According to Mr. Press, who was chair of the state Democratic Party in 1994, Pete Wilson’s campaign “woke up the ‘sleeping giant.’” Mr. Wilson backed a ballot initiative, Proposition 187, that prohibited illegal immigrants from receiving any government social services, including public education. “Millions of Latinos,” Mr. Press said, “came out and registered to vote—not as Republicans, but as Democrats.” California is now a solidly Democratic state thanks, in part, to Mr. Wilson’s alienation of a large and fast-growing Hispanic electorate.

Mr. Bush empathized with illegal immigrants and supported immigration reform. His 2000 presidential campaign implicitly criticized Mr. Wilson’s hard line on illegal immigration. George P. Bush, the governor’s nephew, said that the biggest challenge the campaign faced among Hispanic voters “will be to separate my uncle from the rest of the Republican Party.” They succeeded.

A recent Fusion poll of likely millennial voters aged 18 to 34 found that a plurality of 49% support the Democratic Party’s immigration-reform position while only 30% supported the GOP’s position. But when the poll asks whom the respondent blames for the failure of immigration reform, 12% blamed the Democrats, 15% blamed President Obama, and 30% blamed both political parties. Thirty-three percent blamed the Republicans in Congress. Looking at the Fusion poll, the best political hope for a GOP nativist strategy is that few voters notice it—hardly a ringing endorsement.