California’s Trump-like Moment, 22 Years Before Trump: The Adventures of Pete Wilson

The United States on the whole has seen a rather sudden pivot, or so it seemed, of ‘conservatism’ from a coalition of religious or moral conservatives, economic conservatives [the latter were split into ever lower taxes fiscal ‘conservatives’, and deficit hawk ‘moderates’, the latter being pretty much run out of the party after Reagan], and foreign policy hawks.  What it shifted to was a sort of protectionism and white identity that was mainly directed at recent immigrants and not so much at long-standing groups like blacks, Jews, and others.  Michael Lind, once again, announced this in 2014.  And we also know how closely the new Republican model resembles the models that have come from Europe, far more than they resemble anything that we have called ‘conservatism’ in the past.

But did California, now regarded as a Democratic state, lead the way in this shift?  And is that part of the reason it is now a Democratic state? I would say yes.  And so would the maverick Ron Unz, who wrote a famous essay [famous to me, anyhow] called “California and the End of White America” discussing the transition of California.

The leading character in this transition was a character named Pete Wilson, who served as mayor of San Diego from 1971-1983, and United States Senator from California, 1983-1991.  Despite his pro-abortion ‘rights’ views, he was a Republican.  And he was not unique among his generation and older.  The so-called ‘pro life movement’ did not start out associated with the right or even with evangelical Protestants, being a Catholic issue mainly until the Schaeffers almost singlehandedly turned the evangelical world around in 1979. According to Allan Carlson in his book The American Way, in the mid-century it was the Republicans who were most likely to be fond of Planned Parenthood, equal opportunity on the job for women, and the Equal Rights Amendment; and Democrats who were the most enthusiastic advocates of the ‘family wage’ where the breadwinner [usually male] would have a wage high enough to support a family and children without anyone else in the family having to take a job.  [This was the Great Compression, when more families could afford this than at any time before or since.]  The Democratic Party reversed itself in 1972, and won only one state and the District of Columbia.  Nixon was happy to use the pleasantly alliterative slogan “Acid, Amnesty, and Abortion” against McGovern, but he was not observed shedding any tears when the Supreme Court, right after his second inauguration, declared abortion to be a ‘civil right’.  The Republican Party, on the national level, reversed itself to become a defender of the unborn in 1980.  But in states in the Northeast and the West Coast, many of the Republicans of older outlook remained, and they were often the financial elite of the party.  In 1990 they were able to see to it that Pete Wilson, in his run for governor as successor of Deukmejian, had no opposition in the Republican primary despite his views.

Pete Wilson defeated Dianne Feinstein, now Senator.  Four years later, he faced Kathleen Brown, sister of the once and future Governor Jerry Brown.  He had, according to Unz, not been particularly opposed to immigration up until that time.  But he saw that large portions of the Anglo public, and a few other groups, were very worried about it.  So he supported a proposition called 187, which would have made the ‘undocumented’ ineligible for a long list of social services, including public education.  This was what you might call the ‘Trump moment’ of California, where the party leadership concluded that there was more future in a sort of white identity politics and nativism than in the ‘religious’ forms of social conservatism. And, in the year of 1994, they succeeded.  Wilson defeated Kathleen Brown.  Prop 187 passed.  Republicans by a slim margin captured control of the Assembly for the last time, though there were a series of bizarre maneuvers that lasted for a year [and were California a member of the British Commonwealth, would have caused the Governor General, in the name of Queen Elizabeth II, to take charge].  In January of 1996, the Republican Party was able to trim considerably the powers of the Speakership [I don’t think they have been restored] and install Curt Pringle in it.  But it was Pickett’s Charge, the high water mark.  Later on that year the November election turned the tide against the Republicans, who lost the Speakership, and in 1998 and 2000 they continued to lose ground.  It seemed that there weren’t enough gavachos [non-Hispanic whites] left in the state to make white identity politics particularly useful.  The Republican Party of California had become the equivalent of the Arab parties in the Israeli Knesset.

Another solution often promoted to the hapless Republican Party was a philosophy called ‘socially liberal, fiscally conservative’.  It somewhat resembled the pre-1960s’ outlook updated with a deeper acceptance of the sexual revolution.  And, indeed, by today, it is quite possible that so many of the less affluent whites have left the state that this may be the majority view among the whites of the coastal part of the state.  But the rest of the population has no enthusiasm for it.  That was made clear in 2008 with the famous Proposition 8, which defined marriage as being between a man and a woman.  This was put over the top by fairly loyal Democratic ethnicities, the blacks and the Latinos, while actually losing the gavacho and Asian vote.  [I wonder if the majority of California’s ‘social conservatives’ today are actually Democrats of color.]  So there is really no future in ‘social liberalism and fiscal conservatism’ either.

The lesson:  If you’re going to base a political party on anti-immigration and white identity [or any identity], make sure that your ethnic group is a supermajority and likely to remain one for a while!

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