Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Pete Wilson

Pete Wilson
  • Hoover Institution: Distinguished Visiting Fellow
  • Center for Security Policy: Former Board Member
  • Former Governor of California

Please note: IPS Right Web neither represents nor endorses any of the individuals or groups profiled on this site.

Pete Wilson, the former governor of California and a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution, has been an important Republican Party figure for more than three decades, having also served as a U.S. senator, the mayor of San Diego, and a California state representative. Best known for his eight-year tenure as governor of California (1991-1999), during which he pushed for hardline immigration reforms such as Proposition 187, Wilson has remained politically active since leaving public office. In addition to his post at Hoover, Wilson has served as an adviser to the hardline neoconservative advocacy group the Center for Security Policy and as an honorary chair of the 2012 Mitt Romney presidential campaign.

Wilson has also served in various official capacities for Republican administrations. He served on two advisory boards during the George W. Bush presidency, including the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board (DPB), an advisory group that provides policy advice to the Defense Department and which was chaired by Richard Perle at the time of Wilson’s appointment. He also served on President Bush’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.[1]

Wilson has been a strident supporter of the national security policies of Republican administrations since his time in the U.S. Senate (1983-1991), during which he served on the Armed Services Committee. While his fiscal conservatism in the Senate earned him the label “watchdog of the Treasury,” he was also a staunch advocate for the early implementation of Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, later known as Star Wars, which in some ways was a precursor to U.S. plans for a national missile defense.[2]

Immigration and Foreign Policy

Pete Wilson’s most enduring legacies have been the extremely restrictive policies on immigration that he pursued as governor of California. However, Wilson’s immigration views have largely focused on Latino immigration and have not been characterized by the same Islamophobic fervor of other right-wing foreign policy commentators. In 2014, for instance, he defended a local Republican political candidate in California who was attacked by his opponent because of his Muslim faith.[3]

In the run-up to his second term as governor, Wilson championed Proposition 187, which would have denied undocumented immigrants access to public education and social services if courts hadn’t overturned the voter-approved law. Despite the backlash from California’s Latino voters, anti-immigration politics became the keystone of Wilson’s ill-fated 1996 presidential campaign.[4] Wilson’s positions bolstered the anti-immigrant movement but cost the governor politically. As co-chair of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s gubernatorial campaign, Wilson was widely perceived as a threat to Schwarzenegger’s moderate image. The Los Angeles Times reported, “many Latinos are wary of Schwarzenegger’s ties to the governor who pushed what some saw as a racist proposition.”[5]

While the Republican Party under President Bush and his advisor Karl Rove sought to court the Hispanic voters, Wilson remained unrepentant about his position on immigration and openly critical of legislators concerned about being labelled racist. “I think a great many Republicans have been intimidated, and I, frankly, am quite disappointed,” Wilson said in a 2006 speech at the Hudson Institute.[6] Wilson takes a nativist view, arguing that illegal immigration threatens U.S. security and culture. He is a strong proponent of building a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.[7]

Despite his considerable differences with John McCain on immigration issues—McCain, like Bush, has supported a path to citizenship for some unauthorized workers—Wilson nonetheless endorsed McCain for the 2008 presidential race after the candidate he first endorsed, Rudy Giuliani, lost the Republican primary.[8]

During the 2016 Republican presidential primaries, Wilson made headlines again as journalists compared his positions on immigration to those of 2016 Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. A July 2015 article in the Los Angeles Times noted that Wilson’s “short term gain” with Proposition 187 “was soon outweighed by a devastating Latino backlash that turned California into a Democratic stronghold.”[9]

The piece added: “So there was a flashback quality to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s hour-long denunciation of illegal immigration at a campaign stop Friday in Beverly Hills.”[10]

Foreign Policy Track Record

Wilson began to receive pubic attention for his foreign policy views during the presidency of Bill Clinton. He criticized the Clinton administration for not moving fast enough to build a missile defense shield, which became a priority for the George W. Bush administration. According to the San Diego Union Tribune, Wilson said that missiles would be “the most certain form of delivery of weapons of mass destruction” and therefore needed to be defended against. He also criticized the decades-old assassination ban that was put in place by President Gerald Ford, following a congressional hearing on the issue led by then-Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Frank Church (D-ID). “The Church committee, Wilson said, ‘undertook to sanitize American intelligence activity.’ Wilson said this signaled terrorists that ‘our first concern is not to dirty our hands,’ when the signal should be that the United States will ‘effectively retaliate against them and crush them.'”[11]

Soon after September 11, 2001, Wilson was appointed to the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, a group that advises the president on the quality and role of the country’s intelligence. With his appointment Wilson joined a long list of Bush political supporters and family friends including Chairman Brent Scowcroft; Robert Addison Day, a Bush fund-raiser and chairman of the money management firm TWC Group; Ray Lee Hunt, of the Texas Hunt Oil fortune; Alfred Lerner, chief executive of MBNA who with his wife donated $500,000 to the GOP; James Calhoun Langdon Jr., a Texas lawyer and another Bush fund-raiser; and David Jeremiah, a retired admiral who served on the DPB, the Jewish Institute of National Security Affairs board, and as consultant to several defense contractors.[12]

Wilson was appointed to a second Bush administration advisory board in 2001, the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board. Wilson was among several members of the Stanford University-based Hoover Institution who joined the 28-member DPB after Richard Perle was appointed chair in early 2001. Defending the position that the United States should if necessary act alone in places like Iraq, Wilson in 2002 told the San Francisco Chronicle, “The most foolish thing in the world would be to give up some kind of strategic or tactical advantage to secure the nominal contribution of partners who won’t contribute much and who seem, almost ironically, to have an unlimited capacity for temporizing.”[13]

Share RightWeb

Please note: IPS Right Web neither represents nor endorses any of the individuals or groups profiled on this site.


[1] See Hoover Institution, “Pete Wilson: Distinguished Visiting Fellow,” http://www.hoover.org/profiles/pete-wilson.

Federal Advisory Board Database, “Defense Policy Board Database,” updated March 5, 2008,http://fido.gov/facadatabase/committeeslist.asp.

[2] See Hoover Institution, “Pete Wilson: Distinguished Visiting Fellow,” http://www.hoover.org/profiles/pete-wilson.

[3] Seema Mehta, “Former Gov. Wilson says Assemblyman Tim Donnelly is unfit for office,” Los Angeles Times, May 15, 2014,http://www.latimes.com/local/political/la-me-pc-pete-wilson-donnelly-office-20140515-story.html.

[4] Daniel Hernandez, “The Return of Wilson, Prop. 187,” Los Angeles Times, September 5, 2003, p. B1,http://articles.latimes.com/2003/sep/05/local/me-wilson5.

[5] Daniel Hernandez, “The Return of Wilson, Prop. 187,” Los Angeles Times, September 5, 2003, p. B1,http://articles.latimes.com/2003/sep/05/local/me-wilson5.

[6] Gebe Martinez, “Ex-California Governor Says GOP Timid on Immigration; Wilson Claims Lawmakers Fear Being Called Racist,” Houston Chronicle, June 13, 2006, p. A6, http://www.chron.com/news/nation-world/article/Ex-California-governor-says-GOP-timid-on-1892360.php.

[7] Remarks of Pete Wilson, “Illegal Immigration: Past, Present, and Future,” Hudson Institute, June 12, 2006,http://ww.ctbookstore.org/files/publications/PeteWilsontranscript.pdf.

[8] States News Service, “Former California Governor Pete Wilson Endorses John McCain for President,” February 3, 2008.

Michael Blood, “Former California Gov. Pete Wilson Endorses Republican Rudy Giuliani in Presidential Bid,” Associated Press, September 27, 2007, http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/former-california-gov-pete-wilson-endorses-republican-news-photo/77065138.

[9] Michael Finnegan, “On immigration, Donald Trump takes a page from Pete Wilson’s 1994 playbook,” Los Angeles Times, July 11, 2015, http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-0712-trump-california-20150712-story.html.

[10] Michael Finnegan, “On immigration, Donald Trump takes a page from Pete Wilson’s 1994 playbook,” Los Angeles Times, July 11, 2015, http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-0712-trump-california-20150712-story.html.

[11] Philip J. LaVelle, “Wilson Speaks out for Missile Shield as Vital to Defense,” San Diego Union Tribune, October 10, 2001, p. A7.

[12] David Corn, “Who’s on PFIAB—A Bush Secret … Or Not? UPDATED,” The Nation, August 14, 2002,http://www.thenation.com/article/whos-pfiab-bush-secretor-not-updated/.

[13] Robert Collier, “Group at Hoover Helping to Steer Administration’s drive toward Iraq,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 15, 2002, p. A14, http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Group-at-Hoover-helping-to-steer-administration-s-2797329.php.

Share RightWeb

Pete Wilson Résumé


  • Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation: Board of Trustees, Member
  • Richard M. Nixon Library and Birthplace Foundations: Former Board Member
  • Pacific Council on International Policy: Former Chairman, Japan Task Force
  • 2012 Mitt Romney Presidential Campaign: Honorary Campaign Chair


  • President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board: Former Member
  • Pentagon: Defense Policy Board, Former Member
  • State of California: Governor (1991-1999); Representative (1967-1971)
  • U.S. Senate: Senator, R-CA (1983-1991)
  • City of San Diego: Mayor (1971-1983)
  • U.S. Marine Corps: Marine (1955-1958)


  • Pacific Capital Group: Managing Director (2000-2002)
  • Bingham McCutchen: Of Counsel
  • Bingham Consulting Group: Principal
  • Fleishman-Hillard: International Advisory Board, Member
  • Morgan Lewis: Principal


  • Yale University: BA, 1956
  • University of California, Berkeley: JD, 1962


Pete Wilson News Feed

Gov. Pete Wilson: California had a plan to store storm water, but Democrats blew it - Los Angeles TimesService Notice: Ray "Pete" Wilson - Waterloo Cedar Falls CourierGov. Newsom's insult toward former Gov. Wilson a cheap shot - Sacramento BeeProposition 187’s real impact: A generation that will never forget - CALmattersNewsom Visits The New York Times and Talks Trump and the Future - The New York TimesWhy some Democrats say: Don't sleep on 'Mayor Pete' Buttigieg - NBC NewsWilson, Stephen L. 1948-2019 | Obituaries - News-Press NowGOP Senate splits over Trump's emergency declaration for border wall — we get the latest - 89.3 KPCCNewsom shows Feinstein how to handle uncomfortable encounter - Sacramento BeeGov. Gavin Newsom Suspends Death Penalty In California - WAMU 88.5HarbourVest Partners Expands Senior Team with Promotions to Managing Director, Principal, and Senior Vice President - Associated PressDeBoer explains why Sharks never considered a goalie trade at deadline - The Mercury NewsRabalais: Tremont Waters' basket secured March Madness game win, a place in LSU history - The AdvocateAmerican Mind - Ricochet.comIn Kamala Harris, a sequel to Ronald Reagan? - Los Angeles Times‘Saving Democracy’: Bipartisan panel to chart path forward at Aptos event - Santa Cruz SentinelHappy birthday, Pete Wilson. And thanks: You made California what it is - Los Angeles TimesOrange Sued for Allegedly Violating State Election Law - VoiceofOCLetter to the Editor – “Healthcare for all up in the air” - The East County CalifornianEssex County moves forward with proposal to increase bed tax — again - Sun Community News

Right Web is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

The Right Web Mission

Right Web tracks militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy.

For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

Featured Profiles

Donald Trump’s second attorney general, William Barr is the focus of a growing controversy over the Robert Mueller report because his decision to unilaterally declare that the the president had not obstructed justice during the Mueller investigation.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), one of the more effective U.S. lobbying outfits, aims to ensure that the United States backs Israel regardless of the policies Israel pursues.

Erik Prince, former CEO of the mercenary group Blackwater, continues to sell security services around the world as controversies over his work—including in China and the Middle East, and his alleged involvement in collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia—grow.

Gina Haspel is the first woman to hold the position of director of the CIA, winning her confirmation despite her history of involvement in torture during the Iraq War.

Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI) is a pressure group founded in early 2019 that serves as a watchdog and enforcer of Israel’s reputation in the Democratic Party.

Richard Grenell is the U.S. ambassador to Germany for the Donald Trump administration, known for his brusque and confrontational style.

Zalmay Khalilzad is Donald Trump’s special representative to the Afghan peace process, having previously served as ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq under George W. Bush.