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Even Deeper in the Wilderness, San Diego Republicans Face Major Choice

Tony Krvaric, chairman of the Republican Party of San Diego County, at an election night event in March 2020. / Photo by Megan Wood

Saturday, Nov. 21, more than two weeks after the election and despite results showing a decisive win for former Vice President Joe Biden, the chairman of the San Diego County Republican Party, Tony Krvaric, was not ready to give up on President Donald Trump.

He encouraged people to attend, instead, a “Stop the Steal” rally downtown.

“Do not be silent in the face of the Coup! The fate of our election, and thus the survival of our Republic, is now in the hands of the Supreme Court,” read the post [1] on the San Diego News Desk, a site the local GOP runs.

Nothing is in the hands of the Supreme Court, none of the cases the Trump campaign has brought have even come close. At the time of the rally, Biden had a 3.8 percentage point lead in the popular vote and a 306-223 lead in the Electoral College tally. States were certifying the vote and revealing no evidence of widespread fraud, let alone the multi-state conspiracy to manipulate hundreds of thousands of ballots (while leaving Republican gains in place) that would have been required to steal the vote for Biden.

But the president and his lawyers continue to insist he won. Krvaric has pledged to stay loyal.

It’s an ignominious end to Krvaric’s tenure as the leader of the local party. By all measures, Democrats routed local Republicans, despite the GOP’s improved showing in other parts of California [2]. Republicans will be left with only one seat on the nine-member San Diego City Council and a minority on the county Board of Supervisors. A Democrat will replace a Republican in mayor’s office at City Hall.

San Diego once had a strong Republican Party. Even as the city of San Diego began moving to the left, in 2004, President George W. Bush won the county with 52 percent of the vote. Barack Obama flipped it blue for the first time in decades, winning 53 and 54 percent of the vote in both of his runs. Hillary Clinton won with 56 percent in 2016.

Biden got 60 percent in November. Republican County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar lost her re-election bid by 16 points almost solely because of her embrace of Trump and Democrats’ ability to publicize it [3].

But rather than begin a conversation about how to regroup, Krvaric seems determined to stoke a bitter grievance that threatens the peaceful transition of power. He announced months ago that he would be leaving the chairmanship but his hand-picked successor, Paula Whitsell, a Realtor in South Bay, has also embraced the conspiracy theories about Biden’s vote totals.

Whitsell is not guaranteed, though, to take the post. A vote of the Central Committee of the local party is scheduled for Dec. 14. The leader of the party is not necessarily the keeper and enforcer of its entire message, but it’s a big choice. It could indicate whether the party organization remains intent on clinging to Trump and his brand or whether it will pursue a different image.

But many of the future potential leaders of the party have moved. Ashley Hayek, the prolific fundraiser who last year threatened to challenge Krvaric’s leadership, moved away. Barrett Tetlow, the longtime aide to Councilman Scott Sherman, who was also a leader in the GOP Central Committee and sometimes discussed as a successor to Krvaric, moved to Boise. Jason Roe, Gaspar’s mercurial consultant, moved as did Sage Naumann, a former staffer for the party. A bevy of other young talented professionals moved years before.

The party’s lack of prospects locally will mean fewer actual jobs for people building their careers in party politics.

June Cutter still hopes the party can move on. Cutter lost her race against Assemblyman Brian Maienschein, who was one of several local Republican elected leaders who left the party in recent years. Cutter said Trump clearly brought down San Diego candidates. And he clearly lost his own race.

“Maybe it’s because I ran and lost myself but I’ve accepted the election results and I look forward to making positive movements toward the next election cycle in 2022,” she said in an interview.

She’s been mentioned as a possible successor to Krvaric. She said she’d consider it.

“I am open to doing whatever to advance the cause of the Republican Party,” Cutter told me. The main cause, she said, was fiscal conservatism and advocating for kids at a moment of crisis for public education. She said as a litigator, every year she was tired of meeting with clients and informing them of new laws and how they hurt their businesses and their workers.

State Assembly candidate June Cutter speaks to a crowd at a March primary election night event hosted by the Republican Party of San Diego County. / Photo by Megan Wood

She also praised a recent op-ed by Joe Leventhal [4], who lost a race for City Council in San Diego’s most conservative district. He said much of the party’s core positions would be appealing to broader groups of people if the party were genuinely interested in applying them to all people. He offered an example:

“We pride ourselves on our allegiance to the Constitution. So Republicans should be the first to seek transparency and ask questions when a Black or Brown person is killed at the hands of government without due process,” he wrote.

Cutter said she thinks things will be better for Republicans in two years if Trump is truly gone.

“I’m excited to see what happens in coming election cycles when he’s not at the top of the ticket and will that actually change things or whether it is a permanent brand on the party. I don’t think it will be but I can’t predict the future,” she said.

Neither could Councilman Chris Cate, who will soon be the lone Republican at City Hall. He said a Biden presidency could be welcome for local Republicans.

“It gives us an opportunity to present a different face and voice of the Republican Party,” he said. “Trump sucked the air out of the room. It was always all about him.”

Cate said he didn’t know Whitsell and didn’t feel like he should weigh in on whether she should take the chairperson role. Whitsell answered the phone when I called but requested questions by email and did not respond to them.

“I love Tony Krvaric to death but now there’s an opportunity to bring a more diverse and different approach to how we structure the organization and tell the community what we’re about,” Cate said. He said he hoped that Cutter and the two Republicans who ran in City Council races stay involved in the discussion.

“I want to know what we’re doing this off year to prepare for 2022,” Cate said.

The time may come for that but right now, the party’s emphasis seems to be wholly on the contention that Trump was robbed. Whitsell has been sharing theories that Trump won in a landslide.

Aimee Faucett, the current chief operating officer of the city under Mayor Kevin Faulconer, will join the Central Committee of the local GOP the day they decide on Whitsell’s leadership. She said she didn’t know Whitsell either but she has seen no evidence the election was stolen.

“It is time to move on. End of story,” Faucett said.