California’s two major Republican factions—conservatives and moderates—have been arguing about the future of the party for at least two decades. They don’t agree on much, but after the California party’s midterm drubbing they do agree on this point: The state GOP is largely dead in the water and needs a new strategy to revive itself.

A recap is in order. In 1998, 46.8 percent of voters were registered as Democrats, 35.8 percent as Republicans and 12.4 percent chose “No Party Preference.” As of 2018, the Democrats held fairly steady at 44.4 percent registration, but those independents grabbed second spot with 25.5 percent and Republicans had sunk to 25.1 percent. On Nov. 6, Democrats took seven GOP-held congressional races (one has yet to be certified), won every statewide office and expanded their supermajorities in the Assembly and Senate.

One good place to rebuild: criminal-justice reform. The past few years California has made dramatic changes in its approach to incarceration. While the Jerry Brown administration was, say, dealing seriously with a federal court order to reduce prison overcrowding, Republicans largely resisted. These and other proposed reforms would, in their tiresome rhetoric, let violent criminals out on the streets or hobble the police.

There’s a strong free-market case and civil-liberties case for reforming these government-run, union-controlled systems. Groups such as the R Street Institute and Right on Crime make the right-of-center case for shaving out-of-control spending, battling recidivism and coming up with alternative sentences for low-level offenders. Conservative Texas, for instance, has shut down prisons as California built new ones. Sadly, the state GOP’s one-note approach has made its input irrelevant, which is too bad given that some Democratic proposals really do go too far, writes Steven Greenhut.

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