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California, a Warning to Republicans

Francis Wilkinson writes editorials on politics and U.S. domestic policy for Bloomberg View. He was executive editor of the Week. He was previously a national affairs writer for Rolling Stone, a communications consultant and a political media strategist.
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Is Donald Trump damaging the Republican Party or destroying it? The answer depends on whether the GOP will be able to evolve into a multi-racial majority party after Trump's campaign is finished. Given the scope of his personal foibles -- bigotry, sexism, policy ignorance, political incompetence, habitual dishonesty, etc., etc., etc. -- the question perhaps seems academic right now.

Yet if you happen to be a different Republican politician, one who'd like to be president someday, or to hold office in a state with an emerging nonwhite majority, it might concern you. If Trump's effect proves fatal, after all, those nice things might not happen for you in this lifetime.

Bloggers Keith Humphrey and Kevin Drum both looked recently to California for clues about the GOP's fate. In 1994, Republican Governor Pete Wilson supported the state's Proposition 187, which sought to restrict access by undocumented immigrants to public services, including non-emergency health care and public education.

Wilson's campaign and Prop 187 have since been cited as a crucial factor in turning California into a Democratic bastion. Today, no Republicans hold statewide office there. Republicans have been decimated in the state Legislature and California congressional delegation. And California Asians and Hispanics, the state's -- and nation's -- fastest-growing populations, generally don't have much use for the party.

Drum suggested that the effects of Prop 187, which passed with 59 percent of the vote but was subsequently invalidated by a federal court, have been overblown. He noted that the share of Democratic vote in the state rose roughly in proportion with the increasing share of nonwhite voters overall. He's right. But as the chart below, from the polling firm Latino Decisions, shows, the share of Hispanics voting Democratic also rose, with the biggest bump occurring between 1992 and 1996.

A rise of several percentage points in the Democratic share of the Hispanic vote is hardly insignificant. But the chart doesn't necessarily capture the full extent of the damage to Republicans.

"It's not just a matter of numbers, it's the intensity of Latinos' hostility toward the GOP," said California Democratic consultant Garry South in an e-mail. As of November 2010, South noted, three quarters of the state's Hispanic voters had registered since 1994.

In 2010, nationally the greatest election year for Republicans in decades, California's GOP fielded its most diverse ticket ever, with female nominees for governor and U.S. senator, a Hispanic contender for lieutenant governor and a black candidate for secretary of state. It didn't matter. While Republicans swept to a majority in Congress and gained control of state legislatures across the land, the party was crushed in California.

In the coming five months, Trump, who has targeted for abuse Mexicans in general and a Mexican-American federal judge in particular, has the capacity to galvanize Hispanics into a solid Democratic voting bloc nationwide. President George W. Bush won more than 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004. It's difficult to see how Trump will equal the dismal 27 percent Mitt Romney won in 2012.

Obama's approval rating among Hispanics in an April Pew poll was 65 percent. In another Pew poll released this week, 81 percent of Hispanics said they expected their personal finances to improve in the next year. Confident in their Democratic president and their economic futures, Hispanic voters aren't looking to make Trump's sliver of America great again. 

With Trump heading the GOP, Hispanic identification with the Democratic Party is almost certain to intensify.

During the Senate legislative work on comprehensive immigration reform in early 2013, pro-immigration and Hispanic groups projected a jolly bipartisan disposition, cheering on Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who supported the measure.

When House Republicans buried the bill, and then passed legislation tacitly supporting (though, in typical Republican fashion, not funding) mass deportation, the tenor of the activist groups changed. When Republican primary voters this year supported an overtly bigoted opponent of immigrants for their presidential nominee, the stakes rose still higher.

"This has alarmed and mobilized folks throughout our movement," said Frank Sharry, a prominent pro-immigration activist, by e-mail. Sharry said the groups haven't abandoned bipartisanship. But he noted, for example, that Dreamers, the undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children, have pretty much stopped attacking President Barack Obama, whose deportations they despised, and focused their ire exclusively on the GOP. "How can they not?" he asked.

If the journey of Hispanic and immigrant voters mimics the arc of the activist groups that champion them, and the Democratic consolidation of black voters before them, discussions of the Republican Party's end -- sooner rather than later --may not seem so academic.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Francis Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net