THE California Republican Party voted on Sunday, Sept. 20 to soften its stance on immigration, responding to harsh rhetoric from current GOP presidential candidates.
Republicans have been struggling to find a balance between appealing to California’s growing immigrant population and satisfying its base of white conservatives, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The issue has escalated with real estate and former “Celebrity Apprentice” host Donald Trump, who has been soaring to the top of the primary polls with his very outspoken, generally negative views on immigration.
The party’s other candidates also took a pessimistic viewpoint at last week’s debate in Simi Valley, California. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said the nation was “on the brink of collapse” because of President Barack Obama and a Supreme Court infected with “judicial tyranny.”
“We’ve been out of touch with where voters are,” said Richard Temple, a veteran party strategist who was present at Sunday’s platform vote. “We have to have the right tone and language.”
Changes to the GOP’s stance were proposed by a Latino party official from Fresno, Marcelino Valdez, who said it was a reaction to Trump’s “offensive” comments on immigrants.
The state party’s changes say Republicans “hold diverse views on what to do with the millions of people who are currently here illegally.” The wording of the amendment was tweaked after a committee meeting on Sept. 20, which used the phrase “otherwise law-abiding folks” instead of “people.”
Although the new language emphasizes opposition to “amnesty,” it removes the statement that “allowing illegal immigrants to remain in California undermines respect for the law.”
It’s important to use “language that is more appealing to California’s diverse electorate,” Valdez said.
Sunday did not mark a wholesale left turn by state Republicans, who still hold certain views on immigration and also generally oppose gay marriage. The party also discussed the issue of abortion, reaffirming its strict definition of life as beginning at the moment of conception.
Still, “the change was noteworthy for what it said about the party’s desire to better reflect what our party is now,” Harmeet Dhillon, vice chairman of the state Republican Party, told the Los Angeles Times on Sunday.
“There’s more sensitivity to the issues around legal and illegal immigration,” she said.
In a statement after the vote, Valdez called the party’s platform changes “an anti-Proposition 187 plank,” referring to the controversial 1994 ballot measure that would have prevented undocumented immigrants from receiving public services. Prop 187 was later invalidated by federal courts, but not before it helped to push Latinos away from the Republican Party.
Broadening the Republican reach has been a focus of state GOP Chairman Jim Brulte, who has “advocated flexibility to allow candidates to conform to the views of their districts,” he said.
Typically, that has meant accommodating more moderate views of candidates on matters such as abortion rights, illegal immigration and gay rights.
Although individual Republicans have presented a more moderate face, the party as a whole has trailed behind, trying to bridge its disparate membership.
Some of the tension was aired Sunday before hundreds of delegates cast an overwhelming voice vote, on behalf of the changes to the immigration platform.
“We are about legal immigration,” one delegate said, emphasizing the word ‘legal.’ “I think a platform could say people of the world come to our country legally and reside in our country legally. Period.”
In previous studies done before the 2014 election, poll strategist Richard Temple said the GOP accounts for 20 percent of California’s dependable voters. Democrats represent 45 percent, which is more than double the GOP’s share. Independents make up the remaining 35 percent, but Republicans must capture almost all of their votes to win statewide elections–which explains why no Republican has won statewide in almost a decade.
Chief among the groups targeted by Republicans as life preservers are women, Latinos, Asians, independent voters, and young millennial voters.
Women also make up the majority of California voters, according to Temple. According to studies, women are far more likely to care more than men about abortion rights, economic inequality, healthcare, gay marriage, and the environment.
“Republican candidates need to come up with ideas on those subjects that are consistent with their principles, and not to just demand that Democratic plans be scuttled,” said Temple.
“If we don’t do something about it, we will not be competitive in California any longer. We can get these people, if we have the right message.”
Jon Fleischman, a conservative blogger and former party delegate, spoke against the change on Saturday by calling it “too ambiguous.”
But he voted for it on Sunday, after the phrase “otherwise law-abiding folks” was removed.
“You can’t be law-abiding while you’re breaking the law,” he said.
Some fear Republicans may be seen as not going far enough. The state party did not, for example, back a path to citizenship for people in the country illegally, a position supported by a strong majority of Californians.
“There are going to be people that if we made the chair of the party and the top of the ticket somebody born of immigrant parents, it would not convince them that we are the right party for them because of the history of Prop. 187 and other issues,” Dhillon said.
“The effect of the recent moves depend on the voter,” she said. “We are doing what is right for our party.”