Will Trump Destroy the GOP? Ask Pete Wilson

Donald Trump and the ReformoconsMatt Yglesias wrote an article that at first struck me as obvious but now seems profound, Donald Trump Could Be a Generation-Long Disaster for the Republican Party. He made a branding argument. The Republican Party already struggles with support from any group that isn’t white and dying off fast. The key to Trump’s success in the GOP primary has been that he’s made text of the party’s long used subtext. And this doesn’t just speak for Donald Trump; it speaks of the Republican Party. As Yglesias conjectures, Latinos (but also African Americans, Muslims, and even young people) will not soon forgive and forget.

The key to the argument is Pete Wilson. He is well known in California and now more or less a cautionary tale. He was twice selected US Senator and then twice elected governor. On paper, he’s an incredibly successful politician. But he is also largely responsible for destroying the Republican Party in California. And that is due, in large part, to his association with Proposition 187.

Proposition 187 was passed in 1994 — at the same time that Pete Wilson won his second term as governor. It was the first ever state anti-immigration law that was supposed to stop, for example, undocumented children from using our public schools. It was a really vile law that was quickly found to be unconstitutional and was never put into effect. It was also an embarrassment. It was much like Proposition 8 in 2008 that made same-sex marriage illegal. People voted for it, but the state as a whole quickly saw it as a mistake.

Pete WilsonSo even though Wilson won in 1994, he branded the GOP as the party of intolerance. It is a little funny as a Californian. The state isn’t nearly as liberal as others think. But more important, the state isn’t as liberal as its own residents think. It isn’t just demographic factors that turned Prop 187 into an embarrassment. And it isn’t demographic factors at all that turned Prop 8 into one. Californians work themselves up into a froth over issues like that and then, in the clear light of day (without the drumbeat of an election), we are embarrassed because we don’t see ourselves as the intolerant people our voting often suggests.

California used to be a swing state. As I remember with great annoyance, George Bush Sr beat Michael Dukakis by over 3.5 percentage points. (Note: where I live in the Bay Area, Dukakis won; Prop 8 lost; and Prop 187 lost.) But now it is one of the bluest of states.

Barbara Boxer used to be a US Representative from liberal Marin County. She was widely considered a liberal extremist. I never thought she would be able to win any statewide election. She did win in a fairly close race in 1992, largely because of Bill Clinton. But since then, she’s been reelected by large margins: 10 percentage points in 1998, 20 in 2004, and 10 in the Republican’s huge year of 2010.

What’s more, the state assembly and senate are both currently 65% Democratic.

The issue for the Republican Party nationwide is whether this will happen to them. Pete Wilson and the Republicans won the battle in 1994, but lost the war — and quickly. In Donald Trump’s case, it doesn’t even look like he will win the battle. But he is doing a great job of branding the party as intolerant jerks. If you look at the data from Gallup, Trump has had strong approval from Republican voters from the beginning. His net favorability right now is 24 percentage points!

George Will hopes that the Republican Party can just put Trump behind it, lose in 2016, and come back strong in 2020. And maybe it can. But there will be even fewer white people then. And there will be more Latinos. And as much as they may be seen more and more as “white,” they are not likely to forgive and forget what the Republican Party is all about.

Update: Pete Wilson’s Endorsement

I wrote this early morning yesterday, not thinking about the Indiana primary. A few days ago, Pete Wilson endorsed Ted Cruz. Well, that’s all over now.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

12 thoughts on “Will Trump Destroy the GOP? Ask Pete Wilson

  1. Yeah, I snarl. Wilson and his supporters basically destroyed the Republican Party as an entity in California. There never was any need for Republicans to support Prop 187 and Wilson was seen as a moderate or even semi-liberal politician at the time. He could have rejected it and campaigned for governor while asking for Latino support, and we’d all be in a different state right now — in several senses.

    But it seems he and too many other Pure White All American ethnics really wanted the pure pleasure of shoving their anti-Hispanic spite into Hispanic faces. And lots of Californians with Mexican and Philippino and Columbian and Honduran and other South/Central American ancestry decided they would never vote for Republican politicians again. Can’t hardly blame them! I remember being horrified at that all too predictable outcome well before election day actually arrived in 1994.

    • I didn’t keep up on it that much, because I was living in Oregon at that time. But it saddened when it passed — by a huge margin. But it’s like I have been saying in another context: politicians actually believe most of the things they say. I think Wilson just followed his core principles. He was considered a moderate, but not a liberal. He was a man of his time and place.

  2. I remember why Prop 187 got sunk by the court. It proposed to deny any public services not only to immigrants, but to their children. Whether or not they were born in the US. If you’re born in the US, you’re a US citizen, end of story, and the Court currently holds that no US citizen can be discriminated against because of ethnicity.

    The law was clearly set up to fail, so the red-meat faithful would holler about Big Gummint imposing its will on California. Obviously it backfired, like the wave of anti-gay state measures did after 2004. (If conservatives had wanted to “protect marriage,” they should have advocated civil union laws which protected the rights of gay couples. The leadership chose to use gay marriage as a wedge issue, it worked in 2004, it’s not even debated now.)

    The thing I remember most about Wilson was how loudly and proudly he defended LAPD police chief Daryl Gates during the Rodney King unrest. Even by the standards of human slime, Gates was human slime. He was sort of the Trump before Trump (Wilson was maybe the Cruz.) What’s the old saying? “As California goes, so goes the nation.” It might take a while to manifest, but I think it’s true.

    • Remember when Gates was under intense pressure to step down (heck, if I remember correctly, he’d actually already been dismissed) but just would not go away? Man, I got tired of his nonsense. Right about that time, though, there were some billboards in L.A. that made it all nearly worthwhile – they were for a Chinese restaurant chain that delivered* – “For when you just can’t leave the office. Or won’t.”

      * Believe it or not, that was a novelty at the time. You young whippersnappers, with your GrubHub and your Seamless and your LAbite, you don’t know how good you got it!

    • Yeah, he was a real charmer. But is that true of 187?! What amazes me is that it hasn’t been that long that being a citizen basically meant moving here. There was no immigration. But now people think all this nonsense is in the Constitution.

  3. I remember using the Prop. 187 case to argue against SB1070 with colleagues. I actually persuaded a few with it and I always knew it would be tossed.

    The rest of the nation may catch up with California but I don’t know-at this point we here in AZ are watching as 30,000 kids are being stripped of health care because our governor is an asshole who hates government. This makes it especially weird he decided to be a governor.

    We will see what happens with the Republicans. Every time you think they have learned their lesson, they just seem to double down.

    • That is a good question: why do people who hate government go into it. I suspect it is because they are being true to their ideology. It’s like the Nazis who took over parliament only to dissolve it.

      • Also straight-up careerism. Do the right things for business and you’ll at least become a six-figure lobbyist. Or better yet, a seven-figure member of several boards. (Lobbyists have to do a little work.)

        • It is interesting. You would think that more of them would go into academia. After all, most of them don’t especially need the money. But you don’t see that much — at least among Republicans.

        • He didn’t need to do that though! He was already a wealthy owner of multiple franchises. So he did it because to him destroying government was something he wanted to do.


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