On Sunday, the New York Times published a story about the struggles of Jeb Bush in a Republican campaign where voters are showing a preference for Donald Trump's "visceral pugnaciousness" or the outsider anger of Sen. Ted Cruz. Contrasting such militancy with Bush's genteel and well-mannered upbringing in a family of wealth and prominence, the story declares that, "the travails of Mr. Bush's presidential campaign can be seen as perhaps the last, wheezing gasp of the WASP power structure."
That observation of the end of an era stirs a memory of a less elegiac commentary from 1995, after California voters passed Proposition 187 to deny government services to illegal immigrants. Art Torres, who served as chairman of the California Democratic Party from 1995 to 1999, told a rally, "Remember: 187 is the last gasp of white America in California."
Proposition 187, which was later overturned by a federal judge as unconstitutional, went too far. Its worst over-reach was its attempt to deny public school to children in the country illegally. The Supreme Court had determined in 1982 that these children are entitled to an education.
I think there is a connection between Jeb Bush's problems and the anger of Art Torres.
Proposition 187, which passed with 57 percent of the vote, was an ill-considered expression of legitimate anger at the federal government's failure to stop the mass influx of illegal immigration. In the eyes of many Republicans, Jeb Bush represents the political class that has allowed that failure and the economic class that has profited from it.
The fact that Bush is the brother of a former president who embraced illegal immigrants with the declaration that "family values don't stop at the border" has only added to the anger of the Republican base. So have Jeb Bush's flip-flops on the issue.
So the public anger at illegal immigration that Torres called a "last gasp" now takes expression in a presidential race in which Jeb Bush represents "the last, wheezing gasp" of those who are deemed responsible for the mess. To many Republicans, that seems to be a form of poetic as well as political justice.