San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, the only Republican leader of a major California municipality, once again declined to run for governor or senator Tuesday night but instead laid out a vision for the survival of the beleaguered Republican Party in his deep-blue state.
While Faulconer never mentioned President Donald Trump by name in his speech to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, the path he laid out amounts to a wholesale rejection of most of the major themes and issues Trump used to propel himself into the White House.
The California GOP needs to reprise its role as the "party of freedom" as well as "change," uniting instead of polarizing people, supporting legal immigration, combating climate-change, and bolstering free trade, he said.
The party and the state as a whole should be building economic and cultural stronger ties Mexico, not alienating the southern neighbor, Faulconer said.
"It’s time to offer California a GOP with a broad appeal again—because a vibrant, competitive Republican Party is good for our state," he said.
"Now, this won’t be easy with Washington shaking up the political world on a daily basis, but the California Republican Party shouldn’t be a carbon copy of the national GOP," he added.
Later, during a question-and-answer session, Faulconer was unequivocal about the need to decry the protests by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend that left one young woman dead.
There is "no place for that hatred, no place for white supremacy," he said, arguing that it "needs to be condemned in the strongest possible terms."
If Republicans in his state and across the country want a successful model to revitalize the GOP, he said they should look at his political success in San Diego, a Democrat-majority city, for a blueprint.
Faulconer noted during his speech that he faced a Hispanic opponent for mayor in a city where just 25 percent of voters are registered Republicans, and won with more than 57 percent of the total vote and close to 40 percent of the Latino vote.
He said he brought his message to "everyone, regardless of ethnicity, zip code or language," highlighting the fact that his first campaign ad was in Spanish.
It is critically important for Republicans to play an active role in the state’s politics because Californians as a whole are struggling, he said.
"The California Dream is alive and well, but the California reality is on life support," he said.
The state has the highest poverty rate in the nation when you factor in the high cost of living, and two out of three Californians cannot afford a median-priced home.
Faulconer blamed Democrats in Sacramento for turning the capital into a "mini-Washington, D.C." where "serving the special interests of big labor and big business matters more than serving Californians."
The result is "a state that is great at making bureaucracies bigger and billionaires richer, but not so good at looking out for the middle class," he said.
The "one-sided" Democratic majority in Sacramento, he said, just passed a "regressive" gas-tax hike that makes it harder for working families to pay for fuel and food.
"Their solutions to the problem are the problem," he said of Democrats.
When it comes to trade, Faulconer touted the benefits of the North American Free Trade Agreement to his city.
"Free trade works," he said. "We’ve grown our exports in San Diego by $5 billion since NAFTA. Mexico is our biggest export partner from San Diego."
On the eve of talks between Unites States, Mexico, and Canada to renegotiate the North America Free Trade Agreement, Faulconer said he is headed to Washington to encourage policymakers to renew the pact.
During Faulconer’s nearly hour-long presentation, he agreed at least in part with only one Trump policy.
During a question-and-answer session, he was asked about the state’s plans to sue the Trump administration over its crackdown on sanctuary cities and denial of federal grants to jurisdictions that fail to give immigration authorities access to local jails or notice of the release of prisoners sought on immigration charges.
"It’s very important for municipalities, obviously, to do the right thing," he said. "We are not a sanctuary city in San Diego. We haven’t been. Never will be."
Still, Faulconer emphasized that city authorities have a policy that encourages people to talk to police because they will not ask if witnesses or victims of crime are illegal immigrants.
"But if you are arrested for a crime, you need to be held accountable and have that information shared with our federal partner," he said. "That’s the right balance—that’s what’s kept us one of the safest big cities in the country."
"Our community feels like they can interact with police," he said.
Californians of all political stripes, he said, need to push back against efforts to overturn former President Barack Obama’s decision to allow children born in the United States to illegal immigrants who have lived here for decades to remain here legally.
"They are incredibly important to us. As I said before, immigrants are who we are—that defines us," he said.
"When we have a party that welcomes immigrants, when we have a party that does the right thing—when we have a party that doesn’t talk about walls but talks about building bridges, that’s the strength of who we are as Californians, that’s the strength of who we are as a country."