Ten million words have been written about Arnold Schwarzenegger, so let's pause to remember the forgotten man of the California recall: Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante.
During the first half of the campaign, the polls frequently showed Bustamante with a small lead over Schwarzenegger. Yet, come judgment day, in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by almost 5 to 4, Arnold spotted Bustamante the 13.4% share of the vote won by conservative Republican Tom McClintock, and still won by a remarkable 17 percent (48.7 to 31.7 percent).
In other words, the combined Republican vote beat Bustamante by over 31 points.
That's Cruz'n for some bruis'n! How did Bustamante blow it?
When Bustamante became the only Democrat in the race to replace Gray Davis, his strategy seemed obvious. He just had to run as a pragmatic Democratic centrist and win the numerous Californians who just don't much like Republicans. If at least one other Republican stayed in the race with Schwarzenegger (as McClintock ultimately did), then Bustamante would have only needed to win, say, the same proportion of voters as there are registered Democrats (43.7 percent) or as would vote against the recall (44.7 percent).
There was nothing outlandish about Bustamante positioning himself like this. He really was, by California standards, a centrist - a career politician from the unhip Central Valley who had devoted himself to servicing big agribusiness. In 1993, for example, he voted to prevent illegal immigrants from obtaining drivers' licenses.
Yet, rather than run for Governor of all California, Bustamante campaigned as if the race was for El Gobernador de Mexifornia. Instead of competing with Schwarzenegger for the middle-of-the-road vote, he devoted much of his energy to battling Green Party candidate Peter Camejo (2.8 percent) for the stick-it-to-the-gringo vote.
Every time I turned on the TV, Bustamante was paying tribute to "undocumented workers" and their moral right to drivers' licenses, free college tuition, and welfare.
He turned the recall into a referendum on the wonderfulness of illegal immigration.
Why did Bustamante decide to run as if he was the spiritual descendent of Pancho Villa raiding Columbus, New Mexico?
Bustamante's big mistake was that he actually believed all the hype he'd been reading about the Hispanic vote, what I call "Karl Rove's smoke screen." You've seen these assertions a hundred times in recent years:
In reality, of course, Wilson used Prop. 187 to come from 20 points behind during a recession to win by 15 points. In 1998 and 2002, by contrast, the GOP gubernatorial candidates ran away from anti-multiculturalist wedge issues and won only 38 percent and 42 percent, respectively.
In reality, of course, a month before the election, Davis sealed his fate by foolishly signing the legislature's bill giving drivers' licenses to illegal aliens without the criminal background checks Davis had previously demanded. And Bustamante tried to ride the issue into the Governor's Mansion. Both Schwarzenegger and McClintock ran against it. And 70 percent of the voters on Election Day told the LA Times exit pollsters that they opposed the bill.
In reality, of course, even in California, the Hispanic share of the electorate is modest at present. It will get larger, especially if immigration is not brought under control. But the widespread idea that nothing can be done about immigration because of the enormous weight of Hispanic votes is nonsense.
As in the GOP Congressional victories of 1994 and 2002, the Great California Recall was essentially driven by white guys stuck in traffic listening to talk radio and getting hot under the collar. In effect, the GOP has won California the way I pointed out it could after Bill Simon's near-miss in 2002, by adopting a white-focused "Sailer Strategy."
The biggest and oldest exit poll in California is run by the LA Times. It showed whites casting 72 percent of the vote, down from 76 percent last year, but up from 64 percent in 1998. A new, somewhat smaller exit poll from Edison Media reported that whites cast 70 percent of the vote. (The LA Times numbers fit with the actual election results better than the Edison numbers, so I will list the Times results first and the Edison results in parentheses.)
The two Republicans in the field won a total of 67 (or 65) percent of the white vote, compared to 43 percent and 46 percent of the white vote in the last two gubernatorial races.
In fact, if Schwarzenegger alone had won no minority votes at all, he still would have beat Bustamante by seven points. (Similarly, I've shown that Bush would have won in 2000 with white votes alone.)
Exit polls are less reliable at counting minorities due to smaller sample sizes, so there was a disagreement this year over the size of the Hispanic vote: 11 percent in the LA Times poll, up from 10 percent last year and down from 14 percent in 1998. (The Edison polls said Hispanics made up either 17 or 18 percent—their reports were confused.)
Bustamante's apparently one basic flaw in the strategy of running as the candidate of illegal aliens: they aren't supposed to vote.
Moreover, a fair-sized fraction of Hispanic voters (as opposed to Hispanic politicians) just doesn't like illegal immigration. They bear a lot of the burden in lower wages, overcrowded schools, and third cousins showing up uninvited to sleep on their couches for a few years. For example, an earlier Field Poll found that over a third of Hispanics opposed the drivers' licenses bill.
My hopeful theory: when Karl Rove says silly things about the Hispanic vote, he's just blowing smoke so the media won't notice how he's actually focusing upon the white male vote.
Democrats like Bustamante, however, are genuinely deluded, since most of the Hispanics they talk to regularly—politicians, activists, journalists, and clergy—all fervently favor illegal immigration … because it brings them power and money. But there aren't enough of them. Yet.
My unhopeful theory: Rove is just a fool.
My prediction: Schwarzenegger's election probably won't accomplish much, one way or the other. He's likely to be co-opted by the GOP establishment (his post-election endorsement of Sen. John McCain's amnesty bill was a bad omen). Worse, the big problem in California really wasn't Gray Davis. It remains a leftist legislature that Davis, before his political instincts so disastrously deserted him over the last two years, would occasionally restrain with vetoes.
And this leads us to a much more fundamental problem facing the American political system: redistricting - a topic rather more boring than Arnold's race.
Under Rove's guidance, the GOP struck deals with the Democrats in most states after the 2000 Census to lock in both parties' incumbents. That means state legislators and Congressional Representatives don't have to listen to the voice of the people on many issues, such as immigration.
And this carve-up is actually overweighting the Hispanic incumbents because of the growing problem of "rotten boroughs." Non-Hispanic voters, white and black, are having their votes devalued by the practice of drawing districts according to total residents, including illegal aliens, which allows Hispanic politicians to be elected with the dramatically fewer legal votes cast in such districts.
As I wrote earlier:
"For example, in Southern California's beachfront Congressional District 46 (17 percent Hispanic), 173,000 voters decided the fate of the surfing Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher. (He won again.) Next door in District 47 (65 percent Hispanic) in gritty northern Orange County, prominent Democratic fundraiser Loretta Sanchez triumphed despite just 68,000 votes being cast."
Hispanic Democrats accounted for only eight percent of the California electorate in the last election. But they elected 20 percent of California's Senate and Assembly because of these rotten boroughs.
I was amazed to discover that the most recent and important judicial precedent on the subject banned rotten boroughs. In the majority opinion of the 1998 7th Circuit federal case "Barnett vs. City of Chicago," Judge Richard J. Posner, the most famous judge in America not on the Supreme Court, ruled in a decision that applies to three Midwestern states:
"We think that citizen voting-age population is the basis for determining equality of voting power that best comports with the policy of the [Voting Rights] statute. ... The dignity and very concept of citizenship are diluted if non-citizens are allowed to vote either directly or by the conferral of additional voting power on citizens believed to have a community of interest with the non-citizens."
The future of California, and eventually the country, depends more than almost anyone imagines on Posner's ruling being endorsed by the Supreme Court – or Congress.