexism, structural racism, and globalization beget jaundiced market outcomes, damaging inequality, and monopoly abuses.
They attack the old Washington Consensus policies—fiscal conservativism, light-touch regulation, and free trade—that delivered acceptable growth and social progress for Presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Clinton. However painful and expensive, they prescribe withdrawing from the world—leaving Afghanistan and cutting defense budgets—aggressive taxes on success and social spending, and tighter bank and antitrust regulation to redress inequality and boost growth.
The Democrats say their new taxes on households with incomes over $400,000 and corporations will pay for four entitlements—child allowances, universal pre-K and childcare, paid family and sick leave, and two years of free college—plus address climate change and a host of other ills.
Unfortunately, budget trickery abounds. These programs are likely to cost up to $2 trillion more than advertised. The tax haul will come up short because, contrary to Democratic claims, their program will slow growth.
For example, means-testing child allowances and higher marginal tax rates for professionals will encourage lower-earning spouses to quit the job market. Higher capital gains taxes will discourage risk-taking in high-tech startups, and college is already a poor investment for half of those that enroll.
Overall, we face federal deficits of up to $2 trillion a year and will have little latitude to address a future pandemic or financial crisis.
Washington could hit its limit to sell new debt to the public and be forced to issue more bonds that the Federal Reserve would buy by printing more money. The resulting inflation would bring home the folly of spending more than our means with cruelty not seen since the days of Jimmy Carter and perhaps the Weimar Republic.
Voters may believe the warnings about the unaffordability of all this spending and instinctively accept that combined all these goodies will discourage work. Still, there is something attractive for everyone among the half of households that do not pay income taxes.
The goodies will come quickly, but the drag on growth will take several years to become apparent. In the meantime, Speaker Pelosi is betting Democrats can skate through the mid-terms. And with Republicans clinging to President Trump and without an alternative program, she may be right.
• Peter Morici is an economist and emeritus business professor at the University of Maryland and a national columnist.
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