The news that Rep. Mimi Walters (R-CA-45) has lost her re-election to Democratic challenger Katie Porter is the latest reminder of how Orange County, the former epicenter of American conservatism and Republican strength, has been transformed by the combination of Trump and Republican nativism and increased political engagement of the region’s increasingly diverse electorate. Meanwhile, the GOP rewards Kevin McCarthy the House Minority Leadership despite the growing number of California losses for the Republican party.
As the AP captures, “Porter’s upset in Orange County is a sign of changing times in a region once known nationally as a GOP fortress. The coastal county southeast of Los Angeles was home to President Richard Nixon, and President Ronald Reagan once likened it to a Republican heaven… With Porter’s win, Democrats have picked off three GOP seats either all or partly in Orange County, and they are threatening to win another district where votes continue to be counted.”
According to Adriana Ruggiero, California State Director of America’s Voice: “The transformation of Orange County is the result of two powerful elements: One, the total disconnection of the Republican party from its constituents in California, particularly female voters. Two, the outstanding result of the hard work and dedication of the Latino and the Asian-American communities, who largely rejected Trumpism in California. Orange County is just the beginning of what’s to come in areas where Latinos and minorities are dismantling the Republican stronghold of suburban communities where minorities were once a rarity.”
In a must-read LA Times column, which we excerpt below, Gustavo Arellano pens an obituary for the old Orange County:
Orange County,” the California collection of 34 cities and 3.2 million residents once described by President Reagan as where “all the good Republicans go to die,” died Tuesday. It was 129 years old.
Long famous for its wealth, whiteness and conservative values, Orange County is survived by its offspring, who include a population that is about 60% people of color, some of the most crowded and poor neighborhoods in the United States and a Republican Party that’s on the ropes. Once reliably red, the official cause of O.C.’s passing is a case of the blue flu, which turned its politics more purple than Barney the dinosaur.
While the election results won’t be final, possibly for days, by Wednesday morning it seemed likely that Democrats could represent five of of the seven congressional districts that are are entirely or partially in the county — a once-unthinkable prospect in the land that spawned the modern-day GOP.
The death shocked everyone who hadn’t bothered to pay attention for decades. County boosters and leaders had desperately tried to mask its failing health with a series of anti-immigrant resolutions, orange-shaped balloons at Great Park, and a string of increasingly vapid reality TV series. But as the years went on, the Orange County of old gradually succumbed to a new generation of working-class unions, multicultural youngsters and middle-class voters who just didn’t care about demonizing the downtrodden, except for the homeless.
Mourners may see an O.C. that, outwardly, looks little changed, like Vladimir Lenin’s corpse. The GOP still dominates local politics, and the county’s median household income of $90,000 remains $25,000 higher than the state’s. But in the current decade, a new generation of Latino activists successfully sued O.C. cities to implement district elections, and has begun to get more minorities elected. And those few millennials who could afford to stay in their parents’ paradise increasingly voted for Democrats — and frequently visited evil, evil L.A.
The rest of the nation finally noticed the new Orange County during the 2016 presidential election, when Hillary Clinton garnered more votes than Donald Trump — the first time O.C. went for a Democrat in 80 years. Liberals pounced on the breakthrough with millions of dollars in donations to local Democrats, an invigorated volunteer base, and a slew of first-time candidates.
Scared, two longtime GOP congressmen — Ed Royce and Darrell Issa — didn’t seek reelection; a third, Dana Rohrabacher, bumbled along as always. The Orange County GOP, meanwhile, helplessly stood by as President Trump’s incendiary language alienated educated suburban women. Regardless of the final vote tallies, the fact that Democrats came to O.C. to pick up House seats is a stake in Nixonland’s vampire heart.
Orange County is survived by Scottsdale, Ariz., Plano, Texas, and other once-sleepy burbs that now host former residents who still want to live in a booboisie bubble. In lieu of flowers, please send condolences to the Republican Party of Orange County — because it’s likely next.