The Republican Party’s White Strategy

Gregory Reid

Embracing white nativism in the 1990s turned the California GOP into a permanent minority... now nationally

The Atlantic, July, August 2016

When it comes to Latinos, Donald Trump has a muse: Ann Coulter. Last June, when Trump called Mexican immigrants “rapists” in his presidential-campaign announcement, the comment took many journalists by surprise. But that’s because many journalists hadn’t read Coulter’s work. Her book Adios, America: The Left’s Plan to Turn Our Country Into a Third World Hellhole, which hit bookstores two weeks before Trump entered the race, is packed with statements about “Latin American rape culture” and “the gusto for gang rape, incest and child rape of our main immigrant groups.” On page 191 Coulter writes, “The rape of little girls isn’t even considered a crime in Latino culture.” On page 173 she warns, “Another few years of our current immigration policies, and we’ll all have to move to Canada to escape the rapes.” Before announcing his presidential run, Trump called Adios, America a “great read.” Since Trump began his campaign, Coulter has occasionally warmed up crowds at his rallies.

Given Coulter’s role in Trump’s crusade against Mexican immigration, it’s worth examining her book for clues to that crusade’s future. In particular, it’s worth examining what she says about California.

In Adios, America’s acknowledgments section, Coulter notes that many of the people who helped her with the book hail from that state:

Ned, Jim, Trish, Robert, Melanie, and Merrill are all Californians, so they have a closeup view of what our new country is going to be like. In fact, nearly all my friends who were willing to be named are Californians. It’s remarkable how quickly people in a state that has been overwhelmed with illegal aliens are able to grasp the fine points of my thesis. If it’s not a hit in 2015, this book will be HUGE as soon as the other forty-nine states become California.

Coulter is right. California, where Latinos now outnumber non-Latino whites, offers valuable lessons about what American politics will be like as the share of Latinos grows in the country as a whole. But those lessons suggest that the Trump insurrection will fail miserably. If the Golden State is any guide, the Trump campaign does not herald the beginning of a mass nativist backlash against Latino immigration. It heralds something closer to the end.

Although Trump has broken with his party’s establishment on many issues, immigration has been the most central to his rise. His “rapists” comment dominated media coverage of his campaign launch, and his pledge to build a wall along the Mexican border is, by far, his best-known policy proposal. When his events grow “a little boring,” the real-estate mogul told The New York Times’ editorial board, “I just say, ‘We will build the wall!’ and they go nuts.” According to a Pew Research Center poll this spring, the wall divides pro-Trump from anti-Trump Republicans more sharply than any other issue.

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. We teach our children to respect the law, but nearly 4 million illegal immigrants in our country break it every day, and Washington—Washington actually rewards these lawbreakers by forcing states to give them benefits paid for by the taxpayers. That’s like giving free room service to someone who breaks into a hotel.”

The reference to free room service was a nod to 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. ...
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