Immigration, illegal or otherwise, has been one of Donald Trump’s signature issues. He has made claims and promises that are both outrageous and incredible, yet they have endeared him to his followers. His talk of building a wall between the US and Mexico and his references to Mexicans as “rapists” and “criminals” have certainly aroused passions from those with a Latino heritage. While such talk has proved popular with voters in Republican primaries, what are the consequences of Trump’s policies for the Republican Party as a whole? Peter Beinart provides some insights into what the future may hold in The White Strategy, an article that appeared in The Atlantic.
Beinart provides this lede:
“Embracing white nativism in the 1990s turned the California GOP into a permanent minority. The same story may now be repeating itself nationally.”
California was a Republican-leaning state not too long ago. It was also a state in which passions ran high over illegal immigration. Politicians tried to take advantage of the resentment against illegal immigrants by curtailing the rights and benefits that might be available to these illegals, but in so doing that they offended the entire Latino population. California governor Pete Wilson tried to be the Donald Trump of his day.
“But Trump is not the first Republican to put illegal immigration at the heart of his presidential bid. Pete Wilson did it 20 years ago. On a late-summer day in 1995, with the Statue of Liberty as his backdrop, the then-governor of California declared that he was entering the presidential race because ‘there’s a right way to come to America and a wrong way. Illegal immigration is not the American way….’.”
Wilson and his collaborators had initiated a number of legal actions that would prove troubling for him and his party.
“….Proposition 187, a California ballot initiative Wilson had successfully championed the year before, which denied undocumented immigrants public education, nonemergency health care, and other government services. It was the beginning of a ferocious reaction to Latino immigration in the Golden State. In 1995, Elton Gallegly, a Republican congressman from California and the chair of a House task force on immigration reform, recommended an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to deny automatic citizenship to the children of undocumented immigrants. In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 209, which prohibited public universities and other state institutions from giving preference to racial and ethnic minorities. In 1998, Californians passed Proposition 227, which curtailed bilingual education.”
Prior to these actions, Latinos were quite willing to vote for either political party.
“When Wilson announced his presidential campaign, 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. Republicans controlled the governor’s mansion, the state assembly, and a majority of statewide elected offices. And while the state’s growing Latino population posed a challenge to GOP dominance, Latinos had shown themselves willing to vote Republican in substantial numbers. According to exit polls, Ronald Reagan won 44 percent of California Latinos in 1984. Republican Governor George Deukmejian won 46 percent in 1986. Pete Wilson himself won 47 percent in 1990.”
The effect of the Republican moves was to increase political activism among Latinos and it also solidified the notion that the attack on illegal immigrants was really an attack on all Latinos.
“Feeling themselves under assault, California Latinos registered to vote in epic numbers. From 1994 to 2004, according to Latino America, by Segura and Matt A. Barreto, the voter-registration rate among California Latinos grew 69 percent—more than twice as fast as the state’s Latino population. Latino voters also swung sharply against the GOP. Republicans, who had lost the Latino vote by six points in the 1990 gubernatorial race, lost it by 46 points in 1994, then by 61 points in 1998.”
In addition, a significant number of non-Hispanic whites, particularly the young, were appalled by the Latino-baiting and moved to the left into the arms of the Democratic Party.
What have Republicans gained from this anti-immigration stance?
“Almost two decades later, the California Republican Party still has not recovered. Latinos—who now constitute almost 40 percent of California’s population and more than a quarter of its eligible voters—have voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1996 by at least 40 points. Democrats today control every statewide elected office, and make up close to two-thirds of the state Senate and assembly, along with almost three-quarters of California’s delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives.”
Does this mean that the California backlash will spread across the country and render the Republicans members of a permanent minority party? Before addressing that question, Beinart provides us some necessary insight into Trump supporters and the Republican Party of today.
“Until recently, immigration did not sharply divide the two national parties. In 1986, 42 percent of House Republicans, along with 64 percent of House Democrats, voted for a bill giving legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants—and Ronald Reagan signed it into law. A study of public attitudes in the early 1990s noted that ‘the weakness of the connection between party affiliation and opinions about immigration is striking’.”
Surveys taken today tell us that the correlation between attitudes on immigration and party affiliation are quite strong.
“In their recent book, The New Immigration Federalism, the Santa Clara University School of Law professor Pratheepan Gulasekaram and the University of California at Riverside political-science professor S. Karthick Ramakrishnan find that the rate of immigrant population growth, the percentage of Spanish-speaking households, and local economic conditions all fail to predict state policy toward immigrants. But the partisan tilt of the state does: It is ‘by far’ the strongest correlate to policy, they write. Overwhelmingly, Democratic-leaning states pass pro-immigrant laws. Overwhelmingly, Republican-leaning states pass anti-immigrant laws.”
The current Republican Party is dominated by the former slave states of an earlier era. In most of these states racial feelings continue to dominate political life. For much of the twentieth century this region was staunchly Democratic and bound together politically by its racial policies. When the Democratic Party came out in support of civil rights for blacks, the Republican Party made a play for the white southerners and welcomed them into what was at one time a much bigger tent. In the process of “going southern” the Republicans came to be dominated by race. Republicans depend on white voters, having driven away minorities and many whites with their racially-tinged policies.
As a consequence, the correlation between party affiliation and views on immigration policies is really a correlation between racial attitudes and views on immigration policies.
“It is this connection between views about immigration and views about race that best explains why immigration has become such a partisan wedge. Since the 1970s, political scientists have demonstrated that whites who express a higher level of resentment toward African Americans are more likely to identify as Republicans. Since the 1990s, as the political scientists Zoltan Hajnal and Michael Rivera detail in a 2014 paper, a similar correlation has emerged between resentment toward Latinos and Republican partisanship.”
Trump, by arousing passions over immigration issues, has forced the entire Latino community to act as a group under attack.
“As in California in the 1990s, Republican nativism is sparking a surge in Latino voter registration. Since Trump entered the race last summer, the number of immigrants becoming American citizens in Texas has risen from 1,200 a month to 2,200 a month, and a higher percentage of the newly naturalized is registering to vote. The trend is similar nationwide.”
“According to polling of registered voters by the firm Latino Decisions, Trump’s unfavorability rating is 88 percent among foreign-born Latinos, and 86 percent among Latinos born in the U.S. Among Latinos who earn less than $40,000 a year, it is 90 percent, and among those who earn more than $80,000 a year, it is 85 percent. Among Mexican Americans, Trump’s unfavorability rating is 90 percent. Among Cuban Americans, historically the most Republican Latino group, it is 82 percent.”
Will anti-immigration policies and anti-Latino attitudes cause the firmly red states to flip into the Democratic column? That is not likely. The core Republican states of the South have always been essentially single-party states with whites voting as a bloc. Until these regions acquire enough minorities or white migrants from other regions of the nation, nothing is going to change.
Unfortunately for them, to win a national election Republicans must win a number of swing states whose constituencies and political views are more fluid. In many of these the Latino population is growing and becoming more active politically. This will narrow the options available to accumulate the necessary electoral votes to win a presidential contest.
Texas provides one of the more interesting situations. It has long been a dependable Republican state. However, it has a large and growing number of Latinos. If the Republicans were ever to lose this state and its 38 electoral votes, it would be essentially impossible to ever elect another Republican president.
The Republican Party has Trump because its voters wanted Trump. But with Trump they are playing with fire. Trump is solidifying the party as the home of only white voters, ceding minorities to the Democrats. As in California in the 1990s, the Republicans are also risking losing the young whites who currently identify as Republicans.
A party depending upon angry old white voters can’t last very long.
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