A rebellious campaign within the California Republican Party to break away from its historic opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage is dividing the party weeks before planned appearances by former President Trump and other GOP White House hopefuls.
A proposed platform overhaul, which could be voted on at the state GOP’s fall convention in Anaheim, is a remarkable break from conservative dogma in the state that nurtured Presidents Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon.
“It’s a seismic shift but it’s a shift born out of practical necessity. Look at what’s happening not just in California but in much more conservative states, realizing antiabortion, anti-same-sex marriage stances are no longer tenable,” said Jessica Levinson, an election law professor at Loyola Law School. “I think it shows their acknowledgment that the sand has shifted underneath their feet.”
Political platforms, while largely symbolic, are supposed to embody a party’s principles and core beliefs. Debate about modifying them often prompts controversy.
The California GOP proposal — adopted by a party committee in late July — supports “traditional family values” and a “strong and healthy family unit.” But it removes language that says “it is important to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.”
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The draft also excises opposition to a federally protected right to abortion, while maintaining support for “adoption as an alternative to abortion.”
Longtime conservative leaders are appalled by the proposal — both over its content and its likelihood to foment division at a key moment before the state’s presidential primary.
“This will be extremely controversial and will take a convention that is supposed to be about unifying the party and instead it ends up becoming a big feud,” said Jon Fleischman, a former state GOP executive director. “It’s the last thing the party needs.”
He described it as “a big middle finger” to the presidential candidates who are scheduled to speak at the convention, “all of whom embrace the various party planks that are proposed for removal.”.
Supporters counter that the updates align the party’s principles with voters.
Charles Moran, a Los Angeles County delegate who is a member of the platform drafting committee, said it is critical to move away from rigid orthodoxy “to give our California Republican candidates a fighting chance.”
“We need a party platform that empowers our candidates, not one that serves as an albatross around their neck,” said Moran, the president of Log Cabin Republicans.
The draft proposal also eliminates language about taxpayer protection for homeowners and a plank about opposing racism. But at a time while the GOP nationally is focused on culture wars, the changes in approach to same-sex marriage and abortion are likely to draw the most consternation among state Republicans.
The proposal slims the platform from 11 pages to four. The vote approving the draft took place in Irvine on July 29, after a contentious state party executive committee meeting about revising how the state party’s presidential delegates will be awarded in the March primary. (Despite California’s overwhelming blue tilt, it is home to the largest state Republican party in the nation and will send the most delegates to their presidential nominating convention next year.)
The draft platform will be voted on at the state party’s fall convention, which former President Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and other presidential candidates are expected to attend. If the party’s delegates cannot reach consensus, the platform debate may be shifted to their spring gathering.
If the proposed modifications are adopted, it would place the party’s platform closer to the beliefs held by most Californians and Americans.
More than three-quarters of California adults did not want federal protection for access to abortion to be overturned, according to a 2021 poll by the Public Policy Institute of California. That included 59% of Republicans.
Nationally, 71% of Americans believe same-sex marriage should be legal, according to a recent Gallup poll.
But the state GOP is more conservative than the state’s voters, which makes the proposed revision of the platform a test of the party’s priorities.
“The question they’re going to wrestle with is this: What is the primary purpose of a political party,” said Dan Schnur, a politics professor at USC, Pepperdine and UC Berkeley. “If it’s to reflect the ideological passions of their most loyal members, then they shouldn’t make these changes. But if it’s to win more elections, then it’s probably something they need to think about.”
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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.