SAN DIEGO – In this presidential election, California could count for a lot. And that’s an idea that many residents of the Golden State are going to need some time getting used to.
For many years, the nation’s most populous state – with its 39 million people, 58 counties and 163,000 square miles – has been on the sidelines. The California primary isn’t until June 7, and, typically by then, the Democratic and Republican races have long been settled.
But that’s not true in this year’s Republican primary, which is likely to still be fluid by the time California votes.
And in order to do well in a state where the lion’s share of 172 delegates will be allotted according to those who win each congressional district – three delegates per district – Donald Trump, John Kasich and Ted Cruz could stand to learn a few things about politics in the Golden State.
For starters, according to some of the polls I saw last year, many Republicans here would have preferred to have had the chance to vote for someone else. Not Trump, but Jeb Bush. Not Cruz, but Marco Rubio. Not Kasich, but Scott Walker. That’s where the excitement was. Now voters will have to make do with their second or third choices.
When I lived in Texas, I learned that the Lone Star State is really five states. Now that I’ve returned to the state where I was born and raised, I’ve discovered the same thing about California. It’s really five states, defined by region: Northern, Central, Southern, Coastal and Desert. Those areas can sometimes seem indifferent to one another.
For instance, even with the state battling a drought of historic proportions, water conservationists can’t get the message through to those of us who live in the urban centers. As long as we can water our lawn and drink from the tap, it’s easy to forget how devastating the water crisis has been to the farmland. As Californians, we sometimes forget that our destinies are linked.
The state is different now than the one I grew up in. Back then, there was a comity to the place that, to me, seemed epitomized by the ethnic harmony in my hometown in Central California. The children of Armenian farmers went to school with those of Mexican farmworkers, the Portuguese ran the dairies and Japanese farmers grew plums and peaches. Lifelong friendships born of shared experiences allowed people to bridge their differences. And, for the most part, everyone got along.
Today, the typical Californian migrated here from somewhere else, faraway places like Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. And often they brought their politics with them.
I now live in an affluent suburb sandwiched between one neighbor who likes what Trump has to say, and another who is feeling the Bern. And when we all get together, we either talk about politics delicately or skip the subject altogether.
Finally, California is a dark “blue” state where every statewide elected official is a Democrat, and Democrats hold so many seats in the Legislature that they don’t need a single Republican vote to pass a bill. That’s how we ended up recently with a $15 minimum wage. What the unions want, the unions get.
We got here through a mixture of demographics and stupidity. Latinos now make up more than 38 percent of California’s population, and they outnumber every other group, including whites. So it wasn’t smart for former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson to peddle anti-immigrant demagoguery back in 1994 by pushing an indecent ballot initiative called Proposition 187, which would have denied undocumented immigrants and their U.S.-born children education, social services and non-emergency health care. For short-term gain, Wilson put his own party on the road to ruin.
Today, the GOP brand is toxic to most Latinos. And Republicans are practically an endangered species in this state. You can be a superb GOP candidate and still lose to a mediocre Democrat. In fact, it happens all the time.
And that’s why I doubt that Trump’s carnival show will find much of an audience in California. After all, Democrats couldn’t be happier about how the last 20 years turned out. But a lot of Republicans got burned the last time an ethnic arsonist came here to play with matches. And hopefully, many of them will be leery about once again going near the flame.
Otherwise, there’s another concept that California Republicans might as well get used to: extinction.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.