Feeling Blue as Pyrrhic Victory Day Arrives

The day of the Recall (and Replacement) Election Day has finally arrived; the portents look excellent for Gavin Newsom to remain as Governor for another 15-1/2 months at least, barring misfortune — he’s up in the Real Clear Politics average of polls by 14.5 points and 15.8 points in the 538.com average by and that’s good news for you, if all you care about is what happens tonight. And if you’re a Democrat, you’ve been told in no uncertain terms that that’s all you do care about — and that’s a shame, because seeds have been planted for future disaster.

Pyrrhus: Official sponsor of the California Democratic Party’s victory party!

I’m with you in not wanting to see a Larry Elder Governorship by Halloween. But I also don’t want to see a bunch of other nasty results that are likely to come about because of they way this election will have been won. Democrats are playing a short game, focusing only on the immediate result, while Republicans are playing a long game, using this election as a test case to see what they can do in the future. It did not have to be this way.

I presume (rebuttably) that all of our readers are familiar enough with Greek concepts in our culture to know what the term “Pyrrhic Victory” means and to be familiar with the concept of “hubris” from Greek Tragedy. If not, there are the links you need.

A Pyrrhic victory takes a heavy toll that negates any true sense of achievement or damages long-term progress. The phrase originates from a quote from Pyrrhus of Epirus, whose triumph against the Romans in the Battle of Asculum in 279 BC destroyed much of his forces, forcing the end of his campaign.

And if you click on the name of Pyrrhus up there, you’ll find this:

Pyrrhus was known for his benevolence. As a general, Pyrrhus’s greatest political weaknesses were his failures to maintain focus and to maintain a strong treasury at home (many of his soldiers were costly mercenaries).

His name is famous for the term “Pyrrhic victory” which refers to an exchange at the Battle of Asculum. In response to congratulations for winning a costly victory over the Romans, he is reported to have said: “If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined.”

Well yeah, you’ve heard of this, but it doesn’t seem to have much to do with the expected gloriously successful outcome of the Recall election, does it? I’m sorry to say that it does. The broader lesson of the great Pyrrhus is that it doesn’t just matter that you win, but how you win — and whether your win sets up future victories or undermines them. This expected election result shows that Democrats can beat back a “Republican Recall” in what are close to optimum conditions:

  1. Newsom successfully convinced people that all of the chips had to be placed on his winning the recall election, and not also on also winning a replacement election
  2. Republicans coalesced around their most extreme candidate, Larry Elder
  3. Funding for the Newsom campaign, coming largely from unions, was huge and lopsided
  4. Volunteers were working at a fever pitch for weeks, if not months
  5. Democrats demanded, and their voters complied with, an almost complete ceding of their judgment and will to the positions of the state party, choosing not to view the replacement election as even important (despite some having misgivings about this.)
  6. Politicians from across the country, including the President and Vice-President, came in to rally the electorate to oppose the recall.

All of this went literally “according to plan.” But from the Republican standpoint, this was fine. They could afford to lose this recall — because the recall tool remains available for their use and, like the Taliban in Afghanistan (or the American Colonists against the British), they could afford to fight a war of attrition, learning from each battle about how to stage the next one.

The consequences of this are:

Regarding Newsom:

  1. Newsom will win the recall election handily
  2. Newsom will be able to fend off any challenge for Governor
  3. Newsom will be well positioned to run for President in 2024 or 2028, depending on whether Joe Biden runs for re-election
  4. Newsom will have a large cache of people who worked very hard for him in this campaign and can thus be relied upon as future volunteers and donors, easily flattered by reminiscence of “what they did in the battle”

Regarding Elder:

  1. Elder will win the replacement election handily, with the polls showing him as getting between 4 and 5 times the vote, and having a 30 point lead, over his nearest competitor, quasi-Democrat Kevin Paffrath
  2. Elder will be celebrated as a “WINNER” by easily deluded Trumpians
  3. Elder will be strengthened as a politician because the stories that have come out about him will not be considered “new” news in the future
  4. Elder may or may not run for Governor in 2022 (as it’s an almost sure loss for him given the larger electorate, and as it would mean giving up his national radio platform for an extended period of time)
  5. Based on his stellar showing in Part 2, though, Elder becomes a fantastic Vice-Presidential choice for someone like Trump (or one his children), Ron DeSantis, Mike Pompeo, etc., with the power to win over socially conservative Black and Latino men and (to a lesser extent) women who hold the poorer people in their demographic categories in contempt for being lazy, shiftless, and “taking government handouts” rather than “pulling themselves up up by their own bootstraps”
  6. Elder will cut into the Black and Latino vote in key states like Arizona, and Nevada, Florida and Georgia, the Midwest, and the rest of the Atlantic coast south of Delaware — possibly tipping those states

Democrats under Newsom didn’t “create” this monster — Elder was already a monster of his own making — but they fed him, nurtured him, and built him up so that he could be the terrifying foil that Newsom thought he needed to bring out the massive Democratic vote that he needed win the election. They did so without any apparent thought to the long-terms effects of elevating Elder much further into national prominence. The price for that may be enormous.

The notion of winning this recall “blunting” the future utility of recalls for Republicans is laughable, because now they know what works:

  1. Losing the recall after having caused this enormous degree of effort for Democrats does not deter Republicans from using it again — again and again, in fact — because the factors that will have kept Elder from winning won’t apply in most future recalls
  2. I’d expect a recall to begin, almost immediately, of Tony Thurmond, California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, with reprehensible DINO Gloria Romero playing the Elder-type role, to keep the pot boiling on charter schools and Covid policy — and its unlikely that Democratic donors and activists (other than those involved with the Teacher’s unions) will be as active
  3. I’d expect a recall to begin, pretty quickly, of Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, because taking over her job positions Republicans in place to have a ready-made candidate to win a future Gubernatorial recall (and wreak havoc like Republican Mike Curb did when he was Lt. Gov. to Jerry Brown during the second of his first two terms)
  4. I’d expect a recall of Secretary of State Shirley Weber to begin soon, because this furthers the specious claims of vote fraud in this election — and it doesn’t hurt that Weber, like Thurmond, is Black

At this point, Republicans probably have the capacity to collect signatures within a couple of months. — they know who their voters are and how to find them. They might try to schedule all three such recalls together — but I think that it’s more likely (and more expensive!) to stagger them, turning in the petitions for holding each one separately, far enough that they can’t be consolidated. Why? This is why I mentioned Pyrrhus up at the top: Republicans are fighting a war of attrition, with “troops” that are fanatically devoted to the cause (so long as it’s Trumpian) and willing to strike as often as necessary to attain a victory — and then to build on it.

Republican voters take instructions and do as they’re told — just as Democrats want have their voters to be, though this is as close as I’ve seen them come to attaining it. (Unthinking compliance is natural to Republicans but unnatural to most Democrats — much to the party’s chagrin.) You would never get a million Democratic voters to sign a recall, initiative, or any other petition anywhere near as quickly as Republicans could: except maybe for union members being “instructed” by their unions, it’s just not in our nature. (Even showing up in a recall election is not in our nature, which is why the party has gone to such extraordinary means this time around.)

Imagine having a new statewide recall every four months, which as I recall is about as far apart as one could plan space them. Republicans only need to win one to get a foothold to support their rallying cry that “Recalls work — the minority can subdue the majority!” (Would we attack these “Republican recalls” as being expensive? Great — go ahead and open up a vigorous discussion of state spending, that’ll work!)

Republicans will do their part to win a recall every single time. Democrats probably won’t unless the stakes grow to the level that Newsom has attained this time. And I don’t think that they can be perceived to be as consequential when we’re talking about the three statewide seats I’ve noted above — and of course that leaves several more targets I haven’t addressed.

In other words, the “cost of war” is much greater for Democrats than for Republicans. To paraphrase Pyrrhus: we will be victorious in this recall battle, but “If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans Republicans, we shall be utterly ruined.” An uninspired and weary Democratic machine — voters, donors, volunteers — just won’t do this over and over again indefinitely, as I expect we’ll find out (regardless of whether I’m right that we’ll see another one next year) in 2023.

What could have been done differently to obtain a victory less Pyrrhic than the one will see today?

Humiliate the opposition!

This, in one phrase, is why the failure to put up an alternative Democratic candidate or two in Part 2 is such a massive blunder: being able to deny Republicans a win in this election — not just an overall win, but denying them a rallying point that gives them bragging rights, a “moral victory” (as we leftist Democrats usually call them, as the party establishment does its best to allow us nothing more than that) that still lifts their spirits and whets their appetite for future battles.

The Republican Party’s voters are not going to be humiliated by a 10, 15, or even 20 point loss in today’s election. That’s close enough to put them within shooting range in some future recall — and they know it. What would be humiliating to them is if they couldn’t even get a Republican into first place in the replacement election. Then they have nothing to celebrate. Psychologically, the Part 2 race was their chance to recoup from a loss in the main race.

And it bears repeating that the only reaction that we’re not running one or two viable and qualified candidates in the Part 2 race is that Gavin Newsom was afraid that if we did so he wouldn’t win. (Do you think that that juicy tidbit has been lost on Republicans?)

I’ve seen some astounding mental contortions about why the part 2 race was too unimportant to trifle with; I’ve listed them below with my rebuttals in bold italic):

  1. It doesn’t matter because Newsom was going to win anyway. (No, it does matter for the “deny them something to celebrate) reasons I’ve outlined above.)
  2. It’s unconstitutional or otherwise wrong to allow someone who voted No on the recall to vote on a potential successor. (No, the California Supreme Court ruled otherwise in 2003 and in any case they are two separate ballot questions and it would be crazy to allow only proponents of the recall to choose the new Governor.)
  3. There’s no one good to vote for. (That’s because we chose to make it that way — and anyway the Green Party-endorsed candidate, Dan Kapelovitz, is running on essentially a left-wing Berniecrat platform.)
  4. Voting in Part 2 “legitimizes it” and if we boycott it then that delegitimizes it. (No, it is legitimized by being the procedure outline in the California constitution, about which the Democrats could have put forward an amendment to change at any time, including when they have held supermajorities in both houses of the legislature and the Governorship. This is exactly like Hillary supporters trying to wish the Electoral College out of existence after Hillary won the 2016 popular vote but lost the election. This is not realistic adult thinking!)
  5. Focusing any amount of effort on Part 2 would undermine the effort to retain Newsom. (This evinces a massive contempt for the intelligence of voters, who must not understand the meaning of the word “IF.” Saying NO and Kounalakis (or Feinstein, or Schiff) is not difficult — nor, as California Democratic Party Chair “Mentally” Rusty Hicks tried to explain, is it “too much effort” for them.
  6. We’d look bad if our candidate lost to Elder! (We look worse for ducking the fight!)
  7. (The only honest reason:) If people vote for someone in Part 2, it may make them less likely to vote to retain Newsom in Part 1, because then the alternative to him losing might not be so dire. (I’m going to jump out of the list to address this one.)

That last reason has some merit — if we believe that Newsom is so unpopular that the only way he can win is to say that the only alternatives are him or being cast into hellfire. (This degree of fearfulness, unusual in someone so arrogant, is why Newsom must never be at either the top or bottom of a Democratic national ticket — nor, ideally, ever a U.S. Senator. He has True Lack of Grit.)

But look — Newsom is nowhere near as unpopular (whether or not he should be) as poor Gray Davis was in 2003 — just as Larry Elder is nowhere near as popular as world’s #1 action star and Kennedy family member therefore moderate Arnold Schwarzenegger was in that election. If he was really liable to lose if even one credible Democrat ran in the separate race to replace him, then he has a glass jaw and simply should have pulled the rug out from under the recall and resigned. He would have won anyway — and without confusing and distressing countless voters — many of whom I’ve encountered on Facebook — who are wondering where the hell the decent Democrats are to vote for in Part 2, because it’s not like us to skip a significant ballot question.

That has alienated voters. Being told that “it’s either Newsom or utter destruction” — when it didn’t have to be that way — has upset and depressed voters. Telling people that they should “skip Part 2” has confused and irritated voters. (Hey, media sources — if I’m right then there’s a big story here, if you’re interested enough to poll Democratic voters on their reactions!) Refusing to consider anyone other than Democratic voters in the recall — maintaining the intense “Crips vs. Bloods” street-gang level of discipline that characterizes individual Democrats who can sometimes generate strategic reasons to vote for someone not in the gang — alienates the leftist voters whom Democrats believe should be members of their electoral coalition (albeit a “do what we say and expect nothing in return” sort of abusive relationship, though here it would have cost nothing to throw us a bone! But, alas, demonizing and scapegoating the Left has long been Democrats’ favorite move.)

I’m glad — especially given that Newsom did succeed in making Elder the only alternative to him — that Newsom is going to win this election. Even while my voting NO versus abstaining depends upon the outcome of my #KapelovitzChallenge — and I’ll tote up the final results at 7:00 this evening before I head out to vote, wearing a light blue mask — I’ve always encouraged anyone who isn’t as pissed off as I am to vote No. But — and I hope that people will come to understand this — the damage is already done, and the controllable parts of it were done by Newsom himself. When you read about the rise of Larry Elder in the weeks and months and years to come, remember that this Limbaugh/Trump hybrid monster achieved that status in part because Newsom wanted him to — and that is the major part of why this is a Pyrrhic victory. And that is why, way up above, I also mentioned hubris.

A few final thoughts, hinging on the title of this post.

I describe myself as blue (in both the political and the “sadness” senses) today in the title because this is a victory that did not have to be partial and poisoned in this way, and because so many good people I encounter have simply shut off their own fine mental faculties at the shrill insistence of my party’s leadership, outsourcing control over their actions to people much stupider and self-interested than they are — to avoid taking any steps to ameliorate the damage being done.

That’s sad. It’s really sad. And it’s sadder still that the entire structure of the Democratic party is designed to keep party members from doing anything different from that.

So, while you’re out celebrating the short-term win tonight, please give a little thought to the longer term. And if for whatever reason you read this before you vote later today (if you haven’t already, and you get all of the way down to the bottom to read this, please consider not skipping Part 2 and voting for the Green Party’s endorsed Berniecrat, part of the Democratic electorate when it really matters, Dan Kapelovitz. (Humor me on this one!) You’ll have little enough company that not only will your vote count, but it will be countable!

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)