Don’t you want the smartest and the best person for the job? Of course the nation tried that with Obama – smart as a whip, a guy who knew lots about everything, gracious and careful and polite – and the backlash was Trump – who was none of those things. And those of us who ended up out here in California have those conservative Facebook “friends” – the folks from high school who stayed in Pittsburgh or Cleveland and never set foot anywhere else – who scream that Obama was arrogant and despised them, so they hate him, and they hate folks with fancy degrees, or any degrees, or who know another language, or who like sushi, and so on. And of course they hate California. They ask those of us who ended up here how we can stand to live here. They ask how anyone can stand to live here, what with the earthquakes and the massive fires and all those “illegal” people from “down there” who speak another language, telling each other secrets behind our backs, laughing at us all, and who want to kill us all.
Fox News says it’s like that. Stephen Miller, the man who shapes Trump’s immigration policy and makes all the specific policy decisions in these matters for the president, graduated from Santa Monica High School and says it’s like that. But it isn’t. The weather is good. The food is wonderful – the place is a melting pot where hundreds of different languages fill the street every day and every ethnic subgroup of a subgroup has opened a cool little restaurant. And all the kids play together. They’re just kids. Yes, there are gangs, and the homeless everywhere, but that’s just like Chicago or Pittsburgh or Cleveland or any major city in this nation set up to work well for the very few and for no one else at all.
And this is the future. The future was born twenty-five years ago:
Eagle Rock attorney Don Justin Jones walked around Los Angeles State Historical Park on Saturday morning wearing a T-shirt with a crossed-out photo of former California Gov. Pete Wilson and an umbrella that stated “Chale Trump” (“No Way Trump”).
“I’m here to remember what we started,” he said, as people streamed into a tent-ringed field to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the campaign against Proposition 187. The 1994 California ballot initiative sought to deny illegal immigrants social services but instead set off a political earthquake that helped to turn California deep blue.
Not many people showed up for this but this was more about the future anyway:
We are California: 25 Years Beyond 187, the coalition behind the rally, expected far more than the several hundred revelers who showed up Saturday. But the event nevertheless energized attendees, nearly all who said they were there because the United States is now going through the same xenophobia that California weathered a quarter-century ago…
“Trump is worse than Pete Wilson,” said 26-year-old Vicky Ramos of Lynwood, who was too young to remember Proposition 187 when it happened but learned about it at Cal State Los Angeles. “So we gotta show people that, like Californians beat back 187’s racism, we can do the same in 2020.”
“This is about 187, but not that it happened 25 years ago. It’s today,” said Maria Elena Durazo, who was a labor organizer in 1994 and is now a Democratic state senator from Los Angeles. “We got to be just as organized now as we were then because of Trump, if not more.”
And they were serious:
Everyone was so engaged in politics that a stellar musical lineup that included Latin jazz legend Pete Escovedo and R&B singer Aloe Blacc came off as almost an afterthought. Instead, rally-goers cheered on a parade of political dignitaries, who spoke between acts to share their stories from 25 years ago and urged everyone to participate in the 2020 elections and beyond.
But wait. What happened twenty-five years ago? The Los Angeles Times’ George Skelton explains that:
The lofty position held by California Republicans 25 years ago when Proposition 187 passed seems unimaginable today. It was a high-water mark for the party that wouldn’t last long. The California GOP has been sinking into oblivion ever since…
Proposition 187 was the ballot initiative pushed by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson that would have denied schooling, nonemergency healthcare and other public services to immigrants living here illegally. It also would have turned teachers into federal immigration snitches, requiring them to report to authorities any kids they suspected of being in the country illegally. A heartless task.
The measure passed in a near landslide 25 years ago last week, 59% to 41%. But the next day a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order and the act never took effect. A year later, another federal judge permanently tossed out Proposition 187. And in 1999, new Democratic Gov. Gray Davis dropped the state’s appeal.
Turn out the lights, the party’s over:
The California GOP had a glorious night on Nov. 8, 1994. Wilson defeated Democratic state Treasurer Kathleen Brown – the daughter and sister of two governors – by a whopping 14.6% margin. Republicans won five of seven statewide offices, including the two biggies: governor and attorney general.
They haven’t won a single statewide office since 2006. Republicans won a slim majority of seats in the state Assembly for the first time in 26 years. That lasted just one term. Today, Democrats hold a supermajority in each legislative house and Republicans are essentially irrelevant.
But wait, there’s more:
Of the 52 U.S. House seats up for election in 1994, Democrats and Republicans split them evenly, 26 to 26. In last year’s election, Republicans were tossed out of seven seats and wound up holding only seven against the Democrats’ 46.
Twenty-five years ago, Republicans made up 37% of registered voters, Democrats 49% and independents 10%. By last November’s election, Republicans had declined to 24% and were embarrassingly exceeded by independents who were at nearly 28%. Democrats were about 44%.
So since 187, the California GOP has been in free fall, and it still is…
The campaign for 187 frightened and angered many Latinos just as their population was rising rapidly. And the harsh rhetoric put them hopelessly out of reach for the Republican Party in future elections.
In March, 2016, Kyle Cheney reported on that happening again:
Reeling from a second straight loss to Barack Obama, a flailing Republican Party in 2013 found its culprit: Mitt Romney’s callous tone toward minorities. Instead of being doomed to irrelevance in a changing America, the party would rebrand as a kinder, more inclusive GOP. They called their findings an “autopsy,” and party leaders from Paul Ryan to Newt Gingrich welcomed it with fanfare.
But even then, Donald Trump was lurking.
“New @RNC report calls for embracing ‘comprehensive immigration reform,'” he wrote in a little-noticed tweet, nestled alongside digs at Mark Cuban and Anthony Weiner on the day of the report’s release. “Does the @RNC have a death wish?”
Pundits laughed it off as the buffoonish ramble of a fringe New York billionaire on that March 2013 day, but what Trump didn’t say – and what the party establishment couldn’t have imagined – is that, three years later, he would be the one on the verge of making that death wish come true. The billionaire has not only ignored the report’s conclusions, he has run a campaign that moved the party in the exact opposite direction.
And he has, since then, continued that effort. He will do for America what Pete Wilson did for California. He will make a major political party, his party, irrelevant.
But it’s not quite that simple. Out here there were other factors at play, as George Skelton dutifully notes:
Mike Madrid, a Republican consultant who has been highly critical of the GOP for several years, notes that when the Cold War ended, the aerospace industry collapsed in California. The manufacturing base also deteriorated. That sent Republican middle-class engineers and blue-collar workers fleeing to other states looking for jobs.
Meanwhile, he says, the burgeoning tech industry attracted many left-leaning “progressives” into California.
“All three of them” – 187, loss of middle-class jobs and the tech explosion – “happened at the same time,” Madrid says. “Any one of them would have upset the Republican Party.”
And there’s a way to sum that up:
Dan Schnur, who was Wilson’s spokesman in 1994 and is now a political communications professor at USC and UC Berkeley, says: “What killed the Republican Party in California wasn’t Prop 187. It was their refusal to adjust. California changed. And California Republicans refused to change with it.”
And that’s happening again, as David Nakamura reports:
When Kentucky’s Republican governor lost his bid for reelection two weeks ago despite President Trump’s active endorsement, the president and his allies brushed it off by declaring that Trump had nearly dragged an unpopular incumbent across the finish line.
On Sunday, a day after another Trump-backed GOP gubernatorial candidate fell in Louisiana, the president and his surrogates barely mounted a defense.
In a barrage of 40 tweets and retweets by Sunday evening, Trump didn’t mention Eddie Rispone’s loss to incumbent Gov. John Bel Edwards (D), even though the president had held two campaign rallies in the state in the 10 days before the election aimed at boosting his chances.
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel – who had publicly praised Trump after the Kentucky elections in which the GOP won five other statewide races – also was mum on Louisiana.
The only response was this:
On Fox News Sunday, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) couldn’t avoid weighing in after host Chris Wallace asked him whether the loss made Trump look bad.
“What he said was he’d be made to look bad whether he came in the state or not,” Scalise responded, before crediting Trump with helping Rispone, a businessman, force a runoff election with Edwards after holding a rally in the state on the eve of the bipartisan primary last month.
In short, Trump did what he could and none of this is Trump’s fault, unless Trump has just pulled a Pete Wilson:
For Trump the back-to-back losses of GOP gubernatorial candidates in red Southern states is more than just a bad look. It’s a warning sign that the president’s strategy of focusing strictly on maintaining the strong support of his conservative base might not be enough to help fellow Republicans or even himself in 2020 amid the House Democrats’ impeachment probe that has imperiled his presidency.
And the reason for that is obvious:
“What Trump did in Louisiana was increase voter participation. While he increased the pro-Trump turnout, he also increased the anti-Trump turnout. That’s kind of the lesson here,” said Ron Faucheux, a nonpartisan political polling analyst based in New Orleans.
Faucheux acknowledged that Trump helped Rispone in the primary, but he emphasized that the candidate who had tightly embraced the president ultimately had little else to sell to voters than that relationship – a similar dynamic faced by Bevin.
“Donald Trump likes me!” That’s it? That wasn’t enough:
In Louisiana, state GOP leaders had pleaded with the president to personally get involved in the race, and Trump held a rally with Rispone in Bossier City on Thursday during which the president cast the contest in personal terms. Referring to Bevin’s loss in Kentucky, Trump complained that the media pinned the defeat on him.
“So you’ve got to give me a big win, please,” he told the crowd.
Why? No one likes a whiner. And the writing is on the wall now:
The losses from last year have continued in some crucial elections this month, including in Virginia where Democrats gained control of the state legislature for the first time in a generation.
On top of those defeats, Republicans are facing a wave of retirements in Congress, as once-safe incumbents see a shaky political landscape in 2020 that will be a referendum on the president. Polls have shown that a majority of the public supports the House Democrats’ impeachment probe, though a smaller percentage backs a measure to formally recommend removing Trump from office.
Maybe it is time for Republicans to walk away from this man and the political party he has made irrelevant everywhere but Tupelo:
Despite the losses in Kentucky and Louisiana, Trump remains popular in the South, and he has taken credit for helping in the Mississippi governor’s race where Lt. Gov. Tate Reed (R), with whom Trump appeared at a campaign rally, defeated state Attorney General Jim Hood this month.
But still, there are questions:
“The gubernatorial results in 2019 in Kentucky and Louisiana are in no way a referendum on President Trump or a foreshadowing of the 2020 presidential election,” RNC spokesman Steve Guest said on Sunday. “The Democrats who ran for governor in those red states aren’t anything like the far left candidates running against President Trump.”
“It’s one thing to endorse somebody and to help give them your support base,” Faucheux said. “It’s something different to hover over and take over the whole campaign. When that happens, voters begin to ask, ‘Who is this guy Rispone and why can’t he stand on his own two feet?'”
Nothing was going as planned. Even the base was not buying what Trump was selling. But the problem might have been the product offered for sale. Trump was selling a chance for voters to keep Donald Trump from being embarrassed. Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman put that this way:
When President Trump showed up in Louisiana for the third time in just over a month to try to help Republicans win the governor’s race, he veered off script and got to the heart of why he was staging such an unusual political intervention. His attempt to lift Gov. Matt Bevin of Kentucky to victory this month had failed, Mr. Trump explained, and it would look bad for him to lose another race in a heavily Republican state.
But no one cared about that:
Not only did Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, win re-election by more than 40,000 votes, he did so with the same coalition that propelled Governor-elect Andy Beshear to victory in Kentucky and that could put the president’s re-election chances in grave jeopardy next year. Like Mr. Beshear, Mr. Edwards energized a combination of African-Americans and moderate whites in and around the urban centers of his state, building decisive margins in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport.
Out here, the Republican Party was destroyed by similar forces – traditional jobs disappeared and the techies and young urban hipsters moved in, the suburbs grew too, as did the number and range of minority voters. The world changed. And it keeps changing. And there are those damned suburban voters:
The results in Kentucky and Louisiana are particularly ominous for the president, in part because they indicate that his suburban problem extends to traditionally conservative Southern states and may prove even more perilous in the moderate Midwest next year.
They also reveal political weakness for the president at a moment he is embroiled in a deepening impeachment inquiry and desperately needs to project strength with his own party. And as he enters what will likely be a difficult re-election campaign, the two states emphatically demonstrated that he has become just as much of a turnout lever for the opposition as with his own supporters.
“If you had any doubt that Trump was a human repellent spray for suburban voters who have a conservative disposition, Republicans getting wiped out in the suburbs of New Orleans, Louisville and Lexington should remove it,” said Tim Miller, a Republican strategist and outspoken critic of the president.
But there has to be an explanation for this, and someone to blame too:
The Louisiana results are a stinging rebuke for the president, because he spent so much time there and because Trump allies couldn’t chalk it up entirely to local factors as they did for Kentucky, where Mr. Bevin was deeply unpopular. And even before the Louisiana race was called on Saturday night, finger-pointing from the Capitol to the White House to Mr. Trump’s campaign broke out about why he spent so much political capital on the race in the first place.
In fact, no one knew what he had been thinking:
Mr. Trump carried Louisiana by 20 points in 2016, so the outcome of the governor’s race carries no implications for his own re-election, the balance of power in Congress or the president’s policy agenda. And the moderate Mr. Edwards has relentlessly cultivated Mr. Trump, showing up at the White House every chance he gets – so it was not even an opportunity to defeat a critic.
Some of the president’s advisers were mystified, therefore, that the White House would repeatedly send him to a state irrelevant to his re-election for a candidate he scarcely knows, Eddie Rispone, after they had just been scalded in their attempt to rescue Mr. Bevin in another safely red state.
In Congress, Louisiana lawmakers and their aides grumbled that Mr. Trump was not being shown quality polling indicating how formidable Mr. Edwards was with Republican-leaning voters.
“There were people who are normally part of the Republican base who voted for the governor,” said Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, noting that the portrayal of Mr. Edwards as a liberal extremist was ineffective given his views on cultural issues and credentials as a West Pointer turned Army Ranger. “He’s a very likable man and a man of character.”
But none of this mattered, because this president is a man with a fragile ego:
The main instigator for the president’s involvement in the races, many Republicans said, was Mr. Trump himself, who simply craves the adulation of his supporters and is singularly focused on notching victories, no matter the details. He is even more eager to flex his political muscle in the face of impeachment, and has surrounded himself with several aides who either defer to his whims regardless of the neon-flashing signs of risk before them, or know little about politics.
People close to Mr. Trump – who spoke anonymously to discuss sensitive matters – said he viewed the campaigns he had weighed in on mostly as opportunities for gratification. And with few seasoned political advisers in his inner circle – his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who has control over the president’s campaign, has never worked on another race – there was nobody to tell him that attacking an anti-abortion rights, pro-gun Democrat like Mr. Edwards as a radical would be folly.
No one warned Pete Wilson that demonizing Hispanics, in California, was folly, all those years ago. But the man is insecure:
Mr. Trump, of course, is not the first president to be faulted for his party’s losses. But few have so openly invited the risk of being blamed for them.
“Donald Trump just happens to relish this centrality more than most,” said Liam Donovan, a Republican strategist, “and has a tendency to say the quiet part loud, sometimes to his detriment.”
And this is how the Republican Party dies. Pete Wilson showed the way. And yes, as California goes, so goes the nation, sooner or later. This may be sooner.