These are dark days for the Republican Party in California. Last week the Sacramento Bee reported that the GOP is behind both the Democratic Party and Independents in the number of registered voters. Last month we reported that there may be no Republican candidate for either governor or U.S. Senator on the ballot in November’s general election after the primaries are held tomorrow.
For a state that was solidly Republican during the 20th century and produced conservative presidents like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, the turnaround has been staggering. It also may foreshadow what is going to eventually happen in the rest of the country, and that is really bad news for the GOP.
The last California Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, had this to say about the GOP in his state:
“Today, we are the Titanic after it hit the iceberg, but before the last bit of the ship submerged.”
It wasn’t inevitable for California to become a one-party state. But it was the result of short-sighted Republican policies over the past 25 years. And many people believe that what happened in the Golden State is going to spread throughout the country over the next 25 years.
The primary catalyst for the change from a deep red state to a one-party blue state was the way the GOP responded to a diversifying population. Instead of trying to expand their political base Republicans doubled down on their white base — exactly what Donald Trump did to get elected and what he has done as president.
Long before Trump capitalized on white resentment, California voters passed ballot measures in the 1980s and ’90s that deeply offended minorities. They had measures to:
- make English the state’s official language,
- outlaw affirmative action,
- severely punish gang members, and
- cut off all public benefits to undocumented immigrants, including health care and education.
But then there was a backlash to those laws, leading to the GOP’s downfall in the increasingly diverse state.
“In California, we went through that 25 years ago. We’re on the other side of it now,” said Larry Gerston, an expert on California politics. “The nation is not yet there, but it’s heading this way.”
Ruy Teixeira, a demographer at the Century Foundation, had this to say:
“Modern California politics has an uncanny knack of prefiguring what happens in the rest of America in about a 15-year timeline. All signs show that the national Republican party is handling rapid demographic change exactly how the California Republican Party did, and they are totally screwing it up.”
California is home to more than one-in-eight Americans and has the world’s fifth largest economy. It is doing very well economically and has a budget surplus. And the demographic trends that shaped the current political landscape in California are happening nationwide.
In 1970, whites were 77 percent of the California population, but by the year 2000 whites were less than 50 percent of the population and the most recent figures show that just 38 percent of Californians are white. And although whites are still a majority of the U.S. population, that will not always be the case. Census Bureau figures project that whites will be a minority in the entire United States by the year 2045. In the interim many more states with increasing minority populations will turn from red to blue.
Clearly the future does not lie with the white nationalism of the Trump party that is currently in power. The question now is what happens next — will Republicans continue to double down on their white political base or open up to the needs of a diversifying nation?
Perhaps there will be some clues in tomorrow’s primary elections, but the way things look right now the Republican Party in California is still on a downward trend, and the national party is not far behind.
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.