In 2010, California voters approved an overhaul of the state's primary system in an attempt to bring more moderates into the state's political races. But when the votes are tallied from today's primary election, the GOP candidate chosen to go up against Sen. Dianne Feinstein in the fall could turn out to be none other than Orly Taitz, queen of the birther movement and nobody's idea of a moderate. It's safe to say this isn't what the voters had in mind.
Under the 2010 reforms California shifted to a system where candidates from both parties face off and the two with the most votes advance to the general election. In theory, you could wind up with two Republicans – or two Democrats – taking the top two spots and going on to compete in the fall. Today, though, Feinstein will come out top. The big question is, who will come in second?
Now, it's quite possible that a totally legitimate moderate Republican will emerge as the Republican candidate (there are a few – just a few – in the 23-person, 14-Republican field). But the extremely limited polling on the race shows that there's also the jokes-on-them likelihood that Taitz, running as a Republican, could take the #2 spot behind Feinstein. None of the other 23 potential candidates, Taitz included, polled higher than 2 percent in April, but Taitz leads the pack, probably on name recognition alone. Also a possibility: that the Republicans don't get a candidate in there at all.
Establishment Republicans didn't really put up a candidate this year to challenge Feinstein, a powerful incumbent with a considerable war chest. Nor did any self-funded 1%-er come forward like last cycle (when Carly Fiorina ran for Senate against Barbara Boxer, and Meg Whitman ran for Governor against Jerry Brown, in both cases unsuccessfully, as it turned out). So instead, Republicans have the likes of Taitz and others like right-wing "Surfing" Rabbi Nachum Shifren to choose from.
Taitz says that her platform is not only about proving the president is not an American (though her numerous unsuccessful lawsuits over the years indicate otherwise), but you can practically hear the gleeful laughter coming from the Feinstein campaign. "If [Republicans] think the embarrassment over Donald Trump is bad, having the woman who brought all these lawsuits would be even worse," Bill Carrick, Feinstein's chief campaign adviser, told the San Francisco Chronicle.
As Chris Thompson wrote here yesterday, since the 90s the Republican party in California has been basically self-destructing. "Two decades of immigration and changing demographics have steadily eroded the Republican base in the Golden State," Thompson wrote. "But rather than adapt to this new reality, the state party lurched deep into the far-right swamplands of American politics. As the state grew more socially liberal, the last of the Republicans doubled down on conservatism, and sank into irrelevancy."
If things go Taitz's way tonight, you can bet this won't change anytime soon.
Late Update - June 6, 10:23 AM: Taitz wound up coming in fifth in the race, but still managed to get 113,000 people to vote for her – and, in the absence of another notable Republican in the running, was basically all anyone could talk about. Feinstein, as expected, demolished the competition with 49.5 percent of the vote. The second place candidate was state Republican party-backed newcomer Elizabeth Emken, who will now face Feinstein in the general election.