California is the place where the Republican party started to recoil from all that is not angry old white men.
Proposition 187, the 1994 initiative that sought to deny public education and state services to those here illegally, was the last straw. Latinos, now the largest racial/ethnic group in the state, left the party in droves and never came back.
Latinos now are America's largest minority and were for years the spark behind the fastest-growing voter demographic in the country. (The fastest-growing group is now Asians and Asian-Americans.)
The lesson is clear for the GOP, particularly in California. “Republicans in California did not react quickly enough to [demographic changes], and we have paid a horrible price,” state Republican Party chair Jim Brulte told the Washington Post earlier this year.
Hatred of those here without permission is taken personally even by Latinos whose families have been in the United States for generations. The party needs as much as 42 percent of the Latino vote to take the presidency in 2016, according to one Democratic-leaning analysis. It's not looking good. California hasn't backed a Republican presidential candidate since George H.W. Bush took the state in 1988.
California Republican leaders get the message, loud and clear. But Golden State GOP voters don't.
The latest USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll, released overnight, shows that if the election were held now, Donald Trump would be the presidential choice of California Republicans.
The poll found that 24 percent of registered Republican voters said they would support Trump. That's a plurality in a long list of candidates. USC states:
Ben Carson received 18 percent support, followed by Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz, who each received 6 percent backing. However, Carson held an 11-point lead when matched against Trump in a one-on-one matchup — 43 percent of Republicans supported him for president while 32 percent backed Trump.
We asked Unruh Institute of Politics fellow Mike Madrid, who has analyzed the Latino-GOP political interface for years, why Golden State Republicans haven't learned the lesson of Proposition 187.
After all, Trump has all but become a villain to American Latinos outraged by his assertion that Mexican immigrants are criminals and “rapists.”
Madrid explained that voters aren't that strategic. They vote more from the gut. Expecting a lesson to be learned would be assuming “voters are voting to win rather than to express their beliefs,” he told us.
“That's not how voter psychology works,” Madrid said.
He also suggested that the party may have had an era where the lesson was learned, only to see illegal immigration re-emerge as a top issue for conservatives.
It's true, for example, that former President George W. Bush and 2012 GOP candidate Mitt Romney were pro–immigration reform, a stance that's rare among today's candidates (Jeb Bush is pro-reform).
Trump has helped to rekindle the right wing's ire for those here without papers.
“The Republican Party, on a whole range of issues relating to undocumented immigration, has changed considerably,” Madrid says.
However, he did note that those Republicans left in the shrinking California party are likely more conservative than ever. He points out that the party represents less than one-third of the state's voters. Those vowing to vote for Trump are less than one-fourth of that third.
“The party in California, that 30 percent of voters, is as conservative as Republicans in the rest of the country,” Madrid said. “That's not surprising.”
Lessons still need to be learned for the long-term viability of the GOP, however.
“The Republican Party has a long way to go to come back to relevance in California,” Madrid said. Supporting Trump, he acknowledged, “doesn't help.”
Democrat Hillary Clinton, by the way, is the winner among California Democrats and “decline-to-state” party voters.
USC stated that “42 percent of those voters support Clinton for president if the election were to be held now, followed by 26 percent who said they would back Bernie Sanders.”