For years, the Republican party in California has been in trouble. The California GOP was once the dominant political force. But those days stopped in 1988. The circumstances responsible for the decline, and the ascendancy of Democrats in California, are described by John Nichols in his column at The Nation.
Fifty years ago, California was a reasonably Republican state—with a Republican named Reagan on his way to being elected governor, two Republican senators representing the state in Washington, and the pieces in place to back the GOP nominees in the next six presidential elections. Republicans did not always win California, but they had the upper hand. From 1952 to 1988, only one Democratic presidential candidate won the state—and that was Lyndon Johnson in the Democratic landslide year of 1964.
As recently as 1988, Californians voted for Republican George H.W. Bush for president and Republican Pete Wilson for the US Senate. But that was the end of it. California has not voted for a Republican for the presidency or for the Senate since that year.
This year, the California GOP looks to be headed for disaster in the presidential race, with some recent polls showing Donald Trump gaining less than one-third of the vote. And that’s not the worst of it. The GOP won’t even have a Senate candidate on the ballot.
There will be a contested race for Barbara Boxer's US Senate seat, but the race is between two Democratic women, California AG Kamala Harris and Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez. (California has a "top two" primary system.) The Republican contenders were not even close to being competitive.
Nichols identifies the reasons for the demise of the California Republican party. One was the discriminatory legislation during the reign of Pete Wilson targeting Hispanics and LGBTs.
Over the past two decades, only one Republican (Arnold Schwarzenegger, an immigrant who frequently broke with his party on social issues) has won a statewide race for president, governor, or US senator. And, if the polls are right about Trump (who trails by 24 points in one recent survey and by 26 in another), no Republican will win a major race this year.
That’s an important reminder for the national Republican Party as it prepares to nominate a candidate who is perhaps best known for his crude anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, anti-Muslim rhetoric. When the embrace of a reactionary candidate identifies a political party with divisiveness and discrimination, the damage to its image does not necessarily end when the candidate quits the field. It can extend for years, even decades, and it can destroy that party’s prospects.