Watch the primary election process playing out both nationally and in California, and you almost have to wonder whether the state and national wings of the Republican Party have made a suicide pact.
Yes, the result this year might see either candidate Donald Trump or rival hopeful Ted Cruz win the party nomination for president, but if one of them or someone else sharing their harsh ideas on immigration does, it will almost certainly mean long-term disaster for the GOP.
It’s hard to understand why the GOP still hasn’t learned that lesson from California.
Equally hard to fathom is the state party’s adamant stance on purity of registration: It’s about the only political party, major or minor, in California that insists on allowing only registered party members to vote in its presidential primary.
The national party’s suicidal tendencies are getting to be as obvious as those of the state GOP organization. You can see the self-destructiveness in what’s happened to California Republicans since they went ultra-hard line on illegal immigration in 1994, when then-Gov. Pete Wilson won re-election on a platform of strong support for that year’s Proposition 187. This was the anti-illegal immigrant measure aiming to remove children of the undocumented from public schools and health clinics and to deny even emergency room care to all undocumented immigrants.
Eventually, every part of this proposition was struck down by federal courts, even though it passed by a 2-1 margin and was a major reason for Wilson’s win over Democratic rival Kathleen Brown, former state treasurer and sister of the present governor.
The vote and the campaign leading up to it struck fear in many hundreds of thousands of immigrants who had lived here for years, even decades, but not become citizens. More than 2.5 million of these legal immigrants became citizens and then registered to vote. Only two Republicans have won statewide elections since – out of 30 who tried. Before 1994, California was a swing state in presidential elections, going for Republicans most of the time.
Now it is so solidly Democratic that neither party bothers to campaign much here in national elections.
When candidates like Trump and Cruz insist they will deport all or most of the 11 million-odd undocumented in this country, they spur fear in millions of legal immigrants who wonder if they’ll be the next target. If they register to vote in percentages similar to the post-187 California push, currently solid Republican states like Texas, South Carolina, Georgia and more would become swing states, while swing states like North Carolina, Iowa, Colorado and Nevada could become as Democrat-dominated as California.
So the anti-immigrant talk may have won for candidates among hard-line Republican voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and other early primary election states, but it could prove disastrous in the long term for the party, just as similar rhetoric did here.
Then there’s the seeming insanity of the state GOP organization, which has opted to keep its presidential primary purely Republican (presidential primaries are the only significant California races where the top two system does not apply). On the strictly fiscal level, this makes no sense: Taxpayers finance all primaries here. Why should any of them not be allowed into any election they like? If Republicans want to close their primary, shouldn’t the party foot its own bill?
By contrast, most other parties in this state’s June balloting will allow no-party-preference independent voters to participate. That includes the Democrats, Libertarians and American Independents.
Besides the fact it makes no sense for independent voters to help pay for the GOP primary and then not be able to vote in it, there’s some other reliable, academically developed information Republican officials ought to consider:
When a voter casts a ballot for someone in a primary, he or she becomes much more inclined to vote for that person or his or her party again later.
By excluding no-party-preference voters from their primary, then, Republicans are essentially ceding many of their votes to the Democrats, who have long let independents take part in their primaries.
So Republicans, already suffering from a 16 percent voter registration deficit compared with Democrats, are denying themselves the opportunity to build loyalty among independents.
It’s suicidal, almost crazy, just like what the national party is doing.
Thomas D. Elias writes the syndicated California Focus column.