What do we want? Donald Trump asks his crowds. “A wall!” they reply. Who is going to pay for it? “Mexico!” Now, here is a question Mr Trump never asks: who will vote in record numbers against me? “Hispanics!” should be the response. The difference is that the last one will almost certainly happen. As the countdown to the final primary in California intensifies, the state’s conservatives might ask another question: Do we want the Republican Party to go the way it went in the golden state? If the answer is no, which it should be, why is Mr Trump leading in its June 7 polls?
If you want a glimpse of America’s future, turn to California. In 2014, when Mr Trump was pondering his White House run, the state crossed a Rubicon. The number of Hispanics surpassed the number of whites. Two years earlier, California passed a related political milestone. For the first time it failed to elect a single Republican to statewide office. Not only is the state’s governor, Jerry Brown, a Democrat but roughly two-thirds of each legislative chamber are too. If a Republican were elected governor, the assembly could override his veto. The state that produced Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon has relegated the party to a veto-proof minority, which is where it is likely to stay.
Mr Trump is doing his best to chart a similar course for the national party. In the last presidential election in 2012, Mitt Romney received just 27 per cent of the Hispanic vote — a sharp drop from what George W Bush had attracted. It was a key factor in Mr Romney’s defeat. He had urged Hispanics to “self-deport”. At the time his words seemed hardline. Mr Trump has taken it up several notches by referring to illegal Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “murderers” and vowing to deport them forcibly. Unsurprisingly, he is polling at barely double digits among Hispanics. A generation ago, Latino Americans were concentrated in California, Texas, and Chicago. They are now spread nationally. In states such as Colorado, North Carolina, Florida and Virginia, non-Cuban Hispanic voters could tip a race. All the signs are that Hispanic groups are determined to make that a reality in 2016.
Their hurdle is pretty low. Univision, the dominant Spanish-language television network, is leading a drive to register 3m new Hispanic voters led by its celebrity journalist, Jorge Ramos — a man whom Mr Trump last year had physically removed from a press conference. Every time a Hispanic turns on their TV, or goes on to their Facebook page, they are urged to register. The only comparable drive is what Barack Obama’s campaign did with African-American voters in 2008, which was a blowout success. Univision is even more ubiquitous than his campaign. Its ratings often exceed the English-language networks. If Univision achieves its voter drive targets, it is hard to see how Mr Trump could win the White House.
But that is only the start. Hispanic Americans are younger than their white counterparts, which means they will vote in ever greater shares at each future election. The median age for Hispanics is just 28 according to Pew Research Center: Hispanic Trends, against 43 for whites. The younger you go down the age scale, the higher the share of Hispanics. Last year, for the first time, whites dropped below half of all Americans under the age of five. This is roughly where California was 30 years ago. Then came Pete Wilson, a Republican governor, who in 1994 put forward proposition 187, which banned illegal immigrants from using non-emergency services, and set up a screening system to identify them. To documented, electorally-registered, Hispanics “Prop 187” was the equivalent to Mr Trump’s wall. California’s Republicans have been on a downhill slope ever since.
There are two great ironies to Mr Trump’s coming Hispanic train wreck. The first is that the outcry against illegal immigrants is several years out of date. In the past five years, more than 1m have followed Mr Romney’s advice and “self-deported”. The number has dropped from 12.7m to 11m according to the US census. America’s immigration crisis is over and has to some degree gone into reverse. The number of people caught crossing the US-Mexico border in the first quarter of 2016 fell to its lowest level since 1969, according to the US border patrol. Politics is about perception, rather than reality, so such facts have little sway on Mr Trump’s supporters. Rightly or wrongly — but mostly wrongly — they see a link between their declining wages and the impact of illegal labour.
The second irony is that Republicans have been here before. The party is likely to pay a price for its amnesia. In the 1920s, the largely Protestant Republican party pushed through US restrictions that kept out Catholic newcomers for the next generation. The torrent of Sicilians, Irish, Poles and others slowed to a trickle. In so doing, Republicans cemented Catholic loyalty to the Democratic party for the next generation. It was only in the 1980s that “Reagan Democrats” felt able to vote Republican.
How long will Republicans pay for Mr Trump’s anti-Hispanic rhetoric? If history offers a guide, it will be a long time. If America’s future offers another, nominating Mr Trump could mark a point of no return. California provides the writing on the wall, so to speak — a wall that Republicans will pay for.
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