GOP infighting in post-Trump era threatens California recall

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Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer speaks during a news conference in Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021, in the San Pedro section of Los Angeles. Faulconer announced Monday he is entering the race for California governor. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

LOS ANGELES – California Republicans eager to recall Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom could see their chances eroded by longstanding friction between the party’s conservative and moderate wings, which only has intensified in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s presidency.

The rift has been on open display in the gubernatorial candidacy of former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, a Republican centrist who has been endorsed by legislative leaders while being attacked as “liberal” by conservatives in his home county.

The head of the state Republican Party, Jessica Millan Patterson, is being challenged at a GOP convention this weekend by longtime conservative activist Steve Frank, who says the state party is attempting to silence conservative voices.

The vote on party leadership will come as Republicans nationally debate the way forward following Trump’s defeat in November and his role in provoking a deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

“This is California’s version of the national battle for the soul and the future of the Republican Party,” said Thad Kousser, a political science professor at the University of California, San Diego.

While Trump lost California by more than 5 million votes last November, the state GOP has been emboldened by the prospect of a recall election aimed at Newsom, after picking off four congressional seats from Democrats. But “just when the Republican Party in California is showing signs of life, it’s deciding to cannibalize itself,” Kousser added.

Speaking online to delegates Friday, longtime Republican strategist Karl Rove urged party members to find a way through their differences.

“We got to figure out a way for us to come together behind the candidates that we nominate,” Rove said. “Right now, there is a lot of tension in our party. I get that. But we've got to do everything we individually can to look past that and look toward victory."