Monday, November 14, 2016




The last time the Republican Party had a win like the surprise pulled off by President-elect Donald Trump, it came in California and it quickly turned the nation’s largest state from a consistent tossup political battleground to a solid Democratic bastion.

          That “victory” came when then-Gov. Pete Wilson won reelection – on Nov. 8, also the date of Trump’s triumph – by a large margin in 1994 on the strength of a campaign directed largely against Latino illegal immigrants.

          Its benchmark was a television commercial showing dozens of the undocumented running across the Mexican border at San Ysidro unimpeded by Border Patrol officers. “They keep coming…,” a basso voice intoned. Wilson strongly supported the anti-illegal immigrant Proposition 187, which shared the ballot with him that year. The measure aimed to throw children of the undocumented out of public schools and health clinics, deprive illegals of all government-paid health care and make life so unpleasant they would return to their homelands.

          Trump’s campaign over the last 20 months wasn’t a carbon copy of Wilson’s. But both defeated women from prominent political families – Trump whipping former First Lady Hillary Clinton and Wilson beating former state Treasurer Kathleen Brown, the daughter of one governor and sister of another. Both aroused strong fear among Latinos legally in America who hadn’t yet bothered to become U.S. citizens.

          After the 1994 vote, these green-card holders lined up by the thousands in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, Sacramento, Fresno and San Francisco to obtain citizenship applications. Many feared that with their illegal-immigrant compatriots under threat of deportation, they could be next. Citizenship, they concluded, would be their best protection.

          They were motivated by the racial slurs and hateful incidents many of encountered everywhere from bus stops and gasoline stations to coffee shops and ballparks.

          Within 30 months, more than 2.5 million had become citizens in California, the vast majority registering as Democratic voters. Muscleman actor Arnold Schwarzenegger is the only Republican to win a major state office in California since. Republican presidential candidates haven’t bothered campaigning here in years; they just stop by to raise money, but most don’t even venture out in public. Trump also did that once the state’s primary election was over in June.

          The national implications are clear: All over America, Latinos this fall began experiencing more racist incidents and many came to feel much as their California counterparts did 22 years ago.

          They started applying for citizenship in significant numbers in states like Texas and Florida, Georgia and Illinois. By Election Day, they had already had some impact: Where Republicans have won in Texas by margins of about 20 percent for the last two decades, Trump’s win there was by less than 10 percent. Clinton was competitive in Georgia, too, losing there by less than 5 percent. Illinois, meanwhile, has become almost as reliably Democratic as California.

          But this is only the tip of the iceberg. In Texas, almost 2 million legal Hispanic immigrants have never applied for citizenship. In Georgia, it’s more than 450,000; in South Carolina, it’s about 300,000.

          If the majority of them become citizens and then begin to vote Democratic, as they did here, the political map of America will change radically. The potential for change is enormous, but only one major Republican (South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham) has openly admitted it. He warned last year that with Trump, the GOP could become as irrelevant nationally as it has been for a generation in California.

          But Trump and his backers paid no heed. They banked on winning with angry Anglo voters, just like Wilson. Trump did win this year, at least in the Electoral College, but now could usher the Republican Party into a disastrous era. This might take four years to take its full effect because the naturalization process takes time.

          But the odds are high that Trump’s win will have a similar effect nationally to Wilson’s big 1994 victory in California, with the strong possibility that the GOP will eventually come to look on him as its most self-destructive figure in generations.

    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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