Peter Beinart repeats in The Atlantic in “The Republican Party’s White Strategy the conventional wisdom about how California Republicans shot themselves in the foot by supporting immigration restrictionist Proposition 187 in 1994:
From 1994 to 1998, in other words, California Republicans rebelled against Latino immigration in many of the ways Ann Coulter now hopes America as a whole will. What has happened since is instructive.
When Pete Wilson announced his presidential campaign [in 1995], California was a Republican-leaning state. Between the end of World War II and the end of the Cold War, it had gone to the Republican presidential candidate nine out of 11 times and elected a Republican governor seven out of 11 times.
Mr. Beinart is being disingenuous with the history when he writes “9 out of 11 times” to suggest a steady reality. In truth, California went Republican in 9 out of 10 elections from 1952 thru 1988 (often by narrow margins, and often by having a Republican superstar on the national ticket), but, beginning spectacularly in 1992, two years before Proposition 187, went Democratic six times and counting.
The New York Times’ John Harwood attempts a similar ruse in
In California, a Lesson for Donald Trump and the G.O.P.
By JOHN HARWOOD JUNE 21, 2016
… [Proposition 187] worked in the short run. Mr. Wilson won re-election handily.
Yet California Republicans have struggled ever since. The signal Mr. Wilson and his party sent in 1994 alienated Latino and other nonwhite voters as their political clout was swelling.
Before 1994, Republican nominees had carried California in six of seven presidential contests. Since then, they’ve lost all five, averaging 40 percent of the vote.
Beinart and Harwood are both covering up the fact that California had turned into a Democratic leaning state several years before 1994’s Proposition 187. California’s switch over from red-purple to blue happened at the polls in 1992, two years earlier.
A more straightforward NYT paragraph would have read:
Before 1992, Republican nominees had carried California in six straight presidential contests. Since then, they’ve lost all six, averaging 40 percent of the vote.
But then they would been reduced to arguing that 1994’s Proposition 187 caused the GOP’s very bad 1992 in California (the Republicans lost not just the Electoral College but two Senate elections in one day that year) by sending back Bad Karma Waves from the Future, or something.
I realized that Beinart and Harwood are just repeating the Conventional Wisdom, but they’re smart enough to have looked up the actual numbers and noticed that the Conventional Wisdom is wrong.
California had voted Republican in 9 out of 10 Presidential elections between 1952 and 1988. But George W. Bush had been crushed in 1992 in California, winning only 32.6% of the vote and losing to Bill Clinton by 13.4 percentage points. Nationally, Bush won 37.0% and lost to Clinton by 5.6 points, so the Bush margin of defeat in California was 7.8 points worse than in the whole country.
So, the disastrous effect of Prop 187 in 1994 should have made the 1996 GOP candidate Bob Dole do even worse in Calif0rnia relative to the whole country than poor Bush did in 1992, right?
Yet in 1996, after Proposition 187, the GOP margin of defeat in California was down to 12.9 points from 13.4 points in 1992. And that’s relative to a worse national margin of defeat for the GOP candidate of 8.5 points in 1996 versus a 5.6 point national margin in 1992.
So Bush in 1992 did 7.8 points worse in California than in the whole country, while Dole in 1996, running against the same opponents, Clinton and Perot, did only 4.4 points worse in California than in the whole country.
So, between 1992 and 1996, rather than 1994’s Proposition 187 destroying the GOP in California, the GOP presidential candidate improved by a net-net-net of 3.4 points.
That’s not a huge effect, but it’s a surprising one since it’s the opposite of the endlessly repeated conventional wisdom. The numbers have been calculable for almost 20 years, but it’s so much easier to go with the myth than to do a little arithmetic.
It’s almost as if the Democrats and their media allies keep lying to the Republicans about why they shouldn’t imitate Pete Wilson’s spectacularly successful re-election campaign (from down by 20 to winning by 15 over Jerry Brown’s sister). They don’t keep recounting the same myths because they are genuinely concerned about their dear friends the Republicans hurting themselves, but because they are scared of the strategy.
More than anything else, what doomed the GOP in California was a combination of the end of the Cold War, which had paid for lots of Republican-voting military-industrial complex employees in California, and the big exodus of Republican whites to states with cheaper housing. (The GOP did well in smaller inland West states with cheaper housing due to the influx of Republican ex-Californians.)
What killed the GOP in California after its success under Wilson was its inability to run up big majorities among whites. For example, in 2000 George W. Bush won only 49% of the California white vote in the L.A. Times exit poll. In 2004, GWB won only 51% of the white vote. In 2008, the pro-amnesty John McCain, sponsor of the 2006 Kennedy-McCain amnesty bill, won only 46% of the white vote in California.
Republican candidates can’t win in diverse states like California and Texas without rolling up big white majorities, the way Romney beat Obama in Texas in 2012 by 76-24.