Rarely has a political party flailed in as many futile ways as California’s branch of the Republican Party.
In a state where Latinos are plainly on their way to becoming the largest voting bloc, the GOP until this fall maintained a platform plank stating that “allowing illegal immigrants to remain in California undermines respect for the law.”
That’s now been changed in a feckless, hopeless move aiming to pander to Hispanic voters, for whom treatment of undocumented immigrants is a central issue, one that pretty much dictates where their ballots go. Those votes have gone to Democrats by about a 70 percent margin for more than 20 years, mostly because of that one platform plank and the more heated anti-illegal immigrant rhetoric used by GOP candidates who heartily subscribed to it.
But the plank has been changed. The politically incorrect phrase “illegal immigrant” appears nowhere anymore in the state party’s platform. But the GOP just couldn’t rid its platform of the concept of illegality. Instead, that document, changed at a party convention in September, now says Republicans “hold diverse views” on “what to do with the millions of people who are currently here illegally.”
The platform does not spell out those allegedly “diverse” views, but there’s no evidence whatsoever that ordinary Republican voters, candidates and officeholders have changed their opinions. In fact, when writers avoid using the “illegal immigrants” term and instead call them “undocumented,” there’s often an outpouring of complaints about succumbing to political correctness.
But the party is making some effort to respond to electoral reality in California. Example: The hiring last winter of a Latino outreach person in GOP’s state office.
The problem with these kinds of moves is that they reflect no real change, but merely an attempt to pander to a group the party might believe is sufficiently gullible to fall for it. That has not described Latinos lately.
All of which led rightist leader David Horowitz to write in the Conservative Review that “The GOP in California is deader than dead.” He added that “There is no way Republicans will ever win that state again.”
And yet, even now the party can win parts of California. Republicans actually picked up a couple of swing legislative seats in last year’s mid-term election, and hung onto two more. This gives the GOP just over one-third membership in both houses of the Legislature, where it can stymie Democratic moves to raise taxes, which require a two-thirds majority vote.
But it’s not sufficient to influence votes on the state budget, which the minority party formerly held hostage every June and July during the long era prior to 2010, when voters passed Proposition 25 and allowed budget passage by a simple majority.
The GOP has treated its minor victories like a major triumph, even though the very definition of a swing seat is one that’s prone to switching back and forth between parties every few years. This happens most often when the party of a presidential winner takes a seat in a national election year, then coughs it up again in the next mid-term.
Horowitz and others claim the GOP will not win many Latino votes with minor, pandering platform changes. Rather, they say, it could alienate rightist voters who are its essential base.
Said Stephen Frank, former president of the ultra-conservative California Republican Assembly, “Bottom line, (base) Republicans do not support breaking the law. Republicans do not accept losing jobs, crowded schools, tens of billions in the financing of illegal aliens. Only the self-deceiving ‘value/principle’ lacking Republicans believe that…”
Frank is probably correct that the party’s platform change could cause some of its base voters to stay home next November if many GOP candidates adhere to the new plank. But they won’t.
This conflict between trying to accept at least some of California’s new reality and a refusal to bend at all has plagued the party since passage of the anti-illegal immigrant Proposition 187 in 1994. That measure caused millions of legal immigrants to win citizenship, register and cast Democratic ballots thereafter, turning California into a safe “blue” state.”
All of which assures that the GOP will continue its slide into minor party status unless pragmatists can somehow convince die-hard conservatives they need to bend a bit to avoid becoming perpetual losers almost everywhere in California.