Republican activists at the state party’s annual spring convention in Sacramento are delighting in President Trump’s surprise victory this fall. Many pointed to his power to energize their shrinking ranks. But even those who praised the businessman and political newcomer acknowledged that he remains a polarizing political force. A sampling of the sentiments:
Derek Anderson, a Napa information technology executive and chairman of Napa County Republican Central Committee:
“The Republican Party in California hasn’t had too many victories recently, and Republicans have kind of gone underground. They’re hiding under rocks. But on the heels of Trump’s victory, we see a future for Republicans and conservatives. Are we going to be able to win the governor’s race? I don’t know. It’s going to be tough, but it’s the battle we have to fight.”
“When you are in the minority position at all levels of California government, it’s hard to come out. But I think by winning at the federal level, it’s given us more courage to fight the battle.”
Former Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, a Republican from Twin Peaks, sipped on a tall coffee and munched on a breakfast sandwich in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency Sacramento as he said he believes Trump changed the paradigm in California.
“It’s not about being a Republican or a Democrat anymore,” Donnelly said. “What it really comes down to – and Trump showed us this – is being the right man or woman for the time. That is something you can build off.”
Chris Ivey’s attire at the convention boasted his proud support for Trump. The 80-year-old retired grocery store manager from San Luis Obispo wore a button reading “I am deplorable,” a National Rifle Association cap and a shirt inscribed with a printing of the U.S. Constitution.
“I started out as a Ted Cruz supporter because he’s a constitutionalist, but obviously that didn’t work out. But I like Trump because he’s a business person and I believe he has the skills to change government. I think he’s made some inappropriate comments – I’m being nice – and I don’t like everything he’s doing, but at least he’s doing something. Too many politicians just don’t do anything.”
Carl DeMaio, a former San Diego councilman and talk radio personalty, borrowed a literary reference to describe the dissonance some in his state party feel about holding the White House and both chambers of Congress while being deeply out of power in California.
“It’s the best of times; it is the worst of times,” DeMaio, 42, said as he walked the hallways greeting supporters. While he celebrated the big victories in Washington, DeMaio fretted about not having a strategy to dig out of “irrelevancy” here. “There doesn’t seem to be a plan.”
Sonia Spittola, a Stockton resident and member of the political group Latinas United Republican Women, said she’s happy with Trump’s actions so far.
“He’s doing what he said promised he’d do on the campaign trail. He’s gotten a lot of resistance, and he’s still Trump-ing along. Hopefully it’ll change California, because the governor here has failed to do for us. It’s frustrating to see things like California wanting to become a sanctuary state.”
Nathan Banks, 21, a Bakersfield resident and member of the Kern County Young Republicans, smoked cigarettes outside the Republican gathering with his friend Matthew Martin, another member of the group. They talked about Trump’s ability to spark upward mobility for young people, who often cite hurdles like crushing college debt. Many have increasingly been critical about the possibility of achieving the “American dream.”
“Maybe we don’t agree with Trump 100 percent of the time, but who will we ever agree with 100 percent of the time? It’s about compromise, and I am proud that Trump is our president. The country needs to be run like a business. I’m an African American and I come from one of the worst parts of Kern County. I’ve seen people shot and killed in front of my face. But to say your circumstances determine your future – I beg your (expletive) pardon. If you want something so bad, I believe you can break your butt to achieve it.”
Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, an Oceanside Republican who was deeply critical of Trump during the presidential campaign, said he now is giving him the benefit of the doubt.
“It’s too early to tell,” Chavez said, mixing among the delegates at the party’s Sacramento headquarters, where posters and photos of Ronald Reagan adorned the walls. “I think his Supreme Court pick is outstanding. I think his picks of Kelly, Mattis, Tillerson ... and DeVos are very good.
“One thing I’d say I have a question with is his (opposition) to the Trans Pacific Partnership (trade agreement). When I listen to Trump talk about it he puts it strictly along the lines of a business negotiation. (It’s) much more than a business negotiation. It was an alliance to recognize the influence of China in the next 50 ... years from now.”