In the debate in Republican circles over the party’s potential stake in supporting comprehensive immigration reform, there’s one place where you don’t hear much debate at all: here in California, where the GOP’s identification with nativist impulses during the Prop 187 fiasco of the 1990s is still taking a terrible toll on Republican electoral prospects. Politico‘s Jake Sherman talks to some Golden State GOPers, and they leave no doubt it’s possible to alienate Latino voters for a long period of time by succumbing to conservative pressure to demagogue immigration:

[W]hile some Republicans in Washington might argue there’s no need to tackle immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship, California Republicans believe they must — or face extinction.

Already the California Republican Party is on the rocks: Democrats hold every statewide office and an unbreakable supermajority in both chambers of the state Legislature. It’s a situation top players in the state party say is the direct result of missing the demographic tidal wave before it hit — a lesson the national party should remember as they debate immigration reform.

“Republicans in California ignored demographic changes,” state Republican Party Chairman Jim Brulte said in an interview. “As a result, we’re a significant minority.”
Republicans on a national level should take notice, because players in the California GOP argue that they’re merely experiencing what states like Colorado, Nevada and Texas will experience in a few years: a drastically weakened party that’s routinely rejected by booming minority populations.

“Ultimately, it could doom the party 15, 20 years out,” said Rob Stutzman, a former top hand to former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger who is now one of the top Republican political advisers in the state, speaking of the perils of not completing immigration reform. “As decimated as the Republican Party has been in California, the opportunity here is to figure this out.”

In California as elsewhere, of course, immigration isn’t the only or perhaps even the most important issue keeping Latinos voting Democratic. But Republicans here believe it’s a threshold credibility test their party is failing:

“All our polling shows immigration is the fourth- or fifth-most-important issue to Hispanic voters,” said Teresa Hernandez, who heads an immigration task force for the active Orange County Lincoln Club. “It’s one of those gateway issues: we want to speak to the Hispanic community on things that we agree on: education reform and jobs. But we need to get immigration off the table.”

They should know. You don’t hear much “missing white voters are our problem” talk from Republicans in California.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.