Is Trump walking into a national version of Prop 187?
It’s easy to forget nowadays, but California wasn’t always the blue state it is today. Yes, it’s been reliably in the Democratic column for presidential elections since 1988. But from 1983 to 1999, we had 16 years of Republican administrations.
It was during the administration of the final GOP governor which California has had, save for Arnold Schwarzenegger, that the California GOP started on the road to irrelevancy.
Pete Wilson is what was then known as a “moderate Republican”. For most of his tenure, I had no real complaints about his term in office.
But much like David Cameron in the UK kowtowing to his know-nothings with a promise of a referendum on British membership in the European Union, Pete Wilson prefigured him by backing the notorious Proposition 187.
Prop 187 established a state-run screening system to deny undocumented migrants access to public services such as non-emergency health care and public education. It was the epitome of “Papers, please.” Wilson did this to prime the pump for the looming elections, and to get the Republican base out to the polls.
The proposition passed, but was immediately blocked by various lawsuits. Eventually, due to legal challenges, the law was repealed. Democratic governor Gray Davis withdrew the state’s appeal before the courts, effectively killing the proposition.
Having the proposition on the ballot gave the California Republican Party a short-term boost of energy. But they also slit their own throats.
What passage of Prop 187 did was to mobilize Latino/a Californians who were here legally but were not yet citizens to acquire citizenship in droves. And these new citizens voted for the party which didn’t want to expel them from the country—the California Democratic Party. This has led to the state basically becoming a one-party state, as Democrats go about the business of governing without getting to ahead of themselves, while the GOP goes from weakness to weakness, until the disaster of 2018, when its representation in the Congressional delegation was cut to the single digits, and Democrats again gained a super-majority in the state Assembly and Senate.
Now we’ve been treated to the seditionist in the White House declaring a fake national emergency to deal with a non-existent crisis at the border with Mexico. This is the national GOP’s Pete Wilson moment.
Of course, California is already solidly blue. But we saw last year that Arizona was turning purple, and that Texas was on the verge of doing so with the candidacy of Beto O’Rourke. If California is a prelude, I can easily see Latinos in Arizona and Texas either becoming citizens or, if citizens already, voting in numbers in which they haven’t before. Donald Trump’s xenophobia and pandering to his racist base may do for the GOP nationally what Pete Wilson did for the GOP in my state.
California is where national trends first take shape, and where history is previewed. Politics follow certain patterns. Trump, in his effort to survive one more day in his illegitimate presidency, may have doomed his party in the border states. The GOP took a body blow when it lost California. If it loses Texas, it’s done as a national force, more so because it can’t really rely on Florida remaining a swing state.
As the truism goes, those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. We may see that to be the case again.
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