GOP Hopefuls Descend on CA, Will They Pay Attention to Lessons Embodied by the State?

Tonight’s debate in California offers a reminder – a cautionary tale – for Republicans. In 1994, California’s Governor Pete Wilson (R) pushed through the infamous anti-immigrant Proposition 187 and ignited a political backlash from the state’s changing electorate. Latino and Asian immigrants became citizens in record numbers and transformed the state politically. As a result, the California Republican Party – once the launching pad of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan – is no longer competitive statewide.

Ahead of the debate tonight, immigrant rights and labor leaders and a California-based political scientist gathered on a press call to set the stage for the GOP’s latest primary debate; revisit California’s history on the immigration issue; and explain why the Republican Party’s embrace of xenophobic candidates, like Donald Trump, could spell disaster for the GOP nationwide.

Adrian D. Pantoja, Ph.D., Senior Analyst at Latino Decisions and a political scientist based in California, said, “The lesson for the GOP from California is that anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies proved to be counterproductive. They not only alienated Latino voters, but they also alienated Asian American, African Americans, and moderate Whites voters. Bob Dole and Mitt Romney applied this strategy in their presidential campaigns and the outcome was disastrous. In both cases, they won slightly more than 20% of the Latino vote. On the other hand, President George W. Bush showed it was possible for the party to win voters without resorting to hateful rhetoric that feeds the fears and prejudice of the electorate.”

“In 2012, Mitt Romney won just 23% of the Latino vote in 2012, and he needed closer to 40%. This cycle, the gap for Republicans is even wider, with Latino Decisions political experts positing that a Republican candidate would need around 47% of the Latino vote to win the national election,” said Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice. “So how have Republicans worked to fill that gap? By refusing to take up immigration reform in the House. By suing to stop the President’s executive actions that would help family members and friends of Latino, APIA, and immigrant voters. By calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals. By pledging to strip citizenship from American babies. By proposing a Berlin-style wall along the border—both borders. They’ve dug the hole even deeper, and if they don’t reverse course they might as well just crawl in. California provides a startling example for the national GOP—if only they are ready to listen.”

Said Maria Elena Durazo, General Vice President for Immigration, Civil Rights, and Diversity at UNITE HERE, “It’s clear that we’re back to the hate of 1994 that disseminated from Proposition 187; we’re back with that kind of hate in the discourse of the GOP. It wasn’t just that Latinos ‘woke up’ in California—it took a lot of hard work. In 1994, we didn’t set out to elect more Latinos or immigrants, we set out to raise the bar for everybody and that’s exactly what we did. California embodies an extraordinary change on a number of levels, and it should teach both parties, though Republicans especially, that you can’t take the Latino vote for granted.”

For more on why California remains a cautionary tale for the GOP, see our earlier post HERE.