One of the most malign myths in American politics is that Governor Pete Wilson destroyed the California GOP by endorsing the anti-illegal immigration Proposition 187 in 1994. As I wrote in 2002:
Running against multiculturalism worked well for Ward Connerly’s mentor, Pete Wilson, who was governor from 1991-1999. Connerly, said, “In my opinion, Pete Wilson would trounce [Gray] Davis [in the 2002 gubernatorial race — Davis ended up winning by 5 points over novice candidate Bill Simon, then was famously recalled the next year], notwithstanding the conventional wisdom in California that Wilson is ‘divisive’ and ‘anti-Latino.'” This is an unfashionable assessment — Wilson might be the most demonized man in recent Republican history — so it’s worth reviewing the history.
A severe recession struck California shortly after Wilson took office, making him “the most unpopular governor in the history of modern polling,” according to a 1994 California Journal article. His disapproval ratings were greater than his approval ratings throughout his first term. Thus, Wilson entered his 1994 re-election bid trailing his Democratic opponent by 20 percentage points. Yet, in part by making Prop. 187 one of the centerpieces of his re-election campaign. Wilson came from behind and won by 15 points. Prop. 187 itself passed by 18 points.
Wilson is now widely derided as the man who destroyed the Republican Party in California by his support for the three anti-multiculturalist initiatives. Yet, the subsequent record shows less evidence of that than is generally assumed. In 1996, Wilson backed Prop. 209 [against racial quotas], which passed by nine points. In 1998, he endorsed Prop. 227 [against bilingual education], which passed by 22 points. He left office in 1998 (due to term limits), with his approval rating at its highest level ever — 55 percent to 37 percent among registered voters in the Sept. 1998 L.A. Times Poll.
Clearly, the booming economy of 1998 contributed to Wilson’s late blooming popularity, just as the recession hurt his approval ratings in earlier years. But it’s hard to see much evidence that his perceived swing over the years from moderate to conservative made him less popular with the voters as a whole.
In contrast, 1998 Republican candidate Dan Lungren came out against the anti-bilingual education Prop. 227. He lost to Davis by 20 points. Similarly, in the 2000 presidential election, George W. Bush — who supports amnesty for illegal Mexican immigrants, bilingual education, and what he calls “affirmative access” — outspent Al Gore $20 million to nothing in California, and still lost by 11 points.
The poor performances by Lungren and Bush are frequently blamed on Wilson, who is said to have unleashed a tidal wave of Hispanic electoral power by backing the anti-illegal immigration Prop. 187. Latinos, who traditionally didn’t much register or vote, are widely assumed today to have entered into politics en masse to fight against Prop. 187 and its sponsor, Pete Wilson…
According to Census Bureau figures, Hispanics cast 11.4 percent of the vote in 1994 when the Republican Wilson won by 15 percentage points. By 1998, when the Republican Lungren lost by 20 points, Hispanics comprised 13.9 percent of the voters. (Their share remained level at 13.9 percent in 2000. In the rest of America, by the way, Hispanics only accounted for 4.4 percent of the vote in 2000.) That Hispanic growth of 2.5 points is, of course, impressive, but it can hardly account for the Republicans’ 17 point collapse from Wilson’s 55 percent in 1994 to Lungren’s 38 percent in 1998. [More]
The bigger story was that between 1994 and 1998 there was an enormous outflow of conservative whites from California, in part due to changes in the state caused by illegal immigration and the huge Hispanic baby boom in California that followed the 1986 amnesty.
As I wrote in 2000:
Demographer [William] Frey points out, “Another cause of the rise of the California Democrats is selective out-migration of the more rock-ribbed Republicans. The folks who have been leaving California’s suburbs for other states have the white, middle-class demographic profiles of Republican voters. California’s middle class families are being squeezed out by real estate prices. And Republicans are heading for whiter states where they won’t have to pay taxes for so many social programs for the poor.”
Finally, while white high school graduates have been leaving, California’s booming New Economy is attracting an influx of well-educated whites from the other 49 states. Traditionally, Frey notes, “Californians of high socio-economic status have been more likely to be classic liberals than similarly well-off residents of other states.” Frey expects that newcomers who move to California to make their fortunes in Hollywood or Silicon Valley will also tend to vote Democratic more often than their wealth would suggest.
Between 1990 and 2000 in California, the T otal Fertility Rate for non-Hispanic whites, which correlates closely with GOP share of the vote across the country, dropped by 14%. The white voters who were left were a lot more socially liberal. And the GOP gave them no reason to turn out in 1998 or 2002.
The recall election of 2003, however, turned out famously different, as the Democrats’ blunders on immigration gave white voters a reason to show up and vote Republican. The two GOP gubernatorial candidates, Schwarzenegger and McClintock, pulled a stunning 62% of the vote. I wrote in VDARE:
Ten million words have been written about Arnold Schwarzenegger, so let’s pause to remember the forgotten man of the California recall: Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante.
During the first half of the campaign, the polls frequently showed Bustamante with a small lead over Schwarzenegger. Yet, come judgment day, in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by almost 5 to 4, Arnold spotted Bustamante the 13.4% share of the vote won by conservative Republican Tom McClintock, and still won by a remarkable 17 percent (48.7 to 31.7 percent).
In other words, the combined Republican vote beat Bustamante by over 31 points.
That’s Cruz’n for some bruis’n! How did Bustamante blow it?
When Bustamante became the only Democrat in the race to replace Gray Davis, his strategy seemed obvious. He just had to run as a pragmatic Democratic centrist and win the numerous Californians who just don’t much like Republicans. If at least one other Republican stayed in the race with Schwarzenegger (as McClintock ultimately did), then Bustamante would have only needed to win, say, the same proportion of voters as there are registered Democrats (43.7 percent) or as would vote against the recall (44.7 percent).
There was nothing outlandish about Bustamante positioning himself like this. He really was, by California standards, a centrist – a career politician from the unhip Central Valley who had devoted himself to servicing big agribusiness. In 1993, for example, he voted to prevent illegal immigrants from obtaining drivers’ licenses.
Yet, rather than run for Governor of all California, Bustamante campaigned as if the race was for El Gobernador de Mexifornia. Instead of competing with Schwarzenegger for the middle-of-the-road vote, he devoted much of his energy to battling Green Party candidate Peter Camejo (2.8 percent) for the stick-it-to-the-gringo vote.
Every time I turned on the TV, Bustamante was paying tribute to “undocumented workers” and their moral right to drivers’ licenses, free college tuition, and welfare.
He turned the recall into a referendum on the wonderfulness of illegal immigration.
Why did Bustamante decide to run as if he was the spiritual descendent of Pancho Villa raiding Columbus, New Mexico?
Bustamante’s big mistake was that he actually believed all the hype he’d been reading about the Hispanic vote, what I call “Karl Rove’s smoke screen.” You’ve seen these assertions a hundred times in recent years:…
It’s political suicide for Republicans to appeal to the interests of the ethnic majority of voters – but it’s smart politics for the Democrats to Hispander to the Latino minority because that would never cause a backlash among the majority.
In reality, of course, a month before the election, Davis sealed his fate by foolishly signing the legislature’s bill giving drivers’ licenses to illegal aliens without the criminal background checks Davis had previously demanded. And Bustamante tried to ride the issue into the Governor’s Mansion. Both Schwarzenegger and McClintock ran against it. And 70 percent of the voters on Election Day told the LA Times exit pollsters that they opposed the bill. [More]