Look To California For The Future Of Politics, Demographer Says
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
A lot of smart people spend a whole lot of energy thinking about the future of American politics. Ruy Teixeira argues that, in 10 or 15 years, it might look a lot like California. Teixeira is a demographer. He's a senior fellow with the left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress, and he co-wrote an article called "The Great Lesson Of California In America's New Civil War." He spoke with Steve Inskeep.
STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: What is it that's happened politically in California over the past 10 or 15 years?
RUY TEIXEIRA: Yeah. Well, I mean, people obviously associate California now with being a deep-blue state, which it is, but that was not always the case. The worm started turning in terms of presidential elections earlier. But if you look at the 1990s in California, that's an era of populist revolt, a revolt against bilingual education, against services for immigrants. I mean, Pete Wilson sort of put down his bet that, in fact, the best way for the Republicans forward in California is to whip up anti-immigrant sentiment...
INSKEEP: Republican governor in the 1990s, right.
TEIXEIRA: And then, of course, you had the populist crest with Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2003.
INSKEEP: There was a recall election, and suddenly, Schwarzenegger was governor.
TEIXEIRA: There was a recall election. That's right. And Schwarzenegger became the governor and pressed a very conservative agenda, had a big special initiative election where they put a lot of conservative wish-list stuff on the ballot, all of which - the important ones, all of which were defeated. And shortly after that is when things really start turning around in California.
When you see Schwarzenegger deciding he's not going to be able to get too much farther with that agenda, he starts cooperating with the Democrats. And then eventually, of course, you see Jerry Brown getting elected in 2010. And, you know, you see California being the leader on issues like climate change and issues like the minimum wage, on immigrants, women's rights. I mean, you name it. California is pretty much the apotheosis of the progressive program.
INSKEEP: So wait a minute. Are you telling me that Republicans in California went way out on a limb on immigration, populism and electing a celebrity, and they destroyed themselves?
TEIXEIRA: That is exactly what happened. Our view is that the Republicans in the United States as a whole are pursuing the same course. They're doubling down in being against immigrants. They do have a populist celebrity as president. They're cutting taxes for zillionaires. They're attacking environmental regulations, denying that even global warming is an issue. I mean, all these things that seemed to be - and, in fact, are antithetical to the way the country is going, it probably needs to go and where California has already been.
INSKEEP: You even go so far as to argue that, as a progressive, you think it is good that Trump has been - from your point of view - more extreme because it will destroy the Republican Party that much faster.
TEIXEIRA: Well, I hesitate to say good, but I do think it's sort of inevitable. It sort of telescopes the development that I think we are going to see anyway because...
INSKEEP: You write this is what America needs from Donald Trump is for him to be ridiculous from your point of view.
TEIXEIRA: Well, I do think he has crystallized a lot of what the Republican Party stands for. And he's sort of given it to people in its most extreme form. He stripped the theater. And it's just sort of pure, unadulterated, hardcore, reactionary, populist, you know, screw those Liberals. Screw California. Screw the immigrants. Screw the women. I mean, screw the environment. I mean, this is very cut and dried. And the Republican Party has had those tendencies for years. But by virtue of Trump being president and by virtue of them embracing Trump, it is now crystal clear what the Republican Party actually stands for.
INSKEEP: Let's just note that California is a coastal state. And politics are very different in the coastal states than in the rest of the country which voted, in many cases, for Donald Trump. What makes you think that the California trends would really apply in more culturally conservative places?
TEIXEIRA: Well, even culturally conservative places are in a process of change over time. I mean, if you look at the evolution of the United States, California tends to prefigure American politics by about 15 years. While California is deep-blue today - and we don't think of it as being a particularly conservative place - Ronald Reagan became governor of California in the mid-'60s 15 years before he became president of the entire United States.
And then, of course, we had Arnold Schwarzenegger, the populist celebrity with no previous political experience becoming governor of California in 2003. Roughly 15 years later - a little bit less - we see Donald Trump becoming President. So California is not the same as the rest of the country, but it does seem to oddly prefigure where the country is going. And our argument would be we're in a similar situation.
INSKEEP: It's a leading political indicator, as people might say. Wow.
TEIXEIRA: It's a leading political indicator. And if you look at the way the country is developing economically, the way it's developing demographically, California is, in fact, ahead of the rest of the country. But that doesn't mean the rest of the country isn't going to catch up.
INSKEEP: Ruy Teixeira of the Center for American Progress. Thanks very much.
TEIXEIRA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.