OAKLAND — Former California Gov. Pete Wilson joined a list Thursday of prominent former Republican leaders who endorsed Donald Trump for reelection, arguing in an interview that the president has “brought a badly needed realism to American security policy.”
Wilson was among nearly seven dozen members of past GOP administrations and Congress who backed Trump in a signed letter that was released by the campaign Thursday and tweeted by the president.
Trump “has very good judgment, and very good people around him making honest calls — and alerting him and the rest of the country to the fact that we are facing greater dangers than at any time since Ronald Reagan dealt with the Cold War,’’ Wilson explained to POLITICO Thursday.
The former Republican governor is often blamed for the state party’s woes among voters, especially now that Latino residents comprise a plurality of California’s population. While running for reelection in 1994, Wilson championed Proposition 187, then billed as a way to stop undocumented immigrants from accessing public services. Voters approved the initiative but it was blocked by courts — and is now a far cry from subsequent state policies enacted by Democratic leaders.
Despite Wilson’s legacy on immigration, he was often considered a social moderate in the latter 20th century, supporting abortion rights. And he positioned himself as a moderate Republican during his 1996 run for president — a tack different from Trump’s appeal to the party’s conservative base.
Wilson’s endorsement veers from positions taken by past prominent members of the California Republican establishment. Among them: 2010 gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman; 2010 U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina; and high-level strategist Steve Schmidt, who advised President George W. Bush, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and 2008 GOP presidential nominee John McCain.
“I like many of these people, and they are personal friends … and I’ve talked to enough of them to know that they don’t like his style,’’ Wilson said. But he advises them to “look at performance — look at what he’s actually achieved.’’
A former Marine, Wilson lauded Trump for his strong stand in support of Israel, and for his key role in the so-called Abraham Accords, the recently signed normalization agreement between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which he called historic.
Regarding threats to American security, including from countries like Iran and China, Wilson said Trump “has been tough as hell with them in terms of the actual policies that he has put in place.”
Wilson also defended Trump’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, saying that if the president “had not as early as he did in late January’’ shut down flights from China, “it would have been a far worse situation … and I don’t see how anybody can deny that.”
Mike Madrid, a Republican consultant who has worked with Wilson for years and counts him as a friend, said he was shocked by the former governor’s stance. Along with Schmidt and other prominent Republicans, Madrid is a founder of the Lincoln Project, a group of GOP strategists raising money and running ads against Trump.
“Gov. Wilson has always been very good to me. He helped me to get started in politics,” Madrid said. “But we’re at a moment where what is happening to this country is undeniable, and for the first time in my life — as someone who is Latino, who knows him personally and has admired him — I will say I’m disappointed in him.”
Wilson “is a fighter, a man of principle and he comes to his own opinions and always viewed as a leader … but he just made Joe Biden’s Latino outreach effort a helluva lot easier,” Madrid added.
Other Californians who joined Wilson on the list include Ric Grenell, the Fox News pundit who is Trump’s former ambassador to Germany and his former acting director of national security, and Edwin Meese, the former Alameda County district attorney who served as attorney general under President Ronald Reagan.
The letter backing Trump from 66 former GOP leaders comes less than a week after the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden released a letter announcing his endorsement by more than 500 national security experts. That letter, titled “Our Fellow Citizens,” was signed by 22 four-star officers, and charged that the “current president” is not up to “the enormous responsibilities of his office.”
More than 70 top Republicans, who are national security officials, have also issued a letter calling Trump “dangerously unfit to serve.” Among those signing the letter were former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel; former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden; former Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, and former CIA and FBI director William Webster.