Samuel Rodriguez Joins Bid to Rebuild GOP Power in California

Samuel Rodriguez addresses New Way California 2019 Summit (Image from Facebook Live)

Pastor and Religious Right activist Samuel Rodriguez joined former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday at an event designed to chart a path to restoring the now-dismal state of the California Republican Party.

As reported by Courthouse News, the event was put on by a group called New Way California, which it described as “a group of moderate state Republicans trying to help the party regain relevance”:

“I want to see a great, strong Republican Party in California that can stand up to the Democratic Party,” Schwarzenegger said Tuesday in Sacramento. “Democrats have absolute control of everything; they don’t even have to ask the Republicans anymore for their opinion.”

The former governor and a collection of Californians are urging the state GOP to detract from President Trump’s playbook and get involved in issues the party has more or less abandoned: immigration, climate change and housing.

Rodriguez said the California Republican Party has suffered from “cultural myopia,” but said that the Latino electorate in the state can be “easily” engaged: “All you have to do is speak the language of the community and it’s faith, it’s entrepreneurship, it’s small businesses, it’s educational equality.” What if the Republican Party, he asked, has a “born-again experience” and embraces the idea that every person is created in the image of God, and therefore that we should love and respect one another even when we disagree?

“Immigrants are not a curse,” he said, “Immigrants are a blessing.” California, he said, could offer a new way forward on immigration reform with a “practical middle-ground solution.” Use technology to secure the border and deport those involved in nefarious activities, he said, but deal fairly with “the 98.9 percent that are God-fearing, hard-working individuals.” He said he has given President Trump a proposed compromise that would grant legal status but not citizenship to millions of undocumented immigrants. “The Republican Party needs to have a come-to-Jesus moment with the Latino community,” he said, which it could do by embracing the community’s values of life, liberty, entrepreneurship, and justice. If the party does that, he said, “the Latino community could reinvigorate and resurrect the Republican party in a viable and sustainable manner in the state of California.”

“The new way will require Abraham Lincoln’s courage, Ronald Reagan’s clarity, and Jack Kemp’s compassion,” he said. “Find that recipe and you will engage Latinos and the new immigrants that are here in California in a viable manner for generations to come. And forget about just being obsessed with building a wall. If you’re going to build a wall, build a bridge to this flourishing community created in the image of God. If we do this with truth, with love and civility, we can change California, we can change America.”

Given that part of the problem the party faced in California in 2018 was the extreme unpopularity of President Trump in the state, it’s worth noting that Rodriguez has been a strong Trump ally even while encouraging, unsuccessfully so far, the administration to adopt more welcoming immigration policies. Rodriguez criticized some of candidate Trump’s statements on immigration, but then told Christian voters that getting an anti-abortion Supreme Court was more important. He suggested that a Hillary Clinton presidency might jeopardize his “ability as a pastor to reach the people with the loving gospel of Jesus Christ.” Rodriguez was rewarded by being asked to pray at Trump’s inauguration, and he has continued to give Trump cover even when voicing specific policy disagreements.

While New Way California seems to be looking for a path to distinguishing the state’s Republican Party from the national GOP, Rodriguez has long been involved in a range of national conservative efforts. He has lent his voice to anti-abortion-rights and anti-LGBT campaigns. He taped a video ad for the Republican National Committee’s faith outreach program. He has promoted the Koch brothers’ LIBRE Initiative, an effort to promote conservative economic ideology among Latinos; Rodriguez says right-wing economic policies are biblical and warns Latinos against dependency on the government.

New Way California was organized by Chad Mayes, a state assemblyman and former GOP legislative leader who angered conservatives when he backed a cap-and-trade program on carbon emissions. Mayes seems an unlikely candidate for putting a new, moderate face on the state GOP. A graduate of Liberty University, Mayes was the special guest at a 2016 Renewing God in America event sponsored by Christian nationalist David Lane’s California Renewal Project. In 2017, though, he was criticized by the California Family Council when his office tweeted a note of recognition for Harvey Milk Day.