Editor’s Note: Kurt Bardella is a political commentator and columnist and the former spokesperson for Reps. Brian Bilbray (R-San Diego) & Darrell Issa (R-Vista), both California. Follow him on Twitter: @kurtbardella. The views expressed here are solely those of the author.
How enthusiastic were Republicans about Donald Trump’s first visit to the Golden State since becoming President to inspect prototypes for his proposed border wall? A column in the San Diego Union-Tribune from Republican Mayor Kevin Faulconer, directed at Trump, was headlined: “there’s more to our border than a wall.”
The reality is Trump’s brand of xenophobia is toxic to what little is left of the Republican Party in California. Consider that California is home to one of the most diverse populations in the world. In 2015, the Latino population there surpassed the white population. That’s right, the largest group of people in the state are the ones that the President of the United States has more than once referred to as “bad hombres.”
To say that Republicans in California are on life support would be an understatement. The GOP has been shut out of every statewide political office. They are a permanent minority in the state Legislature. They may not even have a candidate qualify for the November ballot in either the gubernatorial or senatorial contests.
That didn’t stop Trump from using his remarks at the border on Tuesday to attack Gov. Jerry Brown for doing “a very poor job running California.” It’s worth noting that Gov. Brown enjoys a 53% approval rating (only 28% disapprove, according to a December poll from the Public Policy Institute of California) while according to Real Clear Politics, Trump’s average disapproval rating stands at nearly 54%.
To understand how dire the situation is for California Republicans – look no farther than 90 minutes north of the border, in what used to be the Republican stronghold of Orange County – which is showing signs of decay.
My former boss, Congressman Darrell Issa, and Rep. Ed Royce are retiring. Reps. Mimi Walters and Dana Rohrabacher are facing two of the most targeted contests in the country. Hillary Clinton was the first Democrat to win Orange County since FDR. The GOP registration advantage has gone from 18 percentage points in 1992 to just four in 2016.
Instead of evolving with the changing demographics, Republicans in California have continued to embrace the fringe policies and rhetoric of the most extreme edges of the GOP. No one embodies those policies more than Donald Trump. He has labeled Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists who bring drugs and crime to the United States.
Perhaps that explains why so many Republicans hoping to successfully get elected in November are avoiding Trump’s visit to San Diego. Three of the Republicans running to replace Issa have confirmed they have no plans to be seen with Trump.
There was a time when the visit of a sitting president of the same party would have candidates tripping over themselves to be seen and be photographed with the president. This time, Republicans are hiding from their President.
Trump’s visit to the border comes at a time when Hispanics in California are under siege from his administration. Just a few days ago, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced at an event in Sacramento a federal lawsuit against California over the issue of sanctuary cities. Meanwhile, reports surfaced that Trump’s supporters in Congress are planning to use the upcoming debate over government funding as an opportunity to cut off funding to sanctuary cities.
This war against California and push for extreme policies will only further the divide between the GOP and Hispanic community – in California and nationwide.
There is no viable path to political relevancy for Republicans without support from the Latino community. If the famous phrase “as goes California, so goes the country” is true, Republicans are about to follow Donald Trump into a permanent political exile.