Donald Trump, touching off his presidential campaign in California ahead of the state’s critical primary, said Thursday that California has suffered more than any other state from “open borders,” while pinning crime in the Los Angeles area to illegal immigration.
Rallying thousands of supporters in Orange County, the Republican frontrunner lamented rising crime in Los Angeles and invited on stage families of people killed by undocumented immigrants.
“We’re going to build a wall,” said Trump, appearing in an amphitheater with a large American flag draped behind him. “We can’t have this, folks. We don’t have a country anymore. I’m looking at statistics where your crime numbers are so crazy, they’re going through the roof.”
The speech, Trump’s first in California since it became clear the primary here could prove determinative, underscored how prominently Trump’s signature policy proposal – to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border – remains to his campaign.
“No state in America has suffered worse from open borders than the state of California,” Trump said. “Its impact on jobs, wages, security, schools, hospitals, has been devastating.”
Numerous studies have shown no link between immigration and crime rates. While Trump’s supporters chanted “Build that wall” inside the Orange County Fair & Event Center, crowds of protesters blocked traffic outside. Some waved Mexican flags.
The rally followed Trump’s victories in five states on Tuesday and marked a shift in focus toward California – and its massive bank of delegates – ahead of the June 7 primary.
Ted Cruz and John Kasich, who are scrambling to deny Trump the delegates needed to secure the nomination, are scheduled to speak at the California Republican Party’s convention in Burlingame this weekend. Trump will appear at the convention Friday.
Trump kept up his criticism of Cruz, calling his campaign a “disaster” and criticizing his selection this week of Carly Fiorina as his running mate. Touting his endorsement by former basketball coach Bobby Knight, Trump said, “I will take Bobby Knight over Carly any day of the week.”
Trump arrives in California the frontrunner both nationally and among likely Republican voters in the state. But the New York businessman only recently began organizing in California, a massive state in which Trump’s closest rival, Cruz, has been marshaling supporters since last year.
“I think he’s going to run the same campaign in California he’s been running everywhere: Show up and get on the news,” said Rob Stutzman, a Republican consultant working on an anti-Trump effort in California. “The people of California should get used to it. The interesting thing is does it work for five weeks? I mean, how many times can you go to Orange County and draw a huge crowd for the next five weeks?”
Orange County represents a stronghold for Trump, with the New York businessman leading Cruz by more than 20 percentage points in nine-county Southern California region outside of Los Angeles, according to a Field Poll this month.
But because California Republicans award nearly all of their 172 delegates by congressional district – three delegates each to the winner of each district – victories by Cruz or Kasich in even a small number of districts could deprive Trump of the delegates needed to secure the nomination.
Inside the amphitheater, organizers warned supporters they could not vote for Trump in the GOP’s closed primary if they are not registered Republicans, while volunteers outside helped supporters sign up with the party. The effort followed a robocall in which Trump urged about one million independent voters in California in recent days to register Republican.
Amid the chants of several thousand fans were supporters rallying for a political candidate for the first time, a rare spectacle in California created by the possibility of a decisive primary election here – the first in decades – and the populist appeal of Trump.
“He’s the first candidate in a long time where I feel he truly loves America,” said Susan Ferguson, a 47-year-old from Coto de Caza who sat in the front row beside a woman wearing a felt American flag poncho.
Trump supporters lined up outside the Orange County Fair & Event Center hours before the candidate was scheduled to speak. The hosts of KFI-AM’s conservative “John and Ken” show in Los Angeles broadcast live from the location, ridiculing Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential frontrunner, and critics of violence at previous Trump rallies.
Trump put attendance at 31,000, though the venue’s capacity is listed at 8,500.