Walters: The rise and fall of California’s Republican Party

Dan Walters notes that California Republican Party has lost registration “And then the bottom dropped out. Republicans now claim fewer than 24% of the state’s registered voters.”  To mention that this was predictable. While the Democrats have continued, day in and day out registering voter, the GOP has not had a registration effort since March, 2013.  Of course, you will lose registration when your opponents continue the fight and you leave the ring.. 

He also left out another cause of the drop in GOP registration.  When you have the GOP Assembly Minority Leader, at the time, Chad Mayes, vote for higher taxes and giving the money to the choo choo train to nowhere—and convinces six other GOP’ers to do the same, why would conservative Republicans want to stay in the Party?

Yes, people are leaving the State.  Years ago Marlboro had a slogan, “I would rather fight than switch”.  It is time for the Party to put on a run fight.  That starts with voter registration.

Photo courtesy of DonkeyHotey, flickr

The rise and fall of California’s Republican Party

In 1989, the party was on a roll in California, led by two-term GOP governor George Deukmejian, then Pete Wilson

By Dan Walters, CalMatters | 12/1/19 

The very rapid decline of California’s Republican Party — from near-dominance in the 1980s and early 1990s to its current irrelevance — has been one of the state’s most dramatic political events.

Thirty years ago, in 1989, Republicans were on a roll in California, to wit:

  • GOP candidates dominated the state’s presidential elections, including the election and re-election of Ronald Reagan.
  • Republican George Deukmejian was winding up two terms as governor and would soon be succeeded by another Republican, Pete Wilson.
  • Democratic registration, once close to 60%, had dropped to below 50% while the GOP’s share had climbed to nearly 40% and leading Democrats were openly worried about becoming the state’s minority party.

The roll continued into the early 1990s as Wilson won re-election in 1994, his party captured several other statewide offices and Republicans won a one-seat majority in the state Assembly.

And then the bottom dropped out. Republicans now claim fewer than 24% of the state’s registered voters, are frozen out of every statewide office, hold just 7 of the state’s 53 congressional districts, have seen Democrats capture three-quarters of the Legislature’s seats, and have lost every state presidential election since 1998.

The dramatic turnaround was a convergence of economic, demographic and cultural factors, along with years of denial by Republican leaders.

One major factor was the end of the Cold War, which led to the near-collapse of Southern California’s defense industry, a severe recession and then to an out-migration by hundreds of thousands of aerospace workers.

Simultaneously, the region saw a wave of in-migration, primarily from Latin America, that sharply altered its cultural ambiance and political orientation.

What had been a largely conservative, pro-Republican region morphed into a more liberal, Democratic-voting region. The transition was accelerated by Proposition 187, championed by Wilson as he sought re-election in 1994, which would have denied public benefits to undocumented immigrants.

Initially, Democratic politicians aligned themselves with it. The Legislature’s Democratic majority denied driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, for example, and Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein accused her 1994 Republican challenger, Michael Huffington, of being soft on illegal immigration and advocated hardening the state’s border with Mexico.

Although Proposition 187 was blocked in the courts, it awakened political activism within the state’s fast-growing Latino population and eventually, the Democratic Party benefited handsomely.

As California’s white population declined, it also underwent something of a cultural change. Crime, which had been a potent political issue for Republicans, declined in importance, while support for abortion rights and gay rights and environmental protection increased — especially in key suburban communities.

GOP registration dropped, while that of Democrats remained fairly static and the ranks of “no-party-preference” voters swelled. They now outnumber Republicans and tend to back Democrats in partisan contests.

So is California now permanently a blue state, just as it once was red, or at least purple?

Conservative California historian Victor Davis Hanson sees a tinge of magenta at the end of the tunnel.

“After three decades of radical progressivism, California residents are tiring of one-party straitjacket rule,” Hanson writes. “The hard-liberal order normalized massive power blackouts, the nation’s highest array of taxes, the forest mismanagement that fuels deadly fires, an epidemic of homelessness in major cities, eroding schools, ossified infrastructure, and soaring energy costs.”

He’s right about many Californians’ concerns over these and other issues. But it’s highly unlikely that they will turn Republican in reaction — especially given the abject unpopularity of President Donald Trump.

Rather, discontent is fueling the emergence of Democratic subfactions which duel for dominance, leaving the GOP irrelevant for at least the foreseeable future.

About Stephen Frank

Stephen Frank is the publisher and editor of California Political News and Views. He speaks all over California and appears as a guest on several radio shows each week. He has also served as a guest host on radio talk shows. He is a fulltime political consultant.


  1. James Coles says

    So sad.
    So freaking sad.
    And it was avoidable.
    While the CalDems are the real criminals in sad case of the late, lamented California; the Republican Party has been the primary enabler of the state’s suicide by socialism.
    Damned shame, too… California used to be a pretty cool place.

  2. Dr. Trent Saxton says

    Fifteen years ago Republicans started to do the same things in their local County politics…that Democrats have done or are still doing. Screwing each other. Those true conservatives that had principals and knew better… left the Party to become independents. There are NO leaders in your California Republican Party that would inspire others to come back or stay and fight for a NEW Party. Besides it’s more fun to watch California Democrats screw each other as I prepare to leave the state. I can visit anytime and not pay the taxes. It would be cheaper.

  3. It was called 15 years ago go along to get along. The refusal to stand up for private business and keeping gov. out of business closed the faucet of money. The Dem’s saw that and then savaged anyone that would speak out for Capitalism, and small gov.

    We of the Capitalist Right were cast as anti social. We were told if your own representatives will not speak out why should we take the hits?

    The Republican Party in Calif. has only one hope and that is tto take the decade long view. Speak against big gov. and taxes. Speak to freedom of choice and the success that turning the back to Europe and its centralized gov. Speak to the reason people left Dictatorship to experience freedom here.

    Then point out the Democrats have intentionally gone to the dark side of Central Planning of the Soviet era.

  4. John Steele says

    It’s their own darn fault.. By not standing for something they fell for anything. They still have done a voter outreach, put ina woman who is an anti-Trumper, run candidates that are underfunded and are a joke. All they have to do is start to get a set of balls and run a huge information campeign on the terrible stuff the democrats are doing. The D’s an easy target to show how bad they are. But No.. They sit there and do zip. Like letting jerry legalize Ballot Harvesting and not doing anything and then lose most of Orange county to communists. Maybe it’s finally time to start.. The California Party to take on Pretty boy and his band of thugs…

  5. One thing the CPUSA is good at is getting behind their cause and helping their minions to achieve the goals of their Agenda. Nowhere is this more evident than in the DNC and California in particular.

  6. Wow. Good analysis. “Although Proposition 187 was blocked in the courts, it awakened political activism within the state’s fast-growing Latino population…” Maybe some awakening might be in order so people can see a reason to register other than Democrat? I am not a Republican, but absolutely abhor the one-party one choice system.

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