Reality star and former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner is claiming that, during her unsuccessful run for California governor, Republican party leaders refused to be appear alongside her in public, despite supporting her in private.
“I had elected officials and party leaders who would gladly take private meetings with my campaign team and me, but would balk at the mere notion of being seen publicly with me,” Jenner wrote in a recent USA Today column.
“To a point, I understand they have to protect themselves from their voters and the base who might not be as open-minded as they are,” Jenner wrote, noting that the problem “for someone like myself” is “partly generational.”
“But leadership means standing up for what is right, and if you thank me privately for running for office, you should be able to do it publicly,” she said.
Jenner was one of more than 50 candidates, including write-ins, who contested the gubernatorial election, coming in 13th with approximately 1% of the vote. Had she been successful, she would have become the nation’s first transgender governor, and the only out state executive belonging to the GOP. However, California voters ultimately decided to retain incumbent Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), with 63% voting not to recall him. That rendered the second question on the ballot, of which candidate should replace him in office — in which Jenner fell behind frontrunner Larry Elder (R) and 11 others — moot.
When Jenner initially considered jumping into the recall election, she was praised by some pundits, who pointed to her near-universal name recognition and vast fortune as assets for her campaign. She even managed to obtain help from former President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Brad Parscale, in bringing aboard prominent GOP strategists with experience at both the state and national level, as well as Caroline Wren, a longtime GOP fundraiser who previously worked at Trump Victory.
Unfortunately, Jenner’s campaign began to flounder, and she never managed to grow her support in public polls beyond 6% — which may also have influenced elected officials’ and party leaders’ willingness to associate themselves with her campaign. Just days after entering the race, Jenner was side-swiped by reports that her children thought she didn’t have the experience to run the state and that her Kardashian step-daughters wouldn’t be endorsing her.
In May, Jenner opined that transgender youth should be banned from competing in sports based on their gender identity, a stance that undercut her ability to be seen by Democratic voters — who outnumber Republicans 3-to-1 in California — as a palatable Republican alternative to Newsom, and placed her at the center of the ongoing culture war debates.
Had she kept above the fray, Jenner potentially could have critiqued Newsom’s fiscal, housing, and environmental policies, as well as his response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and his hypocrisy in not abiding by his own executive orders on mask-wearing when he attended a dinner with well-connected lobbyists at a pricey Napa Valley restaurant, in which Newsom and other diners did not wear masks.
But Jenner also turned off some voters, and undercut her self-proclaimed image as a “compassionate disrupter” when she appeared on Fox News and complained about the visibility of the state’s homeless population. She would continue to harp on that issue throughout the campaign, even complaining that the presence of homeless people was “destroying” local businesses.
Some Republicans were also skeptical of Jenner’s political involvement, and questioned whether she had gone golfing instead of voting in the 2020 election, as she had previously claimed, or whether she had indeed cast a ballot. Her campaign appeared to hit rock-bottom when she left the campaign trail in order to record a reality show in Australia in mid-July.
Despite Republicans’ reticence to appear publicly with Jenner, she vowed, in her USA Today column, to continue to “fight for inclusivity in the Republican Party.” She also encouraged California Republicans to try to win over some Democratic constituencies who might be more receptive to the GOP’s platform or messaging, in order to gain more political leverage and influence within the state.
She concluded: “I will continue to fight for the conservative movement and work with the next generation of leaders who will open doors for more people to join the conservative movement and be accepting of people like myself who do not fit into what the media or society categorizes as Republican.”
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