Was it Santayana who said, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”? Although there is some debate about the author of this statement, it seems fitting to use it now.

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Under the firm control of Donald J. Trump, today’s Republican Party prioritizes three main things: first, Donald J. Trump himself; second, the “America First” agenda; and third, immigration, which I believe is an extension of the second priority. Despite the potentially unpleasant nature of what I am about to share, I believe it is necessary in light of the immigration proposals put forth by the presumed nominee of the Republican Party.

The Republican Party’s trajectory through American political history has been marked by significant victories and some notable missteps. One such misstep, which serves as a crucial lesson for today’s conservatives, is the story of Operation Wetback and its aftermath. Understanding this chapter of our Party’s history is essential, particularly in the context of the GOP’s loss of the House in 1954 and the subsequent 40-year struggle to regain it, as well as the more recent political collapse in California following Proposition 187.

In 1954, the Republican Party faced a significant defeat, losing control of the House of Representatives. This loss initiated a prolonged period of Democratic dominance that lasted until 1994. One factor that cannot be ignored for contributing to this defeat was the large-scale deportation campaign initiated under President Eisenhower in 1954. While intended to address illegal immigration, the operation led to numerous unintended consequences that reverberated through the political landscape for decades.

This Draconian deportation operation targeted illegal immigrants, primarily from Mexico, residing in the United States without legal authorization. The operation, marked by raids and deportations, is remembered for its harsh and often inhumane tactics. Families were separated with little warning, and reports of inadequate food, water, and shelter for detainees were rampant. The campaign instilled fear and mistrust within immigrant communities, affecting both legal and undocumented individuals.

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Economically, the operation caused labor shortages in critical sectors including and especially agriculture. These shortages highlighted the dependency of certain industries on immigrant labor and the broader implications of such abrupt public policy actions. Moreover, the political fallout was significant. The Republican Party’s image suffered, particularly among Hispanic and Latino communities. And it is reasonable to consider its role in the party’s inability to reclaim the House of Representatives for 40 consecutive years.

Fast forward to the 1990s, and a similar pattern emerged in California with Proposition 187, a ballot initiative aimed at establishing a state-run citizenship screening system and prohibiting undocumented immigrants from using non-emergency health care, and undocumented children from access to public education, and other services. The initiative, known as the “Save Our State” (SOS) measure, was passed by voters in 1994 but was met with immediate legal challenges and was eventually struck down. U.S. District Judge Mariana Pfaelzer decided that “only the federal government can regulate immigration.”

While CA Prop 187 was enthusiastically embraced by an overwhelming majority of Republicans here in California, and the rest of the country too, only two nationally respected conservatives had the foresight and moral courage to oppose Prop 187, those two figures were former Congressman and HUD Secretary Jack Kemp, and former Education Secretary William J. Bennett. They called it a draconian measure that is bad law. Former Republican Congressman Dana Rohrbacher called what Kemp and Bennett did “act of stupidity” (that) has knocked Kemp right out of the presidential race.”

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However, Kemp and Bennett were right. The damage to the Republican Party’s standing in California was profound and lasting. Republicans now claim fewer than 25% of the state’s registered voters, are frozen out of every statewide office, hold less than 10 of the state’s 52 congressional districts, have seen Democrats capture three-quarters of the Legislature’s seats, and have lost every state presidential election since 1992. Now just to be clear, while it is my contention that Prop 187 marked a turning point for the California GOP by alienating Latino voters, the party’s persistent decline is without question multifaceted.

Indeed, some might contend that the CA GOP’s current state is more accurately attributed to its strategic decisions over the past decade, including leadership’s choice to forgo investing in statewide races, signaling a broader retreat from competitive politics. Additionally, the party’s positions on social issues such as Proposition 8 and strict pro-life stances have likely alienated California’s increasingly progressive electorate. These factors, coupled with demographic shifts, have exacerbated the challenges initiated by Proposition 187, leading to the GOP’s increasingly shrinking registration in the state.

However, it’s also important to consider that issues like the sanctity of life and the defense of traditional marriage can attract Hispanic and Latino voters due to their traditional Roman Catholic faith. Additionally, the Democratic Party’s extremist views on the environment, which often lead to job losses in the oil and gas industry, should make the GOP a natural fit for many Hispanic and Latino families who rely on these well-paying jobs. Therefore, it is evident that further study is essential to understand why the GOP remains not just a minority party in California but is fast approaching a marginal status.

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