I believe what happened to the Republican Party in California bears relevant lessons for the GOP, and if unheeded, will mean a disastrous outcome in the coming presidential election and for a long time to come.
If California, heretofore a trend-setting state, indeed portends the future of the national GOP, this is what they can look forward to. In California, the Republican Party has not won any of the statewide offices since Arnold Schwarzenegger left the governor’s office.
There hasn’t been a GOP-elected candidate to the US Senate since Pete Wilson resigned in 1991 to become governor. Democrat Dianne Feinstein won his seat to join incumbent Democrat, Barbara Boxer. They have been the only senators from California ever since.
From the GOP side, the only candidates for Senate with the credentials to win the approval of the extreme right wing of the state can win the GOP primary but they are not electable. Candidates with moderate credentials that stand a fighting chance in the general election can never get past the primary.
In 1994, Pete Wilson faced with a difficult re-election campaign took on a strong anti-immigrant position and vigorously supported Prop 187, a proposition denying services to illegal immigrants.
Wilson found the formula to win his re-election but inflicted a long-term injury on his party. Today, nearly three quarters of the Hispanic voters identified the state GOP as anti-immigrant and voted for the Democrats. A three-to-one edge on 22% of the electorate in California has been and will continue to be a formidable hurdle facing any GOP aspirant for statewide office.
Despite his outrageously irresponsible remarks, Donald Trump continues to lead the polls among the GOP presidential candidates. If he does become the standard bearer for the 2016 election, it’s certain that Trump’s anti-immigrant, racist statements that won him the primary will backfire on him in the general election. Trump’s bigotry will come back to bite him in the rump and the consequences will be even more painful for the Republican Party.
According to Los Angeles Times and other pundits, the eventual GOP nominee will need to win almost half of the Hispanic votes to win the general election. With Trump leading the ticket, it would be the same as the proverbial fat chance.
According to a recent fact checker compilation in the New York Times, Ben Carson and Trump led the pack of GOP nominees in making false statements; as much as 80% came out of their mouths as lies. (The Democratic candidates were more modest and lied less than 30% of the time.)
Of course, the more the eventual winning candidate had to lie his/her way to a winning nomination, the more undoing of the lies would be necessary in the general campaign. Some, such as the racist bigotry comments, will be indelible and not come out in the wash.
The analogy with California is that it may be necessary to take on extreme right-wing positions to lead in the polls and win the nomination. But the baggage Trump and others pile on in the race to the nominating convention may be impossible to disown in the general election.
Now fighting desperately just to win over one-third of the state legislature and keep the Democrats from a super majority, The Economist has dismissed the GOP in California as fading into irrelevance. Based on the way the primary contest has progressed so far, the national party appears to be on the same trajectory toward irrelevance.
Dr. George Koo recently retired from a global advisory services firm where he advised clients on their China strategies and business operations. Educated at MIT, Stevens Institute and Santa Clara University, he is the founder and former managing director of International Strategic Alliances. He is a member of the Committee of 100, the Pacific Council for International Policy and a director of New America Media.
The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of Asia Times.
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